The history of modern art has its share of icons, and the Bauhaus in particular is considered a reliable supplier of great achievements between the wars. Undoubtedly one of them was the design for a single-family house by Farkas Molnár (1897–1945), famously titled the Red Cube, which was planned for the first Bauhaus exhibition in 1923 but then remained in the design stage. The focus of most commentators has rarely been on how the building can be analysed and situated in detail, however, since it is its iconic look that has draw most of the attention. The colour and forms of the designs are reminiscent of the latest creations in painting in the early 1920s, which circulated across Europe, especially in the Soviet Union and the Netherlands. This entails the discussion of Constructivism, which also had an impact on architecture. In the first years of the Bauhaus, the utopian and rational character of art in the machine age was thus negotiated, but at the same time, for many artists, including Farkas Molnár, the human being remained the measure of all things.
Lace is not typically viewed as high art. It is more of a decorative or utility object found under vases and on windowsills or as an ornament on garments. Historically speaking, it was often seen as a luxury product due to its hand-made origin that involved acquired skill. As a decorative object, its place in modern culture is tentative, however. Lace has been commonly linked to handicrafts, home industries and to folk art. At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, new themes and approaches to lace began to be explored and Emilie Paličková Milde (1892–1973) is one of the key examples of a designer who experimented with lace as a form of artistic expression.
In the Budapest suburb of Pasarét, just some 400 metres away from the church of St. Anthony’s, discussed in an earlier article in this blog, is a quiet residential street of villas built in the early 1930s. This unassuming road, Napraforgó utca (Sunflower Street), occupies an important place in the history of interwar architecture and urban thought in Hungary, for it was an experiment in the uses of modernist design in addressing the acute housing problems of the post-war city. Somewhat neglected in the decades after the Second World War, it was declared a national historic monument in 1999, and in the last ten years or so it has become a subject of particular interest due to its putative association with the Bauhaus. The title alone of the Napraforgó Street Bauhaus Association (Napraforgó Utcai Bauhaus Egyesület), set up in 2017, indicates the importance given to this connection. On the occasion of the 2019 Bauhaus centenary, the Association organised walking tours and an open-air exhibition in the street.
1938 was an important year in the history of Hungary’s authoritarian interwar regime. The nine hundredth anniversary of the death of King Stephen I (Saint Stephen, c. 975–1038), Hungary’s first king, was declared a Jubilee Year, and a long series of celebrations and commemorations were organised on the occasion. One of the most significant projects was the Ruin Garden in Székesfehérvár: a new memorial site set up to preserve and make accessible the ruins of the basilica Stephen had founded in the town in the early eleventh century. The garden was flanked by a mausoleum built to house a sarcophagus believed to have been the king’s. Behind the sarcophagus, elevating the sacral aura of the space, the wall was divided by a tall and imposing stained-glass window. Its maker, Lili Sztehlo (1897–1959), was the most prominent artist working in this technique in interwar Hungary.
Es ‘steht ein kleiner Pavillon, und welches Wunder, er ist fertig schon’ – ‘There stands a little pavilion, and what a wonder, it’s already done’ – sang the cabaret artist Hermann Leopoldi on the occasion of the opening of the Austrian pavilion at the Paris World’s Fair in June 1937. He had thus taken his share in the ‘image construction’ of the Austrofascist regime, by hailing one of its landmarks. While civil war was shaking Spain, Stalinist terror was raging in the Soviet Union, and fascist Italy and Nazi Germany had suppressed almost all resistance, Austria appeared consolidated and peaceful. The uprising of the Social Democrats in February 1934 had been crushed, all parties since been banned, the rule of law been eliminated. Nevertheless, communists and socialists continued to resist, and illegal, yet tolerated Nazis successfully undermined the state. The Austrian ‘Ständestaat,’ the Corporate State, as it called itself, was unable to completely control cultural activity; while censorship and repression were nevertheless present, best described in Robert Musil’s words as an ‘evil spiritlessness.’ But even if a subliminal counter-reformation, with its emphasis on the Baroque and the sacred, was the state’s cultural leitmotif, a moderate modernism remained possible. The hesitant toleration of it, combined with a recourse to the imperial past, furthered the contradiction between defining Austria on its terms and seeing it as the better Germany, characterised the ambivalence of Austrofascist cultural politics.