Carry Hauser Moderne Welt

Artwork of the Month, October 2022: Cover of Moderne Welt by Carry Hauser (1934)

In August 1934, the Austrian illustrated magazine Moderne Welt featured a bright cover of a couple in folk dress, which appeared to stand in full contradiction with the modernity emphasised in its title. Yet the cover perfectly illustrates a shift in modern Austrian culture towards what we might call ‘alpine modernity’. Representing a trend embracing the country’s alpine geography and folk traditions, it had begun to develop in the 1920s but gained special importance during the reactionary Dollfuss-Schuschnigg regime of the 1930s. With its peculiar mix of technological progress and rural life, Austria’s ‘alpine modernity’ reinvented the country as a tourist-friendly, German, Catholic country, whose most remarkable features were ‘cosiness’ (‘Gemütlichkeit‘), natural beauty, and the celebration of folk traditions and religious life. International tourist advertising aside, this image also circulated widely in the national press, and encouraged city dwellers, especially, to venture out and explore their home country. Thus, even though the folkloric naivety of the image appears to represent the very opposite of the modern world proclaimed in the magazine title, the two poles were not as far removed from one another as the cover may initially suggest. Moreover, the cover was designed by Carry Hauser (1895–1985), a painter, stage designer, printmaker, and writer, who was closely involved in efforts to rejuvenate Austrian culture after the First World War. Contextualising the Moderne Welt cover in relation to Hauser’s work as well as the magazine, this Artwork of the Month essay shows that Austrian modern culture maintained strong ties to rural culture throughout the interwar years and promoted it at home just as much as abroad.

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Still from Karel Plicka's film The Earth Sings

Artwork of the Month, May 2022: The Earth Sings by Karel Plicka (1933)

In 1934, two Czechoslovak films were sent to the Venice Film Festival. The first was Gustav Machatý’s Extase from 1933, which not only brought its protagonist, the young Hedy Lamarr, to fame, but also caused outrage for its explicit presentation of female sexuality. The second film was altogether different: it had no stars, no dramatic narrative arc, no great love story. It was not even a box office success, though critics lauded its artistic value as a ‘film poem’ that, as museum director Josef Polák claimed in the Prague daily Lidové noviny, exemplified ‘what cinema could be when the moving shadows are not simply a commodity’:[1] The Earth Sings (Zem spieva, 1933), written and directed by Karel Plicka (1894–1987), interwar Czechoslovakia’s most influential artist­­-ethnographer.

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Imrich Weiner-Král, Zidovska Street III, detail

Artwork of the Month December 2021: Židovská Street III (1935–36) by Imrich Weiner-Kráľ

Nowadays, Židovská ulica (Jewish Street), wedged between Bratislava castle and the historic city centre, is only a meagre leftover of what it used to be. Forming one of the central locations of the city’s Jewish quarter, a large stretch of the street was destroyed in 1972 during the construction of the New Bridge (officially called ‘The Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising’), as was a large part of the Jewish quarter with it. Even though more recent years have seen efforts to resuscitate the Jewish heritage of the city, including the opening of the Museum of Jewish Culture in 1993, the destruction of the community’s built environment as late as the 1970s underlines a difficult, near erased heritage. With a focus on the painting Židovská Street III (1935–1936), this article seeks to redraw a connection between interwar Jewish life in the eastern part of Czechoslovakia (Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia) and a prominent representative of Slovak modernism: the Jewish-Hungarian-Slovak painter and graphic artist Imrich/Imre/Imro Weiner (later Weiner-Kráľ , 1901–1978).[1] Ultimately, it argues that if we interpret Weiner-Kráľ s work in the light of his Jewish identity, we might also question traditional interpretations of Slovak modernism that have seen it primarily as an expression of national identity.

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Interior view of th exhibition Civilised Woman

Whose modernity is it? A Brno exhibition that highlights the paradox of the interwar ‘civilised’ woman

She was the perfect type of modern girl around 1930, a kind of vague thing between an adult girl and an underage boy, between physical culture and mental exhaustion, between gymnastics and black dance, between classical sculpture and the products of the modern art industry.[1]

Taken from the book Ženy na rampě (Women on the ramp, 1934), this quote by the writer Maryna Fričová  encapsulates the paradoxes of the ideal modern woman as she graced the covers of women’s magazines, featured in movies and presented the latest fashion in interwar Czechoslovakia. Projected on a wall at the entrance to the exhibition Civilizovaná žena: Ideál i paradox prvorepublikové vizuální kultury (Civilised Woman: Ideal and Paradox in the Visual Culture of the First Republic), curated by Martina Pachmanová and Kateřina Svatoňová at the Moravian Gallery in Brno, Fričová’s statement serves as an ideal starting point to an exhibition, which focuses on the Czech type of the modern woman – the ‘civilised woman’ – and her representation in interwar visual culture.

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Artwork of the Month, July 2021: Logo of the Salzburg Festival by Poldi Wojtek (1928)

One of Austria’s most established cultural highlights each summer is the Salzburg Festival of music and drama. Taking place annually since 1920, the festival was the brainchild of the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929) and the director Max Reinhardt (1873–1943), who sought to give a new lease of life to Austrian culture after the collapse of the Habsburg Empire. In his ground-breaking analysis of the festival’s early days, the historian Michael P. Steinberg has shown that Hoffmannsthal conceived of the event as an affirmation of a new Austrian identity, which aimed to merge a cosmopolitan outlook with a deep Catholicism and sense of greater German identity.[1] This sense of ‘national cosmopolitanism’ as a new Austrian culture was also anchored in the turn away from the old imperial capital Vienna – located Austrian identity instead in Salzburg, a former independent prince-archbishopric and Baroque city in the Austrian alps. The festival thus manifested a different kind of modernity in Austrian interwar culture – one that embraced conservatism and nationalism as a significant part of its post-imperial identity.

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