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.
This is the first time a work by Lajos Kassák (1887–1967) features as our Artwork of the Month, but many of our previous articles have mentioned the artist’s name. This is due to Kassák’s uniquely central position in early-twentieth-century Hungarian avant-garde culture. He was not just a visual artist, but also a writer, poet, editor, organiser and thinker. Artists as important and diverse as Sándor Bortnyik (1893–1976), János Mattis-Teutsch (1884–1960), or Lajos Vajda (1908–1941) all belonged to Kassák’s circle before continuing on their separate paths. The significance of Kassák’s periodicals and collaborative projects is so great that they can easily steal the limelight from his individual artistic output. This is how Kassák became a recurring background figure on this blog, and it is high time for him to come into focus.
To many, the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918 following the traumatic war experience promised a reorganisation of the unjust class system and social and class change became the dream of many leftist artists. Creating a new visual language that would not be elitist and appeal especially to the disadvantaged working classes was an idea promoted by many individuals and collectives from the foundation of the new state. The artistic association Devětsil was born on these principles in 1920. Its key representatives were the young men of Prague and, from 1923, of Brno, who engaged in various artistic forms: painting, sculpture, architecture, design, film, photography, literature, theatre. The choice of the name Devětsil is a mystery. The Czech word refers to a plant, a butterbar, while the literary translation of nine forces could suggest a connection with the nine Greek muses.