The MFA looks back on ‘The Postcard Age’

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Imagine in a hundred years if someone were to create an art exhibit about the heyday of the Internet. With literally millions of links to choose from, how could we narrow it down to the most historical, insightful and beautiful websites of this age?

The curators of “The Postcard Age,” a new MFA exhibit of postcards, faced a similar challenge. And the resultant effort exemplifies the cliche “something for everybody.” That’s because between the years 1890 and 1910, postcards became such a craze in Europe and America that they did affect everybody. In 1903, one billion passed through Germany alone.

One billion is a number we don’t normally associate with the early 1900s, but billions of postcards were printed during the peak of the phenomenon; a fact which, according to exhibit curator Benjamin Weiss, was instrumental in the postcard’s ability to capture all of the most crucial artistic, political and trivial concerns and trends of the time.

“Postcards tell a story,” says Weiss. “They were the perfect mirror of all the cares and concerns across the world.”

To present the story that postcards tell, the MFA started with 100,000 postcards from the collection of Leonard A. Lauder (a promised gift to the museum) and worked its way down to approximately 700 of the very best.

“It’s not the biggest, by any stretch,” says Weiss of Lauder’s treasure trove, “but it’s probably the most important and comprehensive postcard collection in the world.”

Postcards are grouped into relevant sections and mounted in frameless Plexiglas displays that keep the essentially commercial pieces of design from appearing too precious.

Lauder’s collection contains not only postcards created by the medium’s noted commercial artists, such as Raphael Kirchner, but also fine artists who couldn’t resist the medium’s disposable beauty, such as Kandinsky and Toulouse-Lautrec.

On that note, whether you visit for the history or the designs, “The Postcard Age” will make your visit to the gift shop as affordable as ever!


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