Erika Giovanna Klien
Photograph Frontispiece: Erika Giovanna Klien, Wein 1900 - 1957 New York
by Marietta Mautner Markof (Vienna: Gemaldegalerie/Michael Kovacek, 2001)
Erika Giovanna Klien only taught art at Dalton for three years, from 1932 - 1935, but she brings an important pedagogical piece to the foundation of the school’s robust art program. Her background and teaching also helped shape Parkhurst’s own philosophy towards cultivating the creative nature of young children.
Klien studied with the revolutionary art educator, Franz Cizek, a figure not commonly remembered today, but who is considered "the father of modern art education."1 In the early decades of the 20th century, Cizek developed an important program at the Vienna School of Applied Art (Wein Kunstgewerbeschule). It was in his seminal course “Theory of Ornamental Form” that Klien first encountered Cizek’s teaching. The educator’s dynamic personality was an important influence over the young group of artist / educators. He, like Friedrich Froebel a generation before, fervently believed in early childhood education. He established free Saturday art classes for local school children that became a laboratory of learning for himself and for his elder students. Children encountered art making in an unstructured environment where personal expression was encouraged through various materials and processes. Cizek’s dictum “let it grow from its own roots”2 was a key to allowing students the freedom to find their own method of personal expression. Cizek’s Saturday class was a training ground for his academy students and Klien became his most ardent follower.
Cizek was also father to a short-lived artistic movement known as Kinetism. It was based in Vienna and centered on the students of the Kunstgewerbeschule. In the winter of 1919 and 1920, Cizek proposed the idea of Kinetism through his lecture The Renewal of the Spiritual Foundations of Rhythmical Creation 2. This extraordinary modern movement represented a conglomerate of German Expressionism, French Cubism and Italian Futurism. Sculpture, painting, graphic design and drawings exemplified in the works of Erika Giovanna Klien, Elisabeth Karlinsky and Otto Eric Wagner represent a dynamic form of modernism, which, despite artistic promise, never received the recognition warranted by the quality of the work produced.
Erika Giovanna Klien, Locomotive, 1926
gouche on Linen, 24 x 40"
Collection Michael Pabst Gallery, Munich
Erika Giovanna Klien was Franz Cizek’s exemplary and most gifted student. She represented not only the promise of Kinetism through her taut synthesis of kinetic movement found in her paintings, but as a teacher she was most dedicated to Cizek’s pedagogy. As such the professor employed her to implement the Cizek method of teaching in a number of venues. In 1926 Dr. Cizek received a request from the educator, Elizabeth Duncan in Klessheim, Austria, to use his approach in adding an art program to her school. Elizabeth was the sister of renowned dancer Isadora Duncan, the founder of the modern dance movement. Elizabeth’s pedagogical leanings brought her to design a program to engage the whole child and the Cizek method seemed an appropriate way to incorporate art into her concept of Body and Mind Education.
Klien spent two years developing the program before being asked by Cizek to again represent their work in a traveling exhibition in Vienna, Stuttgart, and Basel prior to her presentation addressing the International Congress of Art Teachers in Prague.
During 1926, Klien received substantial recognition for her work in America through the support of the Société Anonyme. Katherine Drier, the Brooklyn born painter turned patron of the arts, in conjunction with Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, founded the Société Anonyme in April 1920. This organization promoted modern art by bringing new work to the public through lectures, concerts, publications and exhibitions. One of the Société’s most celebrated collaborations involved the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Together they sponsored the International Exhibition of Modern Art. Dreier and Duchamp curated this show with works that represented the first large-scale exhibition of modern art since the 1913 Armory Exhibition. It was truly international in scope including artists from 22 countries. Many of the artists in this show proved to be the seminal pioneers of 20th century Modernism: Marcel Duchamp. Picabia, Gris, Miro, Brancusi, Leger, Mondrian, Klee, Schwitters, Marc, Man Ray, O’Keeffe, Stieglitz, Archipenko, Naum Gabo, Kandinsky, Lissitsky, and Malevich were all represented in the exhibition. The sole artist representing Austria was Erika Giovanna Klien. Dreier had personally visited Cizek and Klien at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna in 1926.3 She sought out Cizek as the decisive leader of Kinetism in search of work that would represent this independent vein of Austrian art. Dreier was impressed with Klien's work and purchased many drawings and paintings to use as part of the Brooklyn show. Klien maintained a long-term friendship with Dreier and gave her subsequent gifts of her work.
Encouraged by the success brought on by Dreier’s support and the influential International Exhibition in America, Klien decided to move to America in 1929 to seek her future and explore the potential of her artistic career. This was not the easiest move however, as Klien had given birth in 1928 to a son out of wedlock. She had also lost her father, and despite requests to return to the Duncan School she found Klessheim remote and inhospitable. It was also a hardship for her to be so far away from her mentor, Cizek. She decided to chart a course for the place that seemed to offer her a promising future, and in September, 1929 Erika Klien left her son in the hands of foster parents and sailed for New York City.
Soon after her arrival in New York, using her experience as a Cizek protégée, Klien soon secured positions at Stuyvesant School (Stuyvesant Neighborhood House) on St. Marks Place and then in 1930 at the Spence School. She received an invitation to exhibit her works at the New School for Social Research and later taught adult classes at the New School. In September of 1932 Klien would bring her knowledge of the Cizek method to Dalton. And there is a photograph of her teaching young students in her classroom from the school’s archives. Cut paper collages in black and white, typical of Cizek's methodology, can be seen on the bulletin boards as well as clay figures of animals. Judging from the children’s enthusiasm, Klien must have been a dynamic and popular teacher. Despite her successes, New York life was strenuous for Klien as she juggled multiple part time teaching positions while producing and promoting her work as an artist.
Erika Giovanna Klien in her Classroom at Dalton mid 1930s
© The Dalton School Archives
Cizek’s method of teaching art was gaining world recognition through his Saturday classes and dissemination of exhibitions and reproductions of his students’ work in England and America. His combination of careful observation with a child’s artistic development was unparalleled in with art education of the time. Cizek’s disciples, such as Klien, were distributing his ideas worldwide. He was written up in 1923 article in Time Magazine with helped inform the American public about his teachings. Helen Parkhurst was compelled by his methodology and was intrigued by Klien. So much so that she traveled to Vienna to witness Cizek’s classes first hand. We are not sure what she thought, but her collaborator and patron, Josephine Boardman Crane, was knowledgeable of Cizek’s methods. She had clipped and saved a lengthy article from the New York Times Magazine section from November 1923, which spoke at length about the success of Cizek’s Saturday school. So the master was well known to both Parkhurst and Crane well before they were introduced to Erika Klien. She was just what the school needed to integrate the arts with the Dalton plan.
Success came to Erika Klien through another patron of the arts, Evangeline Stokowski, the second wife of conductor, Leopold Stokowski. Evangeline Brewster Johnson Stokowski was the daughter of Robert Wood Johnson, cofounder of Johnson & Johnson. She had lost much of her fortune in the 1929 stock market crash, but still retained enough to support a few philanthropic and artistic causes including The Dalton School and Erika Giovanna Klien. Evangeline had recently married Stokowski and settled into a top floor apartment across from Central Park. Evangeline was good friends with Helen Parkhurst and she not only supported the school financially, but she so believed in the curriculum to the point that she wanted her own one year old child, Andrea, to be included as one of the first Dalton babies to be cared for by high school students in the school’s nursery program.
Erika Giovanna Klien's study for the Stolowski Mural
As far as support for Klien, Ms. Stokowski commissioned the artist to paint a mural from their apartment on the top floor to the rooftop garden. What remains today is Klien’s study for the project, a clever mechanical composition revealing the staircase and mechanical structures that lie beneath. Her approach to the mural is not kinetic but more closely aligned to Leger’s Purism which she had favored at a previous time. The Klien mural does not measure up to her mature work of either her Kinetic style while in school or her fractured interpretations of New York City scenes as represented in her delicate watercolor ”New York, St. Marks Place” of 1930 or the black and white drawing "Times Square Subway Station" of 1931. In these works Klien seems to have taken the Kinetism and made it a part of the staccato experience of New York. These works are at once both hauntingly beautiful but also strangely lonely. In both images the viewer is apart from the scene as voyeur and observer. Klien the immigrant from Austria was looking at this strange landscape with an astute eye and she managed to capture something about New York that few other artists could relay about that time and place. The ever present hustle and bustle, the despair, the haunting beauty are all there in Klien’s depictions of these New York scenes.
1. Erika Giovanna Klien by Marietta Mautner Markhof, (English translation by Dr. John Matthew Mitchell), © 2001 Gemaldegalerie Michale Kovacek, page 10
2. Jahresberichte der Wiener Kunstgewerbeschule 1919-1920 “Erneuer der geistigen Grundlagen des rhythmischen Gestaltens” a lecture held in the winter of 1919 -1920. The Life and Work of Erika Giovanna Klien, ©1989 Rachel Adler Gallery
3. The Societe Anonyme and the Dreier Bequest at Yale University: a Catalogue Raisonne, Robert L. Herbert, © 1984 Yale University Press.