A detail camera shot examines rubber being mixed and moulded by heavy machinery. ‘Finished. You’re beautiful. Alas, it took me a while but you have been made properly.’ A young man sings as he is taking a rubber tyre off the machine. Walking through the factory yard and wheeling the tyre alongside, he carries on: ‘And now, off you go on your own, find your master and serve him well, I’m telling you.’ The camera focuses on the tyre with large lettering that reads Baťa and Superb. ‘It’s no easy task as every one of your masters entrusts his life to you,’ the young man warns. And as he starts running with the tyre over a field and down the road leading away from the factory, he cheers up.
In 1927 Kurt Tucholsky published a poem called Das Ideal (The Ideal), in which he pieces together a fantastic wish list for his life including all the money in the world, an endless, but harmless stream of food and alcohol, and his desired apartment. The latter let him see the Alps in the backyard, and Berlin’s Friedrichstraße in the front, with tight-lipped servants, a rooftop tree garden, and 2 ponies, 4 stallions, 8 cars and a motorcycle in the barn. That is what the new Reader in East-Central-European Modernism 1918–1956 edited by Beáta Hock, Klara Kemp-Welch and Jonathan Owen and published online by the Courtauld Institute achieves: an easily accessible resource for an international audience that will serve as an essential point of reference for students and scholars of the field. Bringing together and translating 27 wide-ranging essays, written in Czech, Slovak, Polish or Hungarian, and not available in English before, is a great achievement. The publication was born out of a course on central European modern art and culture in the MA programme at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. Whereas there were some anthologies of primary sources, which still could be expanded on in the future, there was simply not a sufficient quantity of secondary literature available for the student. In contrast to the plethora of studies on German or Soviet art in the interwar period, there is still to this day a lack of easily accessible English articles on interwar Czech, Hungarian, or Polish art. This new reader makes good that lack, and the editors should be praised highly for their efforts; there are indeed many stallions in the stable.
CALL FOR PAPERS
Faith and Religion in Central European Art and Architecture, 1918-1939
The Dark Side of Modernism?
CRAACE workshop, 24–25 September 2020
One of the most marked aspects of 20th century modernism was the search for the spiritual. Figures such as Kandinsky, Mondrian, Kupka and Feininger all saw their practice as a quest for forms that might give visible form to mystical and spiritual absolutes.
This has long been a recognised part of the landscape of modern art and architecture. A much less examined feature has been the involvement of organised religions, particularly churches, in modernist practice after the First World War. Indeed, between 1918 and 1939 churches acted as one of the most powerful ideological and cultural-political forces in central Europe. Not only the Catholic Church, but also the various orthodox and evangelical churches, gave impetus to the demand for a revival of ‘spiritual’ values, or helped mobilise ‘spiritual’ values in furtherance of political and ideological ends.
The second CRAACE conference, ‘Multiplying Modernity: Vernacular Modernisms, Nostalgia and the Avant-Garde’, took place in the East Slovak Gallery, Košice, from 6 to 7 December 2019 and examined the roles of folk art, the vernacular and regionalism in interwar East/Central European modernism. The conference programme can be accessed here.
What social and political role did modern art and art criticism play in the Czech lands during the first half of the twentieth century? Marta Filipová’s new book (Routledge 2019) assesses this question with close analysis of five themes (Modernism, The People, Society, Identity, Traditions), which show just how closely the construction of modern Czech art was intertwined with national, social and political interests. By considering Czech art writing and criticism across a timespan leading from the Czechoslavic Ethnographic Exhibition of 1895 until the Second World War, the book highlights the central role of Czech national identity in the formulation of Czech modern art and, in turn, the ways in which Czech art and artistic discourse sought to confirm and redevelop national identity.