Swiss field trips, smoking centaurs, Nicho Lowry and … yes, Julius Klinger

One of the most wonderful aspects of my Klinger project (if you’re a regular reader of the blog you’ll know that I’ve been – forever! – working on a book about Julius Klinger, which, if the fates align properly, will be published later on this summer) is the fascinating people I have met along the way. Curators from around the world, poster experts from the US, UK, Germany and right here at home, as well as dealers, auctioneers and aficionados who have shared their posters (and their love of posters) with me from the moment I began this project … they have all played a huge role in helping and guiding me over the last five years.

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Nicho Lowry of Swann Galleries in New York – shown here during one of his regular stints on the Antiques Road Show

The poster world – populated by people I often refer to as the Poster Mafia – is actually a small group of people who buy and sell posters for a living. But, like any intimate group activity, these people work in the field because they love posters. They can tell you about the posters that got away from them at auction, about the posters they sold and wished they hadn’t, about the posters they keep for themselves… They (ok, we) can tell you about the history of a poster by looking at the paper upon which it is printed and how the ink has been absorbed by that paper. We can trace the development of individual poster artists through their work and through the influence they had on their peers. We can explain these things to you because we spend our days and nights around and about posters – because we love them. (Or at least I do.)

Working on the Klinger book gave me entrée to another group of poster people: museum curators (and the people who work with and for them) at both private and public institutions in Israel, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Canada, the United States and Switzerland. While dealers work (in a very hands-on manner) with posters, touching them, showing them, packing and unpacking them, curators rarely handle their posters, and when they do, they do so while wearing white gloves (generally in climate-controlled environments).

Recently I had the opportunity to meet Bettina Richter, the curator of the poster collection at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich. Bettina, and her registrar Patrizia Baldi, had consented to letting me reproduce some of their Klinger posters in my book and as I was travelling nearby, I asked if I might be able to visit their archives. (The Museum für Gestaltung has a few Klingers that I have not been able to locate elsewhere and I was very excited to see them.) After a guided tour of the general design archives (which were exquisite, immaculate and absolutely fascinating), and a brief meeting with Bettina, she took me down to the poster archives and graciously let me see some of ‘her’ Klingers.

When I was able to see the ink on these wonderful Klinger posters and discern which lithographic plate had run through the press first, or when, before Bettina uncovered an entire poster, I could tell from just a corner which poster it was going to be, I realized how much joy this project has brought to my life, and how much I have grown and learned through the process. In those moments I thought of Hans Sachs and how when describing his own (lost) poster collection he wrote: “I am grateful to the fates for the decades in which I was able to find such joy in my treasures. They were an infinitely rich and significant part of my spiritual, artistic, and human development… In gratitude I should like to shake the hand of each (poster artist) for the hours of artistic stimulation their creative work has afforded me.”

I am grateful to the fates Sachs mentions, but also to the humans – people like Susan Reinhold and Marc Choko – who have consistently (and insistently) helped me bring this project to life. I’m grateful to the people who work with and for me at L’Affichiste, for their dedication to the gallery (and by extension, to me) has permitted me to be absent for weeks and months at a time while working on this book. But most of all, I’m grateful to Julius Klinger, for it is his work that has made me fall in love with posters, poster history, and the Poster Mafia, all over again.

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