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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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2. In Vilnius. Lithuanian “la Belle Epoque” and the Birth of Polish Constructivism


38 The attack on the groups behind the Düsseldorf exhibition were as reckles- sas well as being bitingly sarcastic having an almost desperate tone of bitterness against these groups, according to the signatories consisting of only intriguing thieves and power-mad capitalists openly mocking the very idea of international co-operation and which at the same time expressed a mental attitude which, ex- tended in time, would result in the death of the European thought as such, as one did not have to follow any “normal” concepts of truth any more, but only utilitarian considerations. The manifesto was a pure and undisguised indictment against “these parasitic growths that feed themselves on the blood of life and yet remain barren”, these forces usurping power by stealth and intrigues, these croaking frogs in the stinking swamps organizing international exhibitions only to be received in the luxurious saloons of the wealthy or to enjoy the company of the big collectors – no, we know what this bell has tolled and always will toll. We will settle somewhere else: not in that swamp. No. Houses on piles are not for us, and we dislike swamp mists and vapors. The earth will have its way with us. We seek for ourselves a place on this earth where the air is pure and the soil is fertile. The arth will lend us its strength, and we shall lend it ours. Farewell, you frogs.64 The uproar in Düsseldorf and Berlin showed what ought to have been obvious already...

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