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Avant-Garde 1920s Costumes Reemerge, Revealing Their Makers’ Tragic Story

In 1920s Hamburg, a dancer couple created wild, Expressionist costumes that looked like retro robots and Bauhaus knights.

Dance costumes for "Technik" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costumes for “Technik” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper (all images courtesy MKG Collection Online)

In 1920s Hamburg, a dancer couple created wild, Expressionist costumes that looked like retro robots and Bauhaus knights. The dancers were Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt, and through the new Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG) online collection, their tragic, forgotten story can be rediscovered.

The 1924 series of photographs of their costumes by Minya Diez-Dührkoop, herself a fascinating figure who took over her father Rudolf Dührkoop‘s Hamburg portrait studio in the early days of photography, are among thousands of public domain items released by MKG online this month. “With its MKG Collection Online, the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe is the first museum in Germany offering out-of-copyright images under the Creative Commons license CC Zero,”Antje Schmidt, MKG Sammlung Online director, told Hyperallergic. “To make new cultural creation possible it is important not only to make this content accessible, but usable.”

Dance costume for "Springvieh" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costume for “Springvieh” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper (click to enlarge)

Eventually MKG hopes to have its entire collection searchable online with high-resolution images, and open-use where possible. In addition to Diez-Dührkoop’s photographs of the dancers, the German museum holds the costumes themselves. They were acquired after the couple’s death in 1924, the very year the images were shot, and not rediscovered in their boxes until the 1980s.

According to MKG, the dancers created 20 full-body costumes for performances between 1919 and 1924, all accompanied by avant-garde music, often composed by Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt. One reason the striking costumes might have been left to gather dust was the startling and sad end to Schulz and Holdt’s story. Both were in their 20s, and had earned little money from their artistic work. In financial ruin, on June 18, 1924, Schulz shot Holdt, and then turned the gun on herself. They both died from their wounds.

Recently, their story has finally come to light, and the restored costumes are on view in the MKG’s Sammlung Moderne galleries. For the reopening of those galleries in 2012, there was a performance reanimating the costumes, with their creative mix of fabric, cardboard, papier-mâché, plaster, leather, and other found objects contributing to a lively frenzy of movement, revived after nearly a century in obscurity.

Dance costume for "Springvieh" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costume for “Springvieh” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Dance costumes for "Technik" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costumes for “Technik” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Dance costumes for "Technik" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costumes for “Technik” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Dance costume for "Toboggan" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costume for “Toboggan” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Dance costume for "Toboggan" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costume for “Toboggan” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Dance costume for "Skirnir" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costume for “Skirnir” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Dance costume for "Skirnir" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costume for “Skirnir” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Dance costume for "Insektentänzer" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costume for “Insektentänzer” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Dance costume for "Insektentänzer" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costume for “Insektentänzer” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Dance costume for "Toboggan" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costume for “Toboggan” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Dance costume for "Toboggan" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costume for “Toboggan” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Dance costumes for "Toboggan" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costumes for “Toboggan” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Dance costume for "Toboggan" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costume for “Toboggan” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Dance costume for "Sie" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costume for “Sie” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Dance costume for "Bibo" (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper
Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costume for “Bibo” (1924), black and white positive on silver gelatin paper

Explore more images from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg at MKG Collection Online.

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