Recent research on the German-born American artist Winold Reiss (1886-1953) has focused on the transcultural aspect of his oeuvre by examining the cultural context in Germany in the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, thus contributing to a new analysis of his style and depiction of American ethnic minorities. A crucial, but up to now neglected part of Winold Reiss’s background took place in Munich, the Bavarian capital celebrated as “Kunststadt” or “City of Arts” at the turn of the 19th century. The two-year training he received at the Royal School of Applied Arts with the well-known Art Nouveau graphic designer and painter Julius Diez (1870-1957) and subsequently at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts with the famous Munich Secession “Gesamtkünstler” and highly respected art teacher Franz von Stuck (1863-1928) undoubtedly contributed in shaping his artistic individuality and forming the set of cultural and stylistic references he took along with him when he emigrated to the United States in 1913. This paper will outline the course of Reiss’s education at both institutions and address the question of artistic filiation, thereby focusing on Franz von Stuck’s teaching methods and art production and his influence on Winold Reiss in the fields of graphic design, portraiture and interior design.
Adjunct Professor of Art History, University of Colorado at Boulder
This talk explores connections between Winold Reiss’ groundbreaking ethnographic contributions to the visual culture of the Harlem Renaissance, the pioneering anthropological theories of another German émigré of the time, Franz Boas, and Mexican émigré artist Miguel Covarrubias’ ethnographic intentions in Harlem. A consideration of contemporary developments in the field of cultural anthropology will demonstrate an as yet unexplored confluence between Reiss’ ethnographic methods and Boasian anthropology in the early modern 20th century. Furthermore, an investigation of the parallels between Boas’ and his students’ use of anthropometry and Reiss’ veristic style of New Negro portraiture will reveal a shared quest to debunk scientific racism prevalent at the time. An understanding of Reiss as both artist and ethnographer is further substantiated through an exploration of his relationship with Covarrubias, who also embraced the Harlem Renaissance and demonstrated ethnographic proclivities. To conclude, the putative title of “folk-lorist of brush and palette” bestowed upon Reiss by Alain Locke, one of the esteemed primogenitors of the New Negro movement, will be examined further in light of Reiss’ ethnographic work in Harlem.
Karl Markus Kreis
University of Applied Sciences and Arts - Fachhochschule Dortmund
One hundred years ago, American Indians had become a regular and prominent feature of popular exotic shows with people from overseas in German-speaking Europe. The tours of Buffalo Bill's Wild West had shaped their image but also the way this image was perceived: at public events where one could see and enjoy Native Americans "playing Indian". How did this American-made import relate to the German-made image of the Red Gentleman Winnetou created by Karl May and consumed avidly by thousands of young readers? It seems that the two sources of imagination -- individual fantasy when reading alone, having fun together with family and friends when attending a show -- created "the Wild West" as a colorful and playful imaginary space, with a specific setting of places, roles, and patterns of interaction. It inspired, for instance, children to play what they had seen or read, adults to found the first Wild West Clubs, and artists and writers to use it as a repertory for metaphors in their art -- or to become curious for the "real" American West and its people.
Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art
In 1919, the year Winold Reiss first visited the Blackfoot Reservation in Montana seeking to meet his Indian “brothers,” the artist was a much belated arrival. The region had already been artistically colonized by American artists such as George Catlin, Frederic Remington, Charlie Russell, George de Forest Brush, and Joseph Henry Sharp. In addition, photographers, writers, and ethnographers had interacted with Blackfoot Indians for decades. Like others before him, Reiss was in search of an authentic West embodied by Native Americans and their traditions. He also was an anomaly, a modernist who approached his portraiture with an objectivity that brings to mind the art of the German Neue Sachlichkeit or of the American Precisionist movement. If new objectivity is Reiss’ modernist strategy in representing Native Americans, this raises larger question regarding his role as a transmitter of cultural information. How, in other words, did he view his own role as an intermediary between the tribe and the outside world? How did he see his own responsibility as an artist who gained the trust of his Blackfoot subjects and eventually enjoyed the privilege of tribal membership? My paper will explore these issues by taking a closer look at Reiss’ relations with the Great Northern Railway which sponsored his many trips out West.
UC Santa Barbara
This talk assesses Reiss's contribution to the definition of a new American identity by coming to America and basing his art practice on a dialogue with the local, especially his engagement with communities of color. The paper argues that his intervention is notable for dealing with non-hegemonic Americans as subjects, not only in aesthetic, but cultural and political qualities as well. The paper looks backward at some of the issues surrounding his accomplishment, including the issue of illustration and representation, and looks forward by suggesting some avenues of future research and exhibitionary possibilities.
Cleveland Museum of Art
This paper investigates contributions by Winold Reiss to print publications in the U.S. from the 1910s and interwar years. Particular focus is given to the diversity of his modernist representations, which decorated commercial brochures, journals devoted to social work and reform, and literary publications. How can Reiss’s creative dissonance in American print culture be read as an emblem of transcultural modernism? The paper will use as a touch point a comparison between two bodies of illustrative work by Reiss: 1) his cover design and illustrations for a commercial brochure, “The Making of a Steinway,” first published in 1916, and 2) his drawing accompanying Forum magazine’s 1925 publication of Langston Hughes’s poem, “The Weary Blues.” These images allow interpretations of Reiss’s modernist intervention into the medium of illustration in American print culture. They also allow comparison with the illustrative work of other European immigrant artists.
These illustrations have additional capacity to speak of migrations and cultural moments through depictions of the piano, which figure prominently in each image. Reiss’s brilliant images of the Steinway grand piano and its manufacture are precociously early renderings of a modern instrument in transition, from Europe to America and from the Victorian parlor to the concert stage. In his wonderfully cacophonous drawing for Langston Hughes’s “The Weary Blues,” Reiss forcefully, yet elegantly portrayed the blues singer’s “ebony hands on each ivory key” of an upright piano. In setting the scene in a space reminiscent of his own interior designs, full of patterned and decorated surfaces, Reiss created a confluence of immigrant and black American cultures – a transcultural modernism attentive to the creative dissonance that animated American cultural production.
Paul Underwood Kellogg, the editor Survey Graphic, a journal read by professionals in the field of social reform, Alain Locke, the African American philosopher and cultural activist, and Winold Reiss, the German American modernist painter, came together in 1924 and 1925 to lay out the 100-page Survey Graphic issue focused on Harlem, the African American community in Manhattan. Kellogg provided the original vision, as well as the venue and resources to publish the March 1925 issue, “Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro.” Locke, as the issue’s editor, wrote three essays and selected a range of other essays by civic leaders, sociologists, and fiction writers, as well as poetry. Reiss provided thirteen portraits and five “fantasy” pictures to illustrate the issue. All three embraced the spirit of progressivism, all three valued the cultural work of portraits disseminated through mass media reproduction, and all three would have endorsed “transcultural modernity.” “Transcultural,” because they valued the ability to look with empathy [Einfühlung] at “the people” (“the folk” and the cultural “other”)—without patronizing, sentimentalizing, or nostalgia. “Modernity,” because both the issues involved in assessments of Harlem life and the literary arts marshaled to represent such issues might generate a new consciousness, necessary for future solutions; also “modernity,” because the portraits selected as illustrations represented people striving toward what was progressive, efficient, and humanistic. This paper will examine the backgrounds of all three men—Kellogg, Locke, and Reiss—and the context in which all three operated to create “Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro” and its subsequent, revised anthology, The New Negro: An Interpretation , also published in 1925.
Terra Visiting Professor, Berlin & the Graduate Center, City University of New York
My paper seeks to situate Winold Reiss’s long-standing commitment to mural art within the context of the rise of muralism in America and especially New York City during the interwar years. It addresses the dichotomy within Reiss’s wall painting: the decorative panels in hotels and restaurants -- what we might call middlebrow-- and the historic panoramas that conform to the standards of depression-era production in the United States. These two bodies of imagery are analyzed against the work of contemporaries from Maxfield Parrish to Diego Rivera and Thomas Hart Benton. I argue that the New York setting was seminal to this dimension of Reiss’s work in two regards: 1st, that people in this densely-packed urban environment thought differently about walls and their potential as surfaces for art; and 2nd, that the on-going debates about muralism in these years and the sheer number of available examples informed and stimulated Reiss, both in his teaching and in the creation of his own painted walls.
Freie Universitaet Berlin, John F. Kennedy-Institute
In recent years, many scholars in cultural studies, media studies, literary studies, history and anthropology have increasingly turned to music to bring into perspective issues that are at the heart of current debates on transculturation and transnationalization. Music represents a paradigmatic medium in crossing boundaries, be it aesthetically, geographically, politically, or ideologically. It lends itself to asking questions which have been debated in other disciplines such as the impact of migration on ethnic identity formation, border-crossings, contact zones, emergence of new ethnicities, and so on. However, what kind of new information can we gain by shifting our analytical focus from literature to music or from painting to music? I will argue that many of Reiss’s images have a musical element encoded in their fabric, which render them particularly relevant for repositioning the “New Negro” movement both within and beyond the contact zones of new media. My talk will explore issues of cultural mobility regarding synaestheticism (in music and color) by comparing artists of the German Art Nouveau and Blaue Reiter in the Munich art scene to the work of Winold Reiss and his school in New York. I will ask about the function of European and American music in Winold Reiss’s concept of color and delineate the transatlantic repercussions of synaesthetic ideals.
Asta von Schröder
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
The existing literature dealing with the murals that Winold Reiss created for Cincinnati Union Terminal (1929-1933) focuses on the fourteen mosaics of local industries, moved to Cincinnati International Airport after the partial destruction of the station. The publications by Jeffrey Stewart (1989/1993), Daniel Hurley (1993), and Janet Greenstein Potter (1998) all share the claim that Reiss aimed at depicting truthfully workers and factory processes in Cincinnati, thus recording a realistic insight into 1930s working conditions. This paper argues that representational art is not automatically objective or even factual, and that Winold Reiss depicted instead a carefully staged and selective reality. The paper will analyze the murals through the sociological lens of race, class, and gender, using the theory of intersectionality to reveal both cultural differences and similarities in the value system of the German immigrant Reiss and his American audience. Due to Reiss’ upbringing and education, his attitude on ethnic diversity was marked by an open-mindedness and curiosity that distinguished the European from his US-born contemporaries. Contrariwise, his attitude towards the working classes and towards women was of a global white, male, middle-class mindset: In the face of the Depression, industrial workers embodied the American Dream of reaching prosperity through hard work. In public discourse, middle-class values were projected on the working classes. These values included a rigid gender duality that located women in the domestic sphere and would have excluded women from industrial labor notwithstanding workers’ experiences. Reiss’s murals do not depict reality - they are images, and as such selective, abstract, stylized, and highly codified by the common values of their surrounding society.
Julie Levin Caro
Warren Wilson College
This paper examines the unique character of the Winold Reiss Studio as an atelier school, graphic and interior design workshop, and artist’s home/studio, and it offers a brief introduction to the work of some of the members of the Reiss Studio Circle. I contextualize Reiss’s studio school and the diverse group of artists and designers that gathered around him in relation to other modern and avant-garde art circles operating in New York in the early twentieth century. Using historic photographs of his studio interiors and first-hand accounts from his students, I describe the transcultural and modernist character of Reiss’s teaching style and the opportunities he provided students for individual expression and collaboration.Finally, I use the model of the Reiss studio as a collaborative and transcultural space to look afresh at the work of Harlem Renaissance illustrator, painter and muralist, Aaron Douglas. Like his fellow artists in the Reiss Studio Circle, including Henriette Reiss, Hans Reiss and Erika Lohman, Douglas drew from a shared vocabulary of modernist pictorial forms inspired by Winold’s portraits, imaginatives and design work to develop a singular artistic vision.