In 1923, the Bauhaus school of design held its first major exhibition to show the world–and those funding it–what it had been up to since opening its doors four years earlier. The landmark event helped signal a shift in the arts world from crafts to industry, and to publicize it, Bauhaus students and masters designed 20 postcard invitations to be sent to influential people all across Europe.
New York’s Museum of Modern Art recently acquired a rare complete set of these vintage Bauhaus missives, which offer snapshots of the work done at the school during its earliest years, just as it was beginning to focus on architectural practice. “When you look at this complete set, it really plays out in microcosm the Bauhaus approach to design and the aesthetic principles being taught at the school,” says MoMa curator Juliet Kinchin. That approach was revolutionary for its emphasis on fine arts, engineering, and design. The collection showcases both the works of the big hitters–such as Bauhaus masters Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky–as well as lesser-known students like Hungarian architect Farkas Molnar and artist Dorte Helm, the lone woman among the artists.
As a fast and informal way of communicating, postcards have been likened to the email or tweet of the 19th century, but they’re also part of a larger tradition of artist souvenirs, one that persists to this day in museum gift stores and art fairs. The set at MoMA was bought locally in Weimer by a man who attended the exhibition and wanted a keepsake. “He never sent them, he just valued them as mini works of art,” Kinchin says. Nearly a century later, and we still value them the same way.