Art and Commerce

A stunning series of postcards from turn-of-the-century Vienna was initially conceived as a money-making venture.

PROJECT: Postcards of the Wiener Werkstätte
Through January 17
Neue Galerie

New York City

By 1907, the Wiener Werkstätte was broke. Founded only four years earlier by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, the artists’ collective could no longer survive on the patronage of the rich (those willing to pay a premium for craftsmanship), so it decided to broaden its customer base with a popular innovation—the multicolored picture postcard. The venture was not only a source of income but also an advertisement for the workshop’s wares, which included ceramics, furniture, textiles, jewelry, and fashion.

“In a way, it’s a very modern thought—you have this very inexpensive product together with this very high-style product,” says Christian Witt-Dörring, the curator of Postcards of the Wiener Werkstätte, on view at the Neue Galerie through January 17. By bridging high and low culture, the postcards also satisfied the studio’s core mission of delivering beauty to the masses in the face of industrialization. Over the course of 13 years, dozens of artists contributed illustrations on such diverse subjects as holidays, cityscapes, dark caricatures, and stylish ladies. At a time when many so-called artists’ postcards simply replicated paintings or drawings, the Wiener Werkstätte designed graphics expressly for the smaller dimensions of the medium. “It’s not just the image,” Witt-Dörring says. “It’s the unity of the image with the graphic design. That’s what makes them so special.”

Recent Programs