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August 1996

Ludwig Hohlwein: Munich's Poster King

An exhibit of Ludwig Hohlwein's art at the Stadtmuseum

For better or for worse, the work of Munich-based artist Ludwig Hohlwein has left an indelible mark on the walls and beer mugs of the Bavarian capital. Presented in the wake of the M├╝nchner Stadtmuseum's recent exhibition on the aesthetics of advertising, Ludwig Hohlwein --Kunstgewerbe und Reklamekunst, is the first attempt to unite this controversial artistic polymath's work as an architect and craftsman with that of his famous, -if not infamous, -propaganda posters in one retrospective show. Putting Hohlwein back in the public eye without critical attention is a precarious undertaking. Next to his trademark poster of leopard and panther for the Munich Zoo (1912), and the logos for two of Munich's favorite beers-, Franziskaner and Hacker-Pschorr, -his zealous contributions to the Nazi propaganda machine are unforgettable icons of fascist Germany. Although the exhibit is arranged thematically, the viewer experiences a chronological progression through Hohlwein's start in the Munich Jugendstil, to his commercial success as Munich's "poster king," when he developed a distinctive haute bourgeois style borrowed from the London and Paris vogue of the day. Nearing the outbreak of the First World War, his work took on an increasingly nationalistic and militaristic character, ultimately finding an (anti-)climax in the austere stereotypes and hero cult of the Third Reich, -at a literal dead end in the gallery. Retracing one's steps through the hunting and riding themes, through the ads for tea and chocolates, the allure of clean-cut images of conspicuous consumption and what may seem the rustic charm of his craftwork, one cannot help but breath a sigh of relief at exhibit's end, at which point the nostalgic Gem├╝tlichkeit of these images takes on new meaning. The Hohlwein show will continue at the Stadtmuseum until September 29.

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