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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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3. In Zagreb and Belgrade. Ljubomir Micić, the Barbaro-Genius, Zenitism, and Yugoslavian Dadaism


63 3. In Zagreb and Belgrade Ljubomir Micić, the Barbaro-Genius, Zenitism, and Yugoslavian Dadaism In fact, the list can be made as long as one likes. The examples are innumerable and spread all over Central and Eastern Europe referring to radical artistic ex- pressions or idioms directly affecting essential parts of the 20th century European art development. If the quarreling conference in Düsseldorf and the revolutionary exhibition in Berlin in 1922, of which both had a remarkable Central and Eastern European participation, preceded the emergence of full-scale international Con- structivism and if at the same time Sztreminski s´ and Kairiukstis´ exhibition in Vilnius one year later marked the birth of specific Polish Constructivism, then one more remarkably important exhibition one year later – in April 1924 – might, however, be characterized as a beginning of the end of an equally blazing Avant- Gardist firework display which had illuminated the South-East European skye ever since the turn of the decade around 1920. Like the Vilnius exhibition, it was in this case too an exhibition which, from a Western European point of view, must Zagreb in the 1910´s. Contemporary postcard. 64 have been considered taking place in a culturally marginalized geographical re- gion furthermore lousy and poisoned with political conflicts, actions of revenge, political murders, aggression, and violence, which was partly true; to be sure, it was here the Great War started. Nevertheless, the immediate course of events leading to the exhibition in 1924 originated in the geographical outskirts of the former...

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