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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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8 Modernism and Pan-Europeanism: Utopian Concepts and Visions of the Porza Group (Dorothea Schöne)


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8 Modernism and Pan-Europeanism: Utopian Concepts and Visions of the Porza Group


In 1927, the Russian painter Arthur Bryks, the Swiss artist Mario Bernasconi and the German writer and poet Werner Alvo von Alvensleben founded the Porza group, named after a small town in Switzerland. The idea behind the founding of the group was to establish regional chapters, which would organize exhibitions, lectures and theater performances, as well as to offer residencies to artists, musicians and writers from around the world, subsidized by beneficiaries. Driven by a pan-European spirit, the Porza group stood in stark opposition to rise of nationalist and fascist ideas on the continent. While the groups efforts were initially successful – in particular in Berlin and Paris – the group’s activities came unsurprisingly to a quick end after the rise of the National Socialist regime in Germany. The chapter describes the founding initiative, the mission and goal of Porza and exemplarily the efforts and programs of the Berlin chapter.

Europe today is smaller than in our fathers’ days. Smaller, because today it takes less time to travel from Paris to Berlin than it took then from Paris to Lyon. This commonplace, however, has not made it possible to support a revolution in the international relationships among intellectuals as much as one might assume. Artists and writers from different countries know nothing of one another and scarcely know each other.


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