By Annaleigh McDonald
This bright gem from the Cooper Hewitt Library’s rare book collection contains the work of George Grosz, a German artist who immigrated to the United States at age 39 in 1933, eventually becoming a naturalized citizen in 1938. Known for his scathing caricatures of post-war life in Germany, Grosz was vehemently anti-Nazi, and his works had been labeled “degenerate art” by the Nazi Party shortly before he moved to New York to teach at the Art Students League. Although his paintings showed elements of Futurism, Cubism, and Dada, the satirical, crude illustrations within this 1931 book exhibit his prominent interests: caricaturing and commentating on contemporary bourgeois life, politics, and war.
A Post-War Museum is No. 31 in the series Criterion Miscellany, published by the London-based Faber & Faber. The series featured authors such as D.H. Lawrence, H.G. Wells, James Joyce, and T.S. Eliot. Each 5.25 x 8 inch booklet had a brightly-colored paper cover with a large, boldly-centered serif title. These booklets were bound with a simple saddle stitch, harkening the long tradition of the chapbook structure. This particular version differs from many in the series—its orange cover features a full size illustration in grey ink set behind the title. Most do not feature any images on the cover, which might hint to what lies inside—text consisting only of a brief biography of Grosz and titles accompanying each of his illustrations. The title of the cover illustration is revealed inside—“Truce between Capital and Labour”—depicting a well-dressed overweight cigar smoking man dragging a gaunt unshaven worker by the arm. The illustrations are printed in black and white with one on each page, 26 in total.
The immediacy of Grosz’s illustrations combined with their reproduction in various journals and periodicals allowed him to reach a diverse audience and awaken the public to the reality of government oppression. The library has several other publications featuring Grosz’s illustrations.
Annaleigh McDonald is a candidate in the M.A. History of Design and Curatorial Studies program offered jointly by the Parsons School of Design and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She is a Fellow in the Publishing Department of the Museum.