PSU, Museum Home, PAN, A Graphic Arts Time Capsule, Europe 1895-1900, Pan: A Periodical Presaging Postmodernism, By Victoria Martino
HEINE, THOMAS THEODOR (German 1867-1928)
NIETZSCHE, FRIEDERICH (German 1844-1900)
Fragment from Thus Spake Zarathustra
Courtesy, University of Heidelberg Library
Portrait of Wilhelm von Bode
Etching (not in PAN)
Reproduction of Color linocut
Poem for Hans Thoma by Richard Dehmel
A Periodical Presaging Postmodernism
By Victoria Martino
The philosophical key to the German periodical PAN, first published in April/May of 1895 in Berlin, lies on its opening page. A fragment of Friedrich Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra appears beneath a vignette depicting the archetypical images of philosopher's stone, eagle, snake and lion before a radiant noonday sun, surrounded by irises. At the foot of the page is a roundel featuring the noble head of Zarathustra's "hot sun-tiger." Both text and image were clearly chosen for their symbolic significance to the ambitious enterprise embarked upon by the leading figures in the artistic and literary world of Kaiser Wilhelm II's Prussia. Like the legendary prophet Zarathustra, the founders and editors of PAN strove for nothing less than the complete reinvigoration of culture and the confutation of mediocrity and utilitarianism. Fighting on all fronts – graphic, literary, scholarly, and journalistic – they eschewed both trivia and convenience, thereby serving to elevate the techniques and expressive potential of all of these disciplines to unprecedented heights of achievement. Their plan was carefully contrived and meticulously executed, and its success carried the periodical triumphantly to the threshold of the 20th century.
Nietzsche's great manifesto of the "Übermensch" and the will to power had already been completed in 1885. One year after the founding of PAN, the composer Richard Strauss was to pay tribute to the seminal literary work in his monumental tone poem, and Gustav Mahler would employ the famous "Roundelay" of Zarathustra in the 4th movement of his 3rd symphony. British composer Frederick Delius was to follow with a setting of the same text in 1898, expanding it into his Mass of Life in 1904-5. Zarathustra's clarion call to humanity to rise above the morass of cultural degeneracy did not fall upon deaf ears. Particularly in Berlin, Germany's center of both politics and culture, there was a surge of interest in the world outside of Prussia. The intellectual elite maintained a position between tempered nationalist pride and exuberant pan-European wisdom, a synthesis symbolically represented by the philosopher's stone between the eagle and the snake, and further emphasized by the field of irises, images of faith, wisdom and valor. In the view of its cultural leaders, an enlightened German nation was to lead the way like the lion before the midday sun, echoing the final words of the prophet: "I strive after my work. The lion has come, my children are near. Zarathustra is ripe. My day begins. Arise, now arise, great noonday!" One can only speculate as to whether the iris depicted on Joseph Kaspar Sattler's first poster for PAN reflects a similar iconography: leaves curling up like rolls of parchment, three tendrils forming the letters "P," "A," and "N," and traditional gardening tools in the background (rake, scythe, spade, etc.) all point to the values propounded by Nietzsche.
The excerpt of Also Sprach Zarathustra chosen by PAN’s editors is one of the most provocative. It deals with the prophet's injunction to the king to annihilate all people who have no image or goal toward which they strive: they are the arch-enemies of all humanity. "It is no longer the time for kings: people no longer deserve to have kings," begins the text. Zarathustra urges the king to destroy even the kings themselves, if they have no ideal to which they aspire. The king recognizes in this defiant statement the opportunity to sentence Zarathustra himself to death, seeing in him the seducer of the people. The prophet taunts him into silence, however: "Kill him if you have the power." The king, looking out of the window, realizes that he is powerless: the people wait for Zarathustra. This example of Nietzsche's characteristic circular reasoning is symbolized by the majestic head of the tiger within the roundel. The tiger rep-resents at once both the will to power and the failure of such. Like the philosopher's "sublime ones," the tiger is impotent until it can jump over its own shadow into its own sunlight. By prominently depicting the tiger as well as the lion and other archetypical animals, the editors of PAN were acknowledging both their aspirations and their limitations, an enlightened revelation fitting for progressive, internationallyminded intellectuals.
At first glance, PAN seems to be characterized by a chaotic mélange of styles and tendencies; no particular artistic or philosophical direction appears to be favored above the others. Historians have postulated that this evident diversity stems from conflicts within the ranks of the periodical's editorial board, as well as influence exerted by the various monied "interest groups" backing the venture (primarily comprising members of the Prussian aristocracy). In fact, they go further to insist that PAN's demise after only five years of production and circulation was due to a lack of coherent purpose driving the publication. Ironically, it is only now, at a time when postmodernism is accepted as a “style” in itself, that the ideals of PAN can be fully recognized and appreciated. This short-lived periodical was a portent of postmodernism, insofar as it embodied the symbiotic juxtapositions of styles and trends in all media. Its creators and champions believed that this flowering of diversity was in itself the hallmark of a new Renaissance. What now is dismissed (with perfect hindsight) by scholars and academics as a capitulation to localized and dated mediocrity on the part of PAN's founders and editors is in fact the very proof of their broad-minded, all-embracing cultural outlook.
Rather than begin with a manifesto of their own, the editors, writer Otto Julius Bierbaum and art historian Julius Meier-Graefe, both men in their twenties, chose the august voice of Nietzsche to proclaim their aims. Only at the back of the first volume, underneath a charming vignette of well-dressed gentlemen in a reading room, all perusing PAN (recognizable by its prominent logo), did they present their apologia of the periodical in a relatively brief editorial, signed, not with their individual names, but simply "D.R.," for "Die Redaktion" (editorial staff). It is notable that their primary order of business was to pay deference to Wilhelm Bode, the grand patriarch of the Prussian art world – the "Bismarck" of art, as he was eventually to be known. The 50-yearold museum director, who had already made his mark on the international art scene through his ubiquitous presence and aggressively ambitious acquisition policies, set forth his own "requirements" for the "Ausstattung" (literally, "outfitting") of an illustrated art periodical in a highly polemical essay published in the initial issue of PAN. Ranting against the tendency for current art publications to "sell out" to the taste of the uneducated masses, he decried their increasing reliance on the sheer novelty of new printing techniques at the expense of any true artistic expression. He referred repeatedly to the "Verwilderung" (return to a wild, savage state) of the "good old techniques" employed by artists since the Renaissance, advocating the adoption of a universally appropriate style that would create unity. Bode exhorted the editors of PAN to pay attention first and foremost to the inclusion of the most outstanding artists of the time, whether German or foreign. He argued that the illustrations would prove to be the principal means of disseminating the periodical, the general public being more inclined to peruse visual images than to read essays and poetry. Having stated this, however, he concluded his remarks with the fervent wish that the publication of PAN would lead to the refinement of the public's taste and the deepening of its artistic understanding.
Bierbaum and Meier-Graefe, while acknowledging Bode's high standards and insistence upon artistic unity and vigilant editing, admitted that they could only honor him in theory; in practice, paradoxically, they found it necessary to contradict his criteria in order truly to fulfill them. Significantly, their editorial was printed facing a decorative full page of gold and black printing on blue paper, featuring the heraldic motto of the arts and crafts guild: "Ehrlich waehrt am laengsten," which can be paraphrased as "honesty is the best policy." An additional, less subtle connection was indicated by the deliberate repetition of the identical "Kunstgewerbe" (applied arts) vignette above Bode's article and on the facing page to the editorial. Using the analogy of interior design, the editors compared the book to a large room in which one would expect to find stylistic unity. In contrast, they likened the illustrated periodical to a house with many rooms, nooks and crannies. Here, they maintained, many different styles could be represented, all contained within the unifying structure of the house itself. Each room would be furnished according to its function. Accordingly, one would not decorate the prayer chapel in a Japanese style any more than one would furnish the lady's bedroom in a stiff, Gothic style. Thus far, Bierbaum and Meier- Graefe were in agreement with Bode regarding the necessity for stylistic unity in the individual details. However, where Bode advocated the employment of the Renaissance typeface as a classic example equally suited to reproductions of the old masters and modern illustrations, even going so far as to recommend that the editors of PAN create facsimiles of the typefaces common to the 15th and 16th centuries, Bierbaum and Meier-Graefe definitively stated that they did not believe that any single style existed that could be used universally with success. They confessed to the necessity of reverting to old forms in the absence of an ideal modern style with the caveat that all styles of the past are viewed historically through the lens of modernity. For example, the Gothic style is regarded as solemn, while the Rococo is considered frivolous. Reminding the reader that each style was considered ordinary and unremarkable in its own time, they proceeded to characterize the various typefaces according to a modern viewpoint: old Schwabach was stolid and powerful, Biblical Gothic solemn, almost religious, French Elzevier graceful and slickly elegant, Dutch Renaissance broadly straddling and healthy. To emphasize their point, the editors postulated that it would appear extremely peculiar if a Norwegian farmers' dance song were set in the graceful Elzevier typeface, or a poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the "bauchigen" (literally, "paunchy") Caxton typeface. The same principles held for the juxtaposition of text and image: a drawing by a trendy modern artist would look grotesque surrounded by an Old Franconian Fraktur typeface.
In deference to Bode's explicit wishes, Bierbaum and Meier- Graefe used Renaissance typefaces liberally throughout the first issue of PAN, admitting the fact that they did not consider them characteristic of the material, but, rather, an attempt to maximize the unity of the text portions. They themselves would have preferred the modern German newspaper typeface, except that it already carried the association of being completely ordinary and unremarkable. Life was leveling enough, they argued: why should they accept just "any old" means of expression when they wanted to make an artistic impression?" Everything artistic should all the more joyfully have the courage of nuance," they proclaimed. One could only achieve complete unity in the style of the publication if the content itself was unified. In other words, an issue dedicated to the English Pre-Raphaelites, for example, could be designed uniformly in that style -- from typeface to layout to impression to paper. This would clearly be the approach of a museum director such as Bode, who occupied himself with the most homogeneous installations of original works of art. Bierbaum and Meier-Graefe, while eagerly anticipating a time when both the visual and literary material available for each issue of PAN would be integrally interrelated, pointed out that the current danger of such an approach would be the public's perception that one particular style or trend was favored above another. This implication of prejudice was to be strenuously avoided at all costs, particularly in the early issues of the publication.
The tension between the ideal of a Gesamtkunstwerk on the one hand, and a truly polystylistic, polyglot, pan-European publication on the other, presented the ultimate challenge to PAN's editors. The point of intersection between the two opposing aims lay in the meticulous attention to every detail on every page, combined with an overreaching artistic sensibility for the whole. The reproductive illustrations were printed with the same care and integrity as the original prints themselves, the idea being that the various forms of visual material presented in PAN were of equal instructional, if not aesthetic and commercial value. Bode, in particular, emphasized the importance of accurate reproductive printing techniques for the faithful rendering of original works of art to scholars and art historians. The scope of his vision was enormous: connoisseurs and collectors were to benefit from the exclusive original prints offered in the deluxe editions, art historians were to benefit from the wealth of information available in the scholarly articles, art and poetry lovers were to benefit from the artistic effect of the entire publication as well as the individual contributions, and the general public would benefit from the educational, refining and culture-promoting value of the periodical in all of its manifestations.
The idealism of PAN's editors attracted the best of Europe's artists and writers as contributors. Many of the leading scholars of the day published their latest research and theories in the issues of PAN, thereby establishing a consistent forum for the early pioneering efforts of modern art history. Even the previews and reviews of art exhibitions, recent publications, theater productions, and musical performances throughout Europe were provided by some of the most prominent cultural figures of their time. A characteristic example is Richard Dehmel's commentary on recent artistic achievements in Berlin, published in the first volume of PAN. What would have amounted to a news flash by an ordinary journalist became an eloquent and impassioned rhetorical masterpiece in the hands of the great German poet. Dehmel's reflections on the cultural policy of "his" Berlin could serve as the general manifesto of PAN's founders. "As Goethe would say," he began, "they were words of the utmost significance with which the Prussian Minister of Culture, Herr v. Bosse, opened the Great Berlin Exhibition of 1895, simultaneously heralding the international tendency of the 1896 exhibition celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Berlin Art Academy. One heard two sentences which would have sounded like high treason only a few years ago, if they had been uttered by another mouth: 'The relations to the development of art are not restricted by territorial boundaries of the population. The pure joy of seeing the good and the beautiful is common to us all; therefore I heartily welcome here all artists and art works from all countries.' Hopefully, however, in a few years the minister, unhindered by all national or economic politics, will be able to establish that the relations to art are not restricted by social boundaries of the population, and, in addition to the joy of the good and the beautiful, unhindered by all modern or classical aesthetics, he will also be able to lay the truth upon our hearts."
In the final analysis, PAN’s greatest contribution was its passionate and unswerving commitment to absolute ideals of beauty and truth in a cultural climate of decadence on the one hand, and complacent mediocrity on the other. Paradoxically, Germany's nihilistic prophet Nietzsche had succeeded in paving the way for an international invigoration of European civilization. PAN stands as a testament to the vision of its "sublime ones" – its creators, founders, editors, and contributors. To open the volumes of this literary and artistic time capsule is to unlock the forgotten treasures of a Pandora's box, the richness of which has only now begun to reveal itself in the all-embracing noonday light of postmodernism.
This exhibition is funded in part by the Student Association, Winkel Endowment, Friends of Art, and the State of New York|
Top of Page
Copyright © 2014-2015, Plattsburgh State Art Museum.
All rights reserved. Copyright Statement
101 Broad Street, Plattsburgh, NY 12901
Phone: (518) 564-2474
Contact the Museum: Plattsburgh State Art Museum
Send website comments to: Museum Preparator
Last Updated: November 13, 2014