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Groups, Coteries, Circles and Guilds

Modernist Aesthetics and the Utopian Lure of Community

Edited By Laura Scuriatti

In the first half of the twentieth century, artists, intellectuals, writers, thinkers and patrons in Europe and the United States created a large number of artistic communities, circles, groups and movements with the aim of providing alternatives to the increasingly conflictual political and intellectual climate; the works and artistic practices of many of these groups were marked by an ethos of collaboration, based on a collective understanding of artistic production, and on the nurturing and exercise of sociability and conviviality. Collaboration, sociability, friendship and collective artistic efforts represented the utopian aspects of the radical experiments carried out by avant-garde and modernist artists; they were also the counterparts of the period’s obsession with the notion of genius and the cult of the artist. This book offers studies of under-researched (and often consciously provincial) avant-garde and modernist groups and authors. Their progressive aims are here read as particular forms of utopia based on the ethics and aesthetics of community.

The essays in this volume analyse the significance (and failures) of literary coteries as spaces of aesthetic and political freedom. They explore the internationalist and interdisciplinary practices of the Porza Group, the abstrakten hannover and the anthroposophical group Aenigma; the utopian efforts of the artists’ communities at Dornach (Switzerland) and Farley Farm, in England; the political and aesthetic implications of collaborative practices of cultural mediation, criticism and translation within the Bloomsbury group, the «Young American Critics», and of single individuals in relation to networks and avant-garde coteries, such as Mina Loy, the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and Djuna Barnes. The volume offers an evaluation of the roots and ethos of sociability in the Enlightenment, as the basis of modernist utopias of community; it also reflects on the problematic notion of individual authorship within artistic groups, as in the case of the early-modernist Finnish author Algot Untola, who created around forty fictitious author-names.

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6 Farley Farm: An Experiment in Artistic Utopia (Martina Rinaldi)


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6 Farley Farm: An Experiment in Artistic Utopia


This essay investigates the formation of the utopian community of Farley Farm House, East Sussex – a community based on the ideals of brotherhood, communion and closeness to nature, that attracted artists and intellectuals in the years following the Second World War. Farley Farm was a transnational site of reconstruction, and its artistic community was the result of Roland Penrose’s and Lee Miller’s utopian desire to relocate from London into the countryside, where their pacifist and unconventional ideals could find a more suitable mode of expression. The chapter focuses on three main concepts: resilience, as the fundamental force in Penrose and Miller’s creation of a new lifestyle; hybridity, as the core of Surrealist ideals and aesthetic practice; dissemination, pointing at Penrose’s tireless promotion of a new artistic language and community, culminating with the creation of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in London, a landmark episode which shaped the artistic awareness of the Sixties and the Seventies in the UK.

A taste for utopia

The incredible wave of physical and spiritual destruction that the First World War left behind itself played a significant role in giving new life to the thirst for utopian living and artistic production in the interwar years. The Surrealists (mostly active in the 1920s and the 1930s), like other avant-garde groups, emerged as an attempt to deal with the disruption and crisis of...

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