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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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5. In Prague. Karel Teige, Devětsil, Poetism, and the Czech Avant-Garde

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172 of matter.”461 Naturally, Kassák embraced the skyscrapers of New York, the via- ducts, engines, bridges, and X-ray machines as things “which mean victory over God s´ creation” as Moholy-Nagy chose to illustrate the book with both reproduc- tions of works by mainly Russian and Hungarian Constructivists and photos of everything from bridges and railway stations up to skyscrapers and power lines. Indeed, the seemingly paradoxical synthesist feature was, however, underlined by the fact that Kassák and Moholy-Nagy simultaneously presented both Robert Delaunay, Paul Klee, and Marc Chagall, which, according to Passuth, reflected certain ideas of the Expressionist Der Blaue Reiter Almanach edited ten years earlier by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. This was the case even though they simultaneously glorified the triumph of Constructivism and emphasized the modernity of industrial culture and the artist as its engineer and architect. It was no coincidence either that it was the deeply religious Kazimir Malevich, inspired by esoteric and mystical doctrines, who would give the decisive impulse in regard to Moholy-Nagy s´ development as a painter. Even though the specific philosophi- cal process of thought was unknown to him, according to Passuth,462 Moholy- Nagy understood and assimilated the visual forms of Suprematism, the simple emblematic configurations, for instance the cross and the circle. Moholy-Nagy s´ development seems actually impossible to grasp without Suprematism, indeed, without all those discourses and idioms which he interwove with each other in the complex “textual” web which would become the Constructivism with which...

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