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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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9. Back in Prague. Alfons Mucha, Franz Kafka, Franz Werfel, Bohemian Nationalism, and Czech Turn of the Century


345 9. Back in Prague Alfons Mucha, Franz Kafka, Franz Werfel, Bohemian Nationalism, and Czech Turn of the Century One of those sitting at the Crémerie Madame Charlotte in Paris at the beginning of the 1890s together with Stanisław Wyspiański, Zenon Przesmycki, Władysław Ślewiński, Stanisław Przybyszewski, and Józef Mehoffer besides numerous French, Belgian, Netherlandish, Russian, Italian, German, and Scandinavian artists and writers willingly letting himself be attracted by the decadent fin-de- siècle atmosphere in Paris with all the implications of syntheticism, occultism, esoterism and exotic mysticism was the thirty years old Alfons Mucha.950 Unam- biguously he was one of the most internationally bent and on the international Modernist art scene most praised artists of all the Central and Eastern European artists traveling to the French capital, coming originally from pretty modest cir- cumstances in the Habsburg empire. The fact that only a few decades later he would be celebrated as the national hero of the young Czech republic, the one who was given the honor of designing the first own stamps and banknotes of the the re- public, the national seal and the country s´ police uniforms, well, this he must have been totally unable to imagine even at the French restaurant, despite the flow of both absinthe and dreams about future grand achievements by wich the gathered artists compensated the poverty in their small attic studios and the everyday hard work at the academies in the neighborhoods. No life story...

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