Our Artwork of the Month in April 2020 was Columbus in der Slovakei (1936), a cultural travel guide by Leopold Wolfgang Rochowanski (1888–1961) that introduced Slovak modern art, architecture and, mainly, folk culture to the unaware German-speaking reader. This post is a follow-up: though Columbus was a financial disaster, and almost drove its publisher EOS-Verlag into ruin, Rochowanski pursued the idea of publishing more travel guides of the same sort. Writing to various institutions and government agencies across Europe, he proposed travel guides to the Czech Lands, the Sudetenland, Austria, and the Netherlands in the late 1930s, all of which were rejected amid growing political tensions and a dire economic situation. However, the author eventually succeeded after the Second World War, publishing a cultural travel guide to Austria with the Österreichische Buchgemeinschaft (Austrian book club) in 1949. At this point Austria, whose population had eagerly supported National Socialism, yearned to reinvent itself in an effort to overcome the past, and officials such as Chancellor Karl Renner focused on promoting an Austrian identity that was separate from that of Germany. Against this background, Rochowanski’s second travel guide, Unser Land mit unsern Augen (Our Land with our Eyes), shows that the theme of continuity and rupture, which the CRAACE project focuses on around 1918, recurred around the historical break of 1938–1945. Given that the book had already been written in 1938 but was only published later, as its epilogue reveals, it raises some important questions about new beginnings and a lingering past, which bring to light striking continuities in Austria before and after 1945.
The first CRAACE conference, ‘In the Shadow of the Habsburg Empire? Art and Architecture in Interwar Central Europe’, took place in the Moravian Gallery, Brno, from 12 to 14 September 2019. With three keynote speakers, five sessions and fifteen papers, the event explored the topic of continuities and ruptures in post-Habsburg Central European art history from several angles, sparking many engaging discussions. This brief report below can only highlight a few of the wider topics that emerged in the course of the three days. (The conference programme can be accessed here.)
“See! A vertical from steel of 1000 meters! This was made by Czech hands! Look out from above the clouds! This is the Czech land, our homeland!”
In 1937, the Czechoslovak government, the Chamber of Commerce and a number of businesses decided to host an international exhibition in Prague, scheduled to take place in 1942. The plan was published and immediately attracted the attention of a host of individuals and institutions. Part of the bid was a proposal to build a lookout tower which would be located on a hill in northern Prague and be 1000 meters high. The estimated price was a staggering 65,000,000 crowns; to put this amount into context, an average monthly salary at the time was 764 crowns. However excessive the idea may seem, the design was very well thought through and an elaborate rationale was provided.
Our artwork of the month – the first instalment in this new series – is not from the interwar period: it was created in 2008-2009. It has been chosen as an introductory piece because it represents an important aspect of our research in a thought-provoking way. Our project considers Central Europe after 1918 as a shared cultural space, but in doing so it has to deal with the political reality: the newly minted nation states of the region and the new borders drawn between them. These borders – either their enforcement, or, as in the case of Hungary, their fervent contestation – were central to political discourse in all of these countries. The concept of the nation state relies on the idea that the ethnic, cultural and administrative borders of a nation should correspond with each other; this is, however, rarely the case in reality. The new states of Central Europe were not homogeneous either ethnically or culturally. In the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, different ethnic groups had not only lived side by side, but also intermingled. After 1918 the population of the region underwent a radical mental shift from imperial multi-nationalism towards ethnic nationalism. Yet, multi-ethnicity was still present, and cultural transfer happened between ethnicities and across borders. What does this curious map tell us about all this? Let’s take a look.
Following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the brand new state of Czechoslovakia was founded on 28 October 1918. Unifying several provinces with no previous historic connections – Bohemia, Moravia, Czech-speaking Silesia, Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia -, it was a multiethnic state that nevertheless sought to construct a single, encompassing national identity for its citizens. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary, Dr Marta Filipová, a member of the CRAACE team, has written an article about the complex identity politics of Czechoslovakia for the University of Birmingham website. Read it here.