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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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6. In Poland. Polish Dada, Witkacy, the Polish Avant-Garde, and Nationalism


205 6. In Poland Polish Dada, Witkacy, the Polish Avant-Garde, and Nationalism Like the Nowej Sztuki exhibition in Vilnius, the Bazaar exhibition in Prague would be followed only one year later by an additional two as spectacular as epoch-making exhibitions united by a similar idea of mixing high and low, “se- rious” art with various everyday objects. At the same time the other of the two exhibitions was directly connected to and could also be regarded as an immediate result of the Vilnius exhibition by the fact that it showed works by five of the total seven artists exhibiting in the ancient Lithuanian capital. The fact that both of the exhibitions furthermore may be linked to Italian Futurism as well as Dadaism, at the same time they also signaled that Constructivism in all its seriousness was about entering the Polish art scene as well was no coincidence, but rather a mani- festation of the same kind of “eclecticism” or yearning for an all-integrating syn- thesis that characterized most of Central and Eastern European Modernism and Avant-Gardism. At the same time, this synthesis would be permeated with spe- cific nationalist ideological aspirations to a much greater extent than elsewhere, due to the special historical past of the country ever since the end of the 18th cen- tury and throughout the whole 19th century, up to the moment when the country regained its sovereignty in the wake of the Great War and passed a parliamentary constitution in 1921 after the war with...

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