448 pp., 480 illus., 360 color
World War II and under Soviet rule, much of the art and expression
of Central Europe from early in the 20th Century had been forgotten,
overshadowed, lost and ignored by the rest of the world. Over a
decade after the fall of the wall, Central European Avant-Gardes:
Exchange and Transformation, 1910-1930,
edited by Timothy O.
Benson provides a wealth of intricate interpretations on the complex
interaction between artists and intellectuals, cultural changes
and political transformations of early 20th Century Central Europe.
Many of the revolutions and transformations that occurred in Central
Europe in those three decades are still being felt, interpreted
and realized today.
During a period that contains
the collapse of the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman
Empires; the rise of Socialism in Russia and Europe; the rise of
Modernization and Mechanization; and the rumblings of Fascism—these
three decades of the early 20th Century produced a turmoil of culture
clashes, revitalizations, reexaminations, political upheavals, artistic
triumphs and experimentation in Eastern and Central Europe that
are unrivaled in regards to sheer compactness of time and location.
The avant-garde ideas of Cubism, Dada, Expressionism, and Futurism
pouring in from the rest of the West to these newly born nations
were used to express not only unity and utopian visions, but also
nationalistic and religious themes mixed with various reemerging
folk ideas which many in the Western veins of the avant-garde considered
presents key stylistic transformations of the period
from Expressionism to Constructivism; against this background of
history, artists and writers attempted to create new worlds through
their works. Many of the works in this collection, which had not
been seen before in the West, were on display in a traveling exhibition
that is currently at the Matin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin until February.
The exhibition, as well as much of the book, features hundreds of
color plates and reproductions of documents, visual arts, photographs,
films, architectural designs and poems; as well as explainations
of how they intersected during those thirty years. There are also
discussions of movements from Artificialism to Zenitism, essays
on the artists and writers, various publications that showcased
their works, and examples of exhibitions of the period.
for a history and geography buff is how Benson traces the transformations
in Central European art through such lesser studied countries as
Estonia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Latvia, and Hungary, as well as the
major centers of art in the region like Prague, Vienna and Berlin.
City views of Belgrade, Bucharest, Budapest, Cracow, Dessau, Ljubljana,
£ódz, Poznañ, Warsaw, Weimar, and Zagreb provide
a web of historical, cultural and artistic interaction.
Peter Nadas, one
of Hungary’s most renowned contemporary authors, prefaces
the volume with a careful definition of ‘the local’
focusing on the transformation of a pear tree through various seasons
and years and how it is looked upon by the people who are also changed
through those periods.
Although very accessible,
this is not a lay person’s book, or a coffee table volume.
The pictures are often overwhelmed by text, but are still numerous
and worthy. That aside however, this fascinating study is well worth
a look for writers, artists and intellectuals interested in the
transformation of art aside society. I is a gem of a collection
on an important and understudied period of the art of the modern