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4 VARIETY SHOW THE STUDIO OF KAHN AND ITS VISUAL DEVICES THE STUDIO OF KAHN Driven by market imperatives to make images that attracted and held readers, the studio of Kahn devoured whatever visual devices were close to hand and cooked up many new ones: the body in modernity and modernity in the body; body factories; the bodyscape; the global body; body dynamism; photomontagery; surrealism; the chemical universe ; the physiological advertisement; the dramatized statistic; body architecture and mechanics; the schematic body; the aestheticized diagram ; organicism; the evolutionary body. Today, while we don’t usually attach names to them, they are completely familiar. They turn up in magazine articles, advertisements, motion pictures, television, children’s books, museum exhibitions, videos, and websites. But to the readers and viewers of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, the images were freshly hatched, extraordinary, harbingers of the modern age. No one had ever seen anything like them. Kahn was an idea man. He could sketch out rough drawings, but was not a trained artist. For finished, camera-­ ready art, he relied on hired hands. Das Leben des Menschen used at least twenty-­ five artists, probably more.1 We can’t be precise because many of them were never credited. But some did sign their pieces or had a distinctive style that permits an attribution. Kahn relied on specific artists for certain types of illustrations. For synoptic illustrations, he used Roman Rechn, who designed polished compositions, full of smooth surfaces and pictures 72 | VARIETY SHOW within pictures, that commented on the prolific visuality of modernity; Rechn did four of the five dust jackets for Das Leben des Menschen and some of the finest interior illustrations. For diagrams, Kahn favored Otmar Trester, who reconceptualized the diagram as modern art; his flowcharts and schematics were abstract designs built out of elegant, ruled pen-­ and-­ ink lines, geometrical shapes, and perfect sans-­ serif lettering in the mode of Bauhaus. Arthur Schmitson, a veteran medical illustrator, took on the chores of expert technical anatomical illustration , but he also drew Jugendstil fantasy journeys in the human interior , with overgrown bodyscapes populated by fairies and fantastic creatures. Alwin Freund-­ Beliani combined exquisite draftsmanship with a stylish command of modernist graphics and a designer’s sense of negative space. Fritz Schüler and Georg Helbig were Kahn’s workhorses ; they took on a staggering variety of assignments with more than serviceable journeyman skill, visualizing every metaphor thrown their way. Their illustrations, always in some way modern but mostly not modernist, entertained readers with clumsy stock figures and scenes of everyday life, oddly juxtaposed, situated, or scaled—­ quotidian realism as surrealism. This is not to say that the work of Kahn’s artists was entirely original . They didn’t invent the before-­ and-­ after, the sequential diagram, or the cutaway. Those visual devices had been under development for centuries.2 But the modernizing inflections—­ the love affair with technology, the urban, industrial, and domestic settings, the eclectic modernism, the visualization of metaphor, the theatricality of visual narrative—­ made something entirely new. Their images are full of playful and suggestive detail; they teem with cultural and aesthetic references; they overflow with meaning. Kahn attempted to control that, to some degree, through textual commentary, and by supplying labels and captions keyed to the image. Still, for contemporary readers , and for us today, the pictures “leave their frames” and call out for exegesis.3 Bowing to that demand, this chapter extracts a selection of them for analysis, focusing on genres, tropes, style, iconology, and allusions. We will also consider the distinctive approaches and contributions of the artists. FIGURE 4.1. Roman Rechn signed most of his illustrations with this double R logo (here taken from “The Iris-­ Key,” Das Leben des Menschen [1929], 4:129 [Figure 4.16 in this chapter]). National Library of Medicine. Copyright Kosmos Verlag, Stuttgart. VARIETY SHOW | 73 A caveat. This chapter’s close reading of particular illustrations may be a bit misleading. With the exception of “Der Mensch als Industriepalast” (and a few smaller monochromatic posters), readers encountered Kahn’s images in newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and small octavo-­ size books, mostly in grayish black-­ and-­ white halftones , leavened by an occasional two-­or four-­ color plate. They were images in bulk—­ an illustration on nearly every page, sometimes more than one—­ surrounded by, and in dialogue with, text. The structure of Kahn’s illustrated publications converged with and mimicked the structure of illustrated advertising. Like contemporary advertisements, each picture had to make a...


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