If you thought postcards were always about cheap photos of a city’s major tourism sights, think again. The Big City / Small Format exhibition at the Wien Museum MUSA reveals a far more interesting story.
- Traces the history of postcards in Vienna
- Presents their different roles
- Documenter of cityscapes and city life
- Medium for art, communication & advertising
- …and more
- Runs May 4 – Sept 24, 2023
- See also:
Big City / Small Format
(Friedrich Kaiser Gasse with school. Sperlings Postkartenverlag, ca. 1910 © Wien Museum)
Postcards can feel a little quaint in the era of Instagram and TikTok. And who hasn’t spotted those curling and faded relics clogging up postcard stands outside souvenir shops?
Not, then, a medium with a great reputation at the moment. Ah, but take a second look. Or, rather, allow the Wien Museum MUSA to give you a second look in their Big City / Small Format exhibition.
On the surface, the exhibition presents the history of the postcard in Vienna, albeit with a clear focus on how those little rectangles of card portray the urban landscape.
Unlike today, much of that history involved far more than simple photos of palaces and cathedrals.
(Bim (tram), from the Wien 01 series. Verlag Art Postal. Photo: Frank Dehner, 2019 © Frank Dehner)
If you look around Visiting Vienna, for example, you often find old photos of events or nondescript street scenes illustrating articles. I source many from postcards in the Wien Museum collection under their generous open content policy.
Historical postcards serve as a documentation of urban life away from the visitor hotspots. As such, they help us piece together the transformation of the cityscape through time.
So the exhibition doubles as an exploration of urban history, Viennese identity and street photography.
However, postcards represent more than just mirrors of a time and place.
(The Hofburg in Vienna. Wiener Werkstätte No. 262. Graphic: József Divéky, 1909 or later © Wien Museum)
Other roles include communication (obviously), advertising, and art…all of which continue today. These and further aspects of the postcard receive due attention in the exhibition.
For example, the legendary era of Viennese Modernism that gave rise to such folk as Gustav Klimt also reached into postcard territory; the Wiener Werkstätte produced postcards with motifs by painters and designers like Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele or Josef Hoffmann.
Most of the actual postcards on display come from that collection I mentioned. But the exhibition also draws on loans from other sources.
Be sure to take in the ancillary displays examining related topics. For example, the often gorgeous illustrated correspondence cards and letter paper that preceded the postcard.
The videos on image retouching also prove remarkably intriguing, particularly the realisation that “photoshopping” is not a new invention. The video demonstrating how Carl Anders Nilsson prepares a final postcard image from raw photos is particularly impressive.
Dates, tickets & tips
Browse the postcards and the stories behind them from May 4th to September 24th, 2023. A ticket for the MUSA is essentially a ticket for the main exhibition inside. Everything else there requires no ticket.
Once there, you’re not far from one of our favourite café-confectioneries: Sluka at Rathausplatz 8. (Try the pear cake.)
How to get there
Follow the travel tips at the bottom of the main Wien Museum MUSA article. The institution lies centrally next door to the Rathaus and Rathauspark (home to the Christkindlmarkt and other popular events).
Address: Felderstraße 6–8, 1010 Vienna