Friday, January 21, 2011

Neue Nationalgalerie, Tschichold, and Plans

Today I went to the Neue Nationalgalerie to see its exhibit, Moderne Zeiten. The exhibit had a range of works from early expressionist up through the Neue Sachlichkeit, Socialist Realism, etc. It wasn't a huge collection, but I got to see some SUPER famous works of the period. Most exciting/awesome were:

Otto Dix's "Mondweib" and "Die Skatspieler," 1919 and 1920

Works by Bauhaus artists/designers Feininger, Klee, and Moholy-Nagy

And, some cool stuff by Oskar Nerlinger, including "Berlin City Train"

There was also a painting by Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart that was essentially several straight squares with an actual straight-edge/right angle tool (whatever you call those things) nailed onto the piece.

Anyway, I went back to the library this afternoon to investigate typography some more, looking especially for the Modernists' take on the old Fraktur style/its use in popular media. Zing! Jan Tschichold had something to say. Note that Fraktur looks like this:
Grotesk is the German word for sans serif, z.B. Verdana or Helvetica (though both were developed later). Tschichold ususally refers to serif fonts as Antiqua because they come from ancient Greek and Roman alphabets. Anyway, this quote on die illustrierte Zeitungen of the 20s is from Tschichold, Die neue Typographie, 1927:

"Für die Notwendigkeit der Grotesk als Auszeichnungsschrift kann man noch den weiteren Grund anführen, daß sie die einzige Schrift ist, die der Photographie wirklich entspricht, und zwar durch die beiden gemeinsame innere Objektivität. Die Schnörkel und Ranken der Fraktur, dieser Beamtenschrift des 16. Jahrhunderts, gehören nich mehr in unsere Zeit und werden nie zu einer solchen ausgeprochen gegenwärtigen Druckform wie der illustrierten Zeitschrift passen."

Ho Ho! I think it's time to go back to the Zeitschriften (Die Dame, but also non-gender-specific illustrated newspapers of the time) to check out who is and is not in line with Jan. Also: Fraktur brings to mind propaganda posters from the 3rd Reich. It might be interesting to investigate typeface as associated with political propaganda. Were parties that called for traditional "German" values more likely to employ Fraktur? Probably.

P.S. I tried to put the Tschichold quote in Verdana so as not to offend him with my serifs, but the internet-device isn't cooperating. Also, Schnörkel is my new Lieblingswort auf Deutsch.


  1. Awesome quote. Some questions for you to answer, not answer, whatever:
    1. "innere Objektivität" of Grotesk + Photographie??? Are you just going to buy that? A printed word is the same as a photo? What's up with Jan's faith in technological wonders? Is he purely a man of the Neue Sachlichkeit who got over Expressionism's technological disquiet?
    2. "Beamtenschrift"...that tells you a lot about literacy vis-a-vis font, but is that projecting the present onto the past? Literacy in the 16th C? Please. If anything, literacy back then had nothing to do with the print and everything to do with the pictures. or maybe that's what he's indicating.
    3. Does Jan think it is OK for non-illustrated print matter to use Fraktur? Are leagle documents OK in Fraktur, but "modern" bzw. "gegenwärtigen" print matter--i.e., non-juridical, MUST be in Grotesk? Sounds as if there might be a real dissconnect between "the people" and "the law".

    If Grotesk is "Objektiv", then what is the Law?

  2. I have answers for #2 and #3, but I want to go back to the text to back up my thoughts. Also, some Gropius quotes will serve to put Tschichold in the context of the entire movement. The short version: he thought that order and objectivity should be supreme in all things, and was pointing out that it seemed especially backward to use Fraktur for a modern form of communication. More on this tomorrow.