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Klingspor Museum Offenbach
© Stadt Offenbach

International Book Art, Typography and Calligraphy of the 20./21. Century

Book and type in art and design are the subject of the Klingspor Museum Offenbach. Its collection and exhibitions show the richly facetted spectrum arising from the interaction of text and image. The fascination with a visual and, at the same time, symbolical expansion of literally bound speech into the type face, the illustration and the emblematic complex, has always held a central position in the fine arts. How pronounced the 20th century and also the present has continued this tradition is the distinct intention of the Klingspor Museum.

The Museum was founded in 1953, based upon the private collection of Dr. Karl Klingspor (1868-1950), who, together with his brother Wilhelm, had run the type foundry Gebr. Klingspor in Offenbach in the first half of the 20th century. Still under its original name Rudhard, it had been taken over by the brothers in 1892 and led to an astonishing bloom, culturally and, for many years, also economically.

Recognized artists of the turn of the century designed a distinguished font repertoire, which the foundry manufactured and could distribute worldwide. The foundry Gebr. Klingspor was foremost notably in the so called fractured fonts, revigorating the tradition of the Textura, Schwabacher and Gothic Fracture.

With Heinrich Vogeler, Otto Eckmann and Peter Behrens it was able to create fonts and book ornament, visualizing the epochal transition between historism, Art Nouveau and New Objectivity and demonstrating this age’s commitment to forging a German cultural identity distinct in character and appearance of type. In 1906 Rudolf Koch, born in Nuremberg in 1876 and formerly working in Leipzig, joined the Offenbach foundry. More than 20 type fonts were created by his hand , in addition there is an immense calligraphic work. Books and single pages are inscribed with text, especially from the fields of religion and nature. Besides the calligraphy by Koch one should name Rudo Speman’s, which were given as an almost complete estate to the Museum’s founding inventory by the family of the young-deceased artist.

Rudo Spemann was a student of Fritz Helmut Ehmcke and also of Ernst Schneidler and was called to Leipzig as a teacher by Walter Tiemann, whose Januspresse exemplarily influenced the early hand press printing in Germany. Thus he stood in closest proximity to the protagonists of typographical art, who are all present in the Klingspor Museum with large work portfolios. Herbert Post, Jan Tschichold, Adrian Frutiger are only a few other names who serve witness to type design’s creative productivity and have likewise found a home in the Klingspor Museum.

The studio collective founded in 1921 by Rudolf Koch at the Werkkunstschule gave itself the task to create not only work of script but also of textile and metal arts, reaching back to Medieval manufacture and its Gothic form language –here influenced strongly by William Morris and the calligrapher Edward Johnston. The unique calligraphic tapestries with texts from, especially, the Old Testament point to Koch’s Christian mindset, but also to his friendship with Siegfried Guggenheim. In Offenbach since 1901, and longstanding head of the Jewish community, he commissioned Koch and his team with book works and implements used for the Seder celebration. In part as a gift, in part in commission, Guggenheim’s unique collection of manuscripts and liturgical implements was thus created. Included are Koch’s calligraphic treatise „Vom Judentum“ (1915), the important Offenbach Haggadah with hand-colored wood-cuts by Fritz Kredel (1927) and the richly illuminated manuscript of the Psalter (1922-29).

The Klingspor Museum owns type specimens (catalogs) of many fonts by almost all important designers up to the end of hot type manufacture. All of type design’s significant achievements, for example by Paul Renner, Georg Trump, Jan Tschichold, Hermann Zapf or Adrian Frutiger are documented in the collection.

The Museum is endowed wealth of book art. Based upon the press printings, English and German, collected by Karl Klingspor and assembled into a library with its very own individual character by Ignatz Wiemeler, one of the most creative bookbinders of his time, these 84 volumes give us an idea of the understanding of form which developed into the ornamental reduction of the early 20th century.

Klingspor’s collection lays out all areas of artistic expression through the book. An example for book illustration is given by „Umbra Vitae“, published 1924 by the Kurt-Wolff-Verlag, embellished with wood-cuts by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner to Georg Heym’s poems. Such illustrated books, painters’ books and especially the artists’ book have been representatively collected since the late 1970’s. Thus so many illustrious names of art history are connected to the Museum, making very clear how much their book creations were conducive to their work. Books by Kate Steinitz, Picasso and Miró come alive through the image, while works by Matisse and Dubuffet incorporate the qualities of the calligraphic in very different ways. Max Ernst’s „Maximiliana“ (1964) shows how a painter sees a book work at the focus of his self-conception and stages imagery as well as type ornamentation with extreme individualism; especially in collaboration with such an experiment-loving typographer like Iliazd (Ilya Zdanévitch).

A few years ago we were able to acquire the portfolio „Metapher Zahl“ (1985-89), a multifaceted work of concrete poetry. Rupprecht Geiger’s highly luminous serigraphs of the numbers 0-9 are accompanied by interpretations of one number each by such renowned artists as Franz Mon, Eugen Gomringer, Tim Ulrichs or Emmett Williams.

Contemporary book art is based on the radical change from hot type to film and photo setting, finally to the computer world. Having become obsolete in the workaday life, hot and wooden type were taken up by artists and creatively mounted to type images interpreting literature. Like only a few other collections in Germany, the Klingspor Museums overviews the development of hand press printing and the artists’ book, as it has been progressing mainly since the 1980’s.

The estate of Wilhem Neufeld is exemplary for the way the artist understands and realizes the book as a form of expression all its own. To this day the artists’ book has been developing and remains the focus of new acquisitions.

But script art outside of the book also has its place. Graffiti, having long since migrated from the street to the canvas and plate, is a vibrant area proving the vitality of the handwritten. This is in contrast to typography in graphic design. Several valuable works by, among others, Peter Behrens, Fritz Helmut Ehmcke or the Wiener Werkstätten form the old stock of the poster collection. This has grown to include international masterpieces by Pentagram (New York, London, San Francisco, Austin, Berlin) or by Gerard Paris-Clavel, but also such famous designers as Hans Hillmann, Günther Kieser, Holger Matthies, Gunter Rambow, Christian Chruxin and Uwe Loesch (Designer of this museums logotype). His often prized poster for the 9.Triennial for Form and Content, held jointly by the Frankfurt Museum for Applied Arts and the Museum of Arts and Design New York, stands for typography on new paths; it also stands for the Museum’s aspiration keep establishing national and international relationships. An integral part of the encounter between the Museum and the public is the library with its approx. 75,000 items of book and script art. These contain estates, collections and work complexes of important artists, for example Frans Masereel, Hendrik Werkman, Josef Hegenbarth, Werner Klemke, Alfred Finsterer or Paul Stein. In the library the visitor and beholder fast becomes a user who, in the tangible handling of the rare books, can feel their essence. Exhibitions and library act as complimentary ways to experience the Museum’s range. Lectures as well as the fixed events „Book of the Month“ and „MachArt“ explain the collections to the visitor. Publications in collaboration with contemporary book artists set accents of modern book design.