25. September 2016

Appointments, meetings, deadlines – schedules structure our day. A glance at the Vienna Secessionists’ calendars show how art sneaks into everyday life.

By Daniel Urban

If you ask a programmer how best to incorporate a calendar into a Web application, for example, a look of despair will probably appear on his face. Because you will need to take not only the dates of the days and factor in the leap years, but also consider the different time zones. To be certain when a day begins where and ends you have to take note of absurd occurrences such as the different time zones on the same latitudes and longitudes. Take Nepal, which simply adds 15 minutes to the time in order to set it off from its big neighbour India.

Ditha Moser, calendar, cover, 1908

Things are even more complicated if the calendar is to be proleptic, meaning function backwards into the past: For there were different calendar systems at different times. In post-Revolutionary France, for example, the Gregorian calendar was simply suspended for a good 13 years in favour of a unique French Revolutionary Calendar in which the weeks had ten rather than the usual seven days. Given these facts it is far more relaxing to simply leave calculating time to others and focusing instead on organizing your own time using a finished product: the calendar.

Calendar systems

While nowadays to this end people tend to pull out a Smartphone or maybe a Moleskine or even opt for a wall calendar with more or less tasteful reprints, calendars as products have actually ceased to play any major role. This need not be the case, as once again the Vienna Secessionists show: From 1901 to 1903 the artists’ association published in the first issue of its own journal Ver Sacrum each year a complete calendar as an issue within the issue as it were. The designs change: here one work a month, there two, but each time each month gets a double spread. In the issues of 1901 and 1902 different techniques are used, in that of 1903 all the spreads are colored wood cuts. Various artists from the Vienna Secession contributed works: Gustav Klimt, Ferdinand Andri, Friedrich König, Emil Orlik, Koloman Moser, Joseph Maria Auchentaller – and many more besides.

Ditha Moser, calendar, July 1908
Ditha Moser, calendar, 1911

In the first two versions the actual calendar proper is not that usual by today’s standards: Alongside the days of the Gregorian calendar, the Catholic and Protestant name days are also included, in the columns next to them dates with the Greek/Attic and Jewish/Israelite calendar systems. The calendar supplement to the 1st issue of 1903 dispensed with such practical but perhaps confusing information and alongside the colored woodcuts simply presented the numbers of the days of the respective months, elaborately designed by Alfred Roller incl. the lunar phases – here the artistry is far more emphasized and the calendar slightly further removed from pragmatic everyday use. The artists’ works present landscapes or atmospheric images befitting the respective season.

Bidding farewell to the classical calendar

In 1903 Koloman Moser created an Art Nouveau calendar for Carl Frommes Kalender-Verlag and other artists also enthused about the format. Carl Otto Czechska, for example, also brought out a calendar that took its aesthetic cue mainly from Art Nouveau, Moser’s wife Editha “Ditha” Moser created not only elaborately designed Tarot and Whist card sets but also several calendars. While the 1908 version featured church themes in a naïve guise, in later calendars she opted for Greek and Teutonic Gods in prints that featured black, gold and white – the calendar dates are present, but seem here increasingly to act as a design element rather than to have a function.

Carl Otto Czeschkia, calendar, 1904
Ditha Moser, calendar, cover, 1910

Austrian painter and graphic artist Franz von Zülow took things to an extreme. In his Monatshefte, which he published from 1909 to 1915, he consistently severed all ties with the classical calendar: freed of any tedious calendar dates all the cover of each booklet simply showed was the respective month and year. The following folded sheets were initially hand-drawn completely by von Zülow himself, until they were made using a paper-cuts printing technique he developed – and were sold to such celebrities as Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. They were amazingly opulently designed, presenting colourful and witty representations of rural farm life.

All the calendars seem like a cheeky attempt to introduce art into everyday life and to provide added value quite pragmatically. If one considers the development of the publications from the Ver Sacrum calendar issues to von Zülow’s Monatshefte, then they gradually extricated themselves from any everyday usage and even managed to persuade the one or other user to prefer art to time management. The calendar sheets thus take their own purpose to the point of absurdity, as in terms of the form they take they seek to occupy a period of time that far exceeds that which they cover. Whether the various calendars appeal to individual viewers today or not, they certainly achieve more than current calendars can claim to do.

Franz von Zülow, calendar 1910, February