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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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10 Meditative Modernism: Dornach 1913/Munich 1918/Stuttgart (Reinhold J. Fäth)


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10 Meditative Modernism: Dornach 1913/Munich 1918/Stuttgart 1945


Since the 1960s, research in art history has become increasingly aware of avant-garde artists of European modernism concerned with spiritual and occult currents such as Mysticism, Spiritualism, Theosophy and Anthroposophy. As yet the anthroposophical artists’ colony in Dornach, Switzerland, has hardly been researched as a special group among the anthroposophist community. The chapter will first illustrate and discuss the artistic activities in Dornach. Secondly, it will introduce two offshoots of the Dornach colony: the anthroposophical artists groups Aenigma (Munich 1918) and the Anthroposophischer Künstlerkreis Stuttgart (1945). These artists turned away from the busy art world and pursued their own theosophically or anthroposophically oriented meditative path to realize a type of art with spiritual objectives, which went beyond decadent art as well as the increasingly professionalized modernist art.

In 1970, the art historian Sixten Ringbom published his pioneering study The Sounding Cosmos,2 a discussion of Wassily Kandinsky’s relationship with the theosophical writer Rudolf Steiner, and its meaning for the development of Kandinsky’s abstract painting. His study holds a particular relevance to the present, due to the recent rediscovery of some of the artists who participated in the theosophical movement, such as, for example, the painter Hilma af Klint, whom some critics have labelled as ‘pioneer of Abstraction’, and whose works have been exhibited worldwide.3 Indeed, ← 249 | 250 → in 1906, long before Kandinsky and other painters, Hilma...

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