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The Sacred Cause

The Europe that was Lost – Thoughts on Central and Eastern European Modernism

Tom Sandqvist

«This book is about Modernism and Avant-Garde movements in Central and Eastern European art around the last turn of the century. It sketches a surrealistic, bewildering, irrational arena. At the same time, we are offered a differentiated view on the complex whole of the avantgarde scene in Eastern Europe. The author takes us to dark soirées, scandalous dada theatrical performances, drunken bouts with loudmouthed reformers. Subjectivity stands against rationality, ethnonationalism against internationalism. Yugoslavian zenitism, Czech poetism, Hungarian activism, and other less-known isms, are proposed in exstatic outbursts in shortlived magazines. The pace is hectic, the commitment enormous, and the sheer force of strongminded individuals overwhelming. All in all, the inversed perspective seems alluringly fresh, with Eastern Europe as the co-producer of ideological content, instead as the receiver, or, even worse, the passive reflection of Western thought. I am impressed by the tolerance of much of the audience before and after the First World War: To be a genius seems to be just a matter of course. Karel Teige in Prague, Ljubomir Micić in Zagreb, Lajos Kassák in Budapest, and Jacek Malczewski in Krakow were tireless propagators of avant-garde art – but also of nostalgic messianism. How did they get away with this, at times, monomaniac egoism, one wonders. Sandqvist finds the answer in that subjectivity was the remedy for avantgarde artists as a defence mechanism against the repressive society and destructive socioeconomical forces.» (Jan von Bonsdorff, Professor, Uppsala University)


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Commendatory Foreword


The late Konstantin Kalinowski, professor of art history at the University in Poznań, Poland, once told me that the last decent coffee house was to be found in the city named Lviv, Lvov, or Lemberg in Ukraine, in the former province of Gali- cia of the Habsburg empire. He was, of course, thinking of the typical Viennese nineteenth century version of the coffee house with overstuffed chairs, waiters in white and black, and coffee specialities like the Einspänner and the Melange. In this way, professor Kalinowski made use of the world-view of the Western Euro- pean. As always, the perspective can be reversed. Turks were present in Lviv in the 17th century, both as peaceful merchants and as besiegers. Coffee-drinking in Lviv may well have pre-dated the Viennese coffee houses (as is the case with earlier coffee houses in London or Bremen). Culture finds its ways. In the present volume, Tom Sandqvist has made use of a radical turn of per- spective, as he scrutinizes the cultural climate of Eastern Europe at the begin- ning of the 20th century. He actively searches for alternative roots for typical ingredients of supposedly international (more often as not, equal to Western) Modernism in the urban centres of Eastern Europe, in Prague, Vilnius, Budapest, Zagreb, Belgrade etc. In the course of this pursuit, dada, the cult of the machine, free-form typography, cubism, black-and-white suprematism, seem to loose the international traits. Instead, the author finds, on the one hand, proof of strong local nationalism,...

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