Figurative Constructivism, Pictorial Statistics, and the Group of Progressive Artists, c. 1920-1939

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This dissertation examines an episode of interdisciplinary collaboration in Vienna during the late 1920s and early 1930s, led by the Austrian social scientist Otto Neurath (1882-1945) and the German printmaker Gerd Arntz (1900-1988). This collaboration, which took place at Vienna's Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum [Social and Economic Museum] ultimately created an international graphic sign language that would have wide-ranging applications across a variety of media and disciplines. Known as the Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics, this graphic language was intended to communicate social and economic facts to a general audience. In making such information broadly accessible, the Vienna Method's designers hoped to empower the public at large to take informed positions on a variety of social and political issues.

Prior to and during the period of this collaboration, Arntz was a member of the Rhineland-based Gruppe progressiver Künstler [Group of Progressive Artists]. In 1929 two additional members of this group—the Dutch artist Peter Alma (1886-1969) and the Czech artist Augustin Tschinkel (1905-1983)—joined Arntz at the museum. All three artists produced prints, drawings, and paintings in an expressive mode, later classified under the rubric "figurative constructivism." While these "free" works (as they often described them) were produced independent of the applied work at the museum, the two types of production share several key stylistic and iconographic features. Yet, the relationship between figurative constructivist artworks and pictorial statistic graphics has until now remained obscure. This dissertation analyzes the nature of this creative relationship by describing the different circumstances out of which the two projects originated, and by examining the manner in which certain figurative constructivist features were adapted in the design of pictorial statistics. In considering the ways in which these two types of work were presented and discussed together in a variety of contemporaneous avant-garde publications, the present investigation will provide new insights concerning the interwar connections between the artistic avant-garde and visual communication in the sciences.