Wendingen: A Journal for the Arts, 1918-1932

September 18 – November 1, 2008
at Peter Blum SoHo

Wendingen

The New York Times
October 24, 2008

Pluralism is usually characterized as the aesthetic free-for-all that ensued in the late 1960s or early ‘70s, when Modernism’s linear progress came to a sudden halt. This exhibition suggests otherwise with a succinct cross-section of European culture between the world wars. It turns out that just about everything – every style, every sensibility – is present at all points in art history, once you get beyond the master narrative.

This show is one of those rare treats you didn’t know you were missing. It presents the covers of every issue of the Dutch arts magazine Wendingen, published irregularly in Amsterdam from 1918 to 1932. Nonetheless, there were 116 issues, and they are all here, two copies each, so that fronts and backs can be displayed. Shown on simple raw wood tables, they form an astounding sight – a shelvable feast.

 Amsterdam after World War I was a hotbed of new ideas. De Stijl, a modern geometric style, was replacing Art Nouveau. Design was increasingly seen as an instrument of social good; the challenges of workers’ housing, public buildings and urban planning were attracting young architects, who became cohesive enough to be called the Amsterdam School. One was a flamboyant visionary named Hendricus Theodorus Wijdeveld.

Under the auspices of the Amsterdam art society Architectura et Amicitia, Wijdeveld founded Wendingen (Dutch for turning or upheaval). Hand-bound with raffia, the magazine has an imposing 13-inch-square format that still looks radical; it is a forerunner of Artforum’s, except that it is 2 1/2 inches larger. The covers are often notable for their bold woodblock designs or their velvety use of lithography, as well as for their innovative typefaces, which changed with nearly every issue.

A Cover’s design frequently had nothing to do with that issue’s contents. This may explain the strange Redonesque villain with the billowing striped cape that S. Jessurun de Mesquita made for the cover of Vol. 1, No. 10, which concerned country houses.

The covers span the waterfront of style: plain to fancy, erotic to chaste, Symbolist to vaguely Fascist, with Art Nouveau, de Stijl, Expressionist and Art Deco in between. Many issues are devoted to individual artists, designers and architects, including Josef Hoffmann, Eileen Gray, Gustav Klimt and Erich Mendelsohn. Frank Lloyd Wright was the subject of seven consecutive issues, with suitably rigorous red-on-black covers, in 1925. There were also issues devoted to Eastern art, woodblocks, dance, posters, high-rises, marionettes, public housing, reinforced concrete, shells and crystals.

While this suggests a broad scope, Wendingen was also, like most art magazines, a bit inbred, as evidenced by the frequency with which the names of the architects and designers Michel de Klerk, Hildo Krop, R.N. Roland Holst and de Mesquita recur on the show’s checklist, as both designers of covers and as subjects of issues. This show is like an alluring, newly discovered Web site: the names are mostly new, and you want to click on every one.

-Roberta Smith