De Stijl, “A Short Review of the Proceedings [of the Congress of International Progressive Artists], Followed by the Statements Made by the Artists’ Groups” (1922)

Translated from the Dutch by Nicholas Bullock.

From The Tradition of Constructivism.

(Da Capo Press.  New York, NY: 1974).

• • •

The Young Rhineland group, along with a number of other German groups — the November Group (Berlin), Darmstadt Secession, Dresden Secession, among others — took the initiative in forming a kind of union with the backing of a majority of medium-sized groups in order to set up an International of Progressive Artists.  But in this, as in everything, there is agreement in theory but not in practice.  With their [59] fine-sounding manifestoes the leaders of the French and German groups drummed out the following proclamation:

FOUNDING PROCLAMATION OF THE UNION OF PROGRESSIVE INTERNATIONAL ARTISTS

From all over the world come voices calling for a union of progressive artists.  A lively exchange of ideas between artists of different countries has now become necessary.  The lines of communication that were torn up by political events are finally reopened.  We want universal and international interest in art.  We want a universal international periodical.  We want a permanent, universal, international exhibition of art everywhere in the world.  We want a universal, international music festival that will unite mankind at least once a year with a language that can be understood by all.

The long dreary spiritual isolation must now end.  Art needs the unification of those who create.  Forgetting questions of nationality, without political bias or self-seeking intention, our slogan must now be: ‘Artists of all nationalities unite.’  Art must become international or it will perish.

[Signed:] The Young Rhineland, Düsseldorf; Dresden Secession; November Group, Berlin; Darmstadt Secession; Creative Group, Dresden; Theodor Däubler.  Else Lasker-Schüler, Herbert Eulenberg, Oskar Kokoschka, Christian Rohlfs, Romain Rolland, Wassily Kandinsky, Han Ryner, Edouard Dujardin, Marcel Millet, Tristan Remy, Marek Schwarz, Marcel Sauvage (Groupe l’Albatros), Paul Jamatty, Prampolini, Pierre Creixamt, Henri Poulaille, Maurice Wullens, Pierre Larivière (Guilde des Artisans de l’Avenir), Josef Quessnel.  Germain Delafons (Les Compagnons), Stanislaw Kubicki.  A.  Feder, Jankel Adler, Arthur Fischer.

Being in the majority, the Unionists thought themselves strong enough to win over the minority of really progressive artists to their side to force them to sign the Union proclamation unconditionially.  In true Prussian tradition everybody who did not obey was to be thrown out.  This provoked a violent reaction from the progressive minority.  At this point active intervention by the International Faction of Constructivists (Van Doesburg, Lissitzky, Richter) resolved the conflict, and the enforced silning of the manifesto was changed to simply recording on a list the signatures of those present.

[60-61]

The next thing the Unionists did was to read aloud and applaud the program of the Young Rhineland group. Their program…consisted of no less than 149 paragraphs, devoted almost exclusively to the problems of finance and exhibitions and to starting an annual music festival and setting up an international periodical (whose appearance announced in the catalogue of the international exhibition at Düsseldorf).  Next those who had come with the intention of forming an organization of creative forces, and who put artistic considerations before everything else, turned against the program.  From this it was apparent that the whole International was already prepared, behind the backs of those present (except, of course, the Young Rhineland) for the real issue at stake in deciding the aims of the congress: to form a group of progressive artists from those present, who collectively, rather than as individuals, would destroy anything that might stand in the way of the development of the creative arts.  The I.F.d.K. (Van Doesburg, Lissitzky, Richter) wanted to know first of all what kind of International this would be: was it to be a financial or an artists’ International?

In addition they demanded that a committee should be elected from everybody present (not just from the Young Rhineland).  Everybody should then submit his ideas on the way in which the International should work to the committee through the secretariat and these would then be openly discussed.  But again all questions about the character of the International were only answered evasively.  Even the formation of a definite committee was shiftily dealt with.  At the twentieth point in the 149-paragraph program the speaker (Mr. Wollheim) was interrupted by loud protests.  Several suggestions were made at this point, among them, that a committee should be nominated which should then select the program of the Union.  At the request of the IFd.K. a copy of the proceedings was circulated to all present.

After that the sitting was adjourned and the participants joined for a boat trip.

Second day (May 30)

After a speech by a member of the Young Rhineland group and the reading of some telegrams, the floor was thrown open to all members of the congress.  In this way it was hoped to take account of the [62] demands and suggestions of those present.  The dadaists, who had been protesting continuously from the beginning, declared themselves opposed to the whole character and setup of the congress.  Mr. Henryk Berlewi (Poland) asked for a clear definition of the term ‘progressive artist.’

One of the French representatives declared France ready to hold exhibitions of German art provided that the Union would make reasonable suggestions.  Another French representative pointed out the necessity for a new romantic movement (protests from the progressive artists).  Mr. Kubicki called attention to the need for a truly friendly and brotherly way of working together (applause).  By this time the congress had lost all sense of leadership and there was continual shouting going on.  The last speakers were Lissitzky, Richter, and Van Doesburg.  They explained their reasons for attending the conference in a statement that was interrupted partly by applause, partly by protest.  This impartial statement of the position of the different factions, with its accompanying declaration, printed here in full, was given to the Unionists, the French, and the Italian representatives at the end of the congress.  After that Mr. Raoul Hausmann (dadaist) read a protest in both French and German declaring that he was neither for the progressives nor for the artists, and that he was no more international than he was a cannibal.  He then left the room.

Mr. Werner Gräff concluded the reply to Van Doesburg with the following words: ‘I am nearly the youngest of all of you and I have reached the conclusion that you are neither international, nor progressive, nor artists. There is therefore nothing more for me to do here.’

This was greeted with loud applause by the IF.d.K. group.  Then with intense applause on the one side, and with the boos and cheers of the other side, the I.F.d.K. group, the futurists, the dadaists, and the majority of others walked out of the Düsseldorf congress buildings.

• • •

El Lissitzky, on behalf of Ilia Ehrenburg and himself, “Statement by the Editors of Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet

1.  I come here as a representative of the magazine Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet, which stands for a new way of thinking and unites the leaders of the new art in nearly all countries.

2.  Our thinking is characterized by the attempt to turn away from the old subjective, mytical conception of the world and to create an attitude of universality — clarity — reality.

3.  That this new way of thinking is truly international may be seen from the fact that during a seven-year-peoriod of complete isolation from the outside world, we were attacking the same problems in Russia as our friends here in the West, but without any knowledge of the others.  In Russia we have fought a hard but fruitful struggle to realize the new art on a broad social and political front.

4.  In doing so we have learned that progress in art is possible only in a society that has already completely changed its social structure.

5.  By progress we mean here the freeing of art from its role as ornament and decoration, from the need to satisfy the emotions of the few.  Progress means proving and explaining that everybody has the right to create.  We have nothing to do with those who minister to art like priests in a cloister.

6.  The new art is founded not on a subjective, but on an objective basis.  This, like science, can be described with precision and is by nation constructive.  It unites not only pure art, but all those who stand at the frontier of the new culture.  The artist is companion to the scholar, the engineer, and the worker.

7.  As yet the new art is not always understood; it is not only society that misunderstands it, but more dangerously, it is misunderstood by those who call themselves progressive artists.

[64]

8.  To combat this situation we must join ranks so that we really can fight back.  It is essentially this fight that unites us.  If our aim were only to defend the material interests of a group of artists, we would not need another union, because there already are international unions for painters, decorators, and varnishers, and professionally we belong to these.

9.  WE REGARD THE FOUNDING OF AN INTERNATIONAL OF PROGRESSIVE ARTISTS AS THE BANDING TOGETHER OF FIGHTERS FOR THE NEW CULTURE.  Once again art will return to its former role.  Once again we shall find a collective way of relating the work of the artist to the universal.

• • •

“Statement by the Stijl Group”

I.  I speak here on behalf of the Stijl group of Holland, which has been set up because of the need to release the potential of modern art, that is, to solve universal problems in practice.

II.  For us the most important thing is to give form, to organize the means into a unity.

III.  This unity can only be achieved by suppressing subjective subjective arbitrariness in the means of expression.

IV.  We renounce the subjective choice of forms, we are working toward the use of a universal and objective medium of design.

V.  ‘Progressive artists’ are those who fearlessly accept the consequences of this new aesthetic theory.

VI.  Long ago, as early as the war, the progressive artists of Holland adopted a theoretical position that was internationally recognized (cf. the introduction to De Stijl, vol. I, 1917).

VII.  This international exhibition was made possible only by the development of our work.  It arose from our experience of working.  The same needs arose also from the developments of advanced artists in other countries.

[65]

VIII.  In the certainty that the same problems were being taken up in every country (and in the fields of science, technology, architecture, sculpture, painting, music, etc.), we published our first manifesto as early as 1918.

IX.  The manifesto proclaimed the following points:

MANIFESTO I OF DE STIJL

1.  There is an old and a new consciousness of time.

The old is connected with the individual.

The new is connected with the universal.

The struggle of the individual against the universal is revealing itself in the world war as well as in the art of the present day.

2.  The war is destroying the old world with its contents: individual domination in every state.

3.  The new art has brought forward what the new consciousness of time contains: a balance between the universal and the individual.

4.  The new consciousness is prepared to realise the internal life as well as the external life.

5.  Traditions, dogmas and the domination of the individual are opposed to this realisation.

6.  The founders of the new plastic art therefore call upon all, who believe in the reformation of art and culture, to annihilate these obstacles of development, as they have annihilated in the new plastic art (by abolishing natural form) that, which prevents the clear expression of art, the utmost consequence of all art notion.

7.  The artists of today have been driven the whole world over by the same consciousness, and therefore have taken part from an intellectual point of view in this war against the domination of individual despotism.  They therefore sympathize with all, who work for the formation of an international unity in life, art, culture, either intellectually or materially.

8.  The monthly editions of De Stijl, founded for that purpose, try to attain the new wisdom of life in an exact manner.

9.  Cooperation is possible by:

i.  Sending, with entire approval, name, address and profession ro the editor of De Stijl.

ii.  Sending critical philosophical, architectural, scientific, litterary, musical articles or reproductions.

iii.  Translating articles in different languages or distributing thoughts published in De Stijl.

[66]

Signatures of the present collaborators:

THEO VAN DOESBURG, Painter.

ROBT.  VAN ’T HOFF, Architect.

VILMOS HUSZAR, Painter.

ANTONY KOK, Poet.

PIET MONDRIAAN, Painter.

G.  VANTONGERLOO, Sculptor.

JAN WILS, Architect.

X.  This manifesto grew out of the common endeavor of painters, designers, architects, sculptors, and poets and was enthusiastically received by the progressive artists of every country.  This demonstrated that an international organization was feasible and indeed necessary.

• • •

Hans Richter, “Statement by the Constructivist Groups of Rumania, Switzerland, Scandinavia, and Germany”

I speak here as the representative of the groups of constructivist artists from Switzerland, Scandinavia, Rumania, and Germany.  I agree in general with the views of El Lissitzky.  The work we wish to produce as an international poses the same kind of problems that we have been trying to solve as individual artists — indeed we have gone beyond our own individual problems to the point where we can pose an objective problem.  This unites us in a common task.  This task leads (beyond the scientific methods of investigating the elements of art) to the desire for more than just the creation of a better painting or a better piece of sculpture: to reality itself.

Just as the feeling for life prevented us from painting like the impressionists, prevented us from accepting the old, it now makes us wish to paint, to build, to create the new reality.

We had hoped to find this spirit in the International.  This spirit should generate the strength and the initiative necessary to identify and solve the problems of society in their entirety.

[67]

But to build an International around economics is to misunderstand the need for an international.  The International must not only support its members, but also create and document a new attitude.  To show that it is possible to achieve such a new position in a comradely collective way, using all our strength to create the new way of life we so badly need, that is indeed a worthy task!

But this cannot be achieved if everybody thinks that it is enough simply to fulfill his personal ambition in society.  We must first understand that this can be created only by a society that renounces the perpetuation of private experences of the soul.

Neither in open discussion, nor, above all, in what it expects from the International, does this congress give any assurance that this point of view is shared by the majority.

If we assumed for a moment that we were agreed in principle, what would we do? How could we successfully achieve the intentions of the International?

As a working community!

We will set ourselves problems: space, the house, surfaces, color, and so on.  Because our aim is to make use of each other’s work and because our work ill be criticized only by others who are themselves familiar with the same problems, we will be able to defend only that part of our work which is objective, which solves problems; this will give everybody a personal interest in the work.  If I want to build, I need elements that I know to be reliable.  There can be no excuse for anything that does not clarify the intention behind a piece of work; people must not just sympathize, they must understand work.

You believe that we shold choose exhibitions, magazines, and congresses as a means of reorganizing society.  But if we are so far advanced that we can work and make progress collectively, let us no longer track between a society that does need us and a society that does not yet exist, let us rather change the world of today.  In the sureness of our mission we represent a real force that has yet to be felt.

On behalf of the constructivist groups of

Rumania, Switzerland, Scandinavia, and Germany

Signed: Hans Richter

For Baumann, Viking Eggeling, [Marcel] Janco.

• • •

[From De Stijl, 1922 (vol. V, no. 4)]

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~ by Ross Wolfe on October 22, 2010.

2 Responses to “De Stijl, “A Short Review of the Proceedings [of the Congress of International Progressive Artists], Followed by the Statements Made by the Artists’ Groups” (1922)”

  1. […] of all nationalities unite.’  Art must become international or it will perish.”  De Stijl, “A Short Review of the Proceedings [of the Congress of International Progressive Artists], Followe…  Translated by Nicholas Bullock.  The Tradition of Constructivism.  (Da Capo Press.  New York, […]

  2. […] of all nationalities unite.’  Art must become international or it will perish.”  De Stijl, “A Short Review of the Proceedings [of the Congress of International Progressive Artists], Followe…  Translated by Nicholas Bullock.  The Tradition of Constructivism.  (Da Capo Press.  New York, […]

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