Henryk Berlewi’s “The Arts Abroad” (1922-23)

Translated from the Polish by Wanda Kemp-Welch.  From Between

Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes,

1910-1930.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2002).

• • •

Purism, Suprematism, and Constructivism are gaining an ever more international and cosmopolitan character.  Constructivism is divided into several groups each of which — in spite of its affinity with other groups — has some distinct character.  There is, for instance, Russian as well as Hungarian, German, and Dutch Constructivism.  The most important and most consistent in its radicalism is the Dutch De Stijl group.  Whereas elsewhere Constructivism is a theory detached from life, at best illustrated with more or less interesting experiments, in Holland it has been partly applied in practice.  Some excellent buildings of unheard of simplicity that have spread over various towns are the evidence of this.  The periodical De Stijl, which represents the group, has been published for the past five years; its editor is Theo van Doesburg, the author of many theoretical works on new art.  Close in character to De Stijl is one German group that has recently been developing its activity in Berlin through its periodical G [elementare Gestaltung]. Members: Hans Richter, Werner Graff, Mies van der Rohe, El Lissitzky.  The dominant subject in it is architecture, its main protagonist being Mies van der Rohe, a Dutchman, well known for his monumental designs in reinforced concrete, distinguished by their audacity and simplicity in resolving the construction [of buildings].  The periodical lacks any characteristic German qualities, such as pomposity, sentimentality, and romanticism.  It treats things straightforwardly and concretely.  From amongst the flood of periodicals devoted to art in Germany, presenting the whole spectrum of the blasé aesthetics {Kunstgewerbe], only G breathes life.

In Weimar, this abode of Goethes and Schillers, a new breath of wind has succeeded in clearing the air.  The first academy of new art is there: the Bauhaus.  As a result of [473] constant pressure and agitation from the De Stijl group, which carried out its actions in Weimar for some time, the Bauhaus has managed to somewhat emancipate itself from the yoke of Munich bourgeois ornamentalism, and has come closer to the tasks of technology and industry.  The patrons of this institution: Klee, Kandinsky and other Expressionist artists are slowly being forced to cede their positions to new people, such as Moholy-Nagy (the Hungarian Constructivist).  Thanks to the low value of German currency in recent years the mainstream of new art movements has concentrated in Germany.  The artists from Russia, Hungary, Japan, Holland, Italy, America, Sweden…

Here is a brief summary of the main events in Berlin and Düsseldorf in the years 1922 and 1923:

1} The ideology of Der Sturm goes bankrupt.

2) Lissitzky and Ehrenburg publish Veshch [-Gegenstand-Objet]

3) Exhibition of new Russian art.

4) Eggeling shows his film + Eggeling contra Richter at the exhibition of Novembergruppe.

5) Partying together in the Berlin amusement grounds.

6) The International Congress of Progressive Artists in Düsseldorf, including representatives of all five parts of the world + their break up and the Constructivists’ declaration + dance of Raoul Hausmann at the reception.

All sorts of uncertain news comes from Russia.  Some pioneers of new art, developing their theories consistently, have gradually arrived at the complete negation of art as such, in other words, they have murdered art in the name of this art {smert’ isskustva], while others have completely moved away from Marxism to the Right and are now preoccupied with theosophy (sic!).  At any rate, the qualities which the artistic revolution in Russia has brought about (Tatlin, Malevich), though they cannot yet be properly evaluated from the point of view of their practicality, have great theoretical significance.

In Paris there is some consternation on account of the influx of foreigners.  The philistine bliss has been somewhat disturbed by artists.  The managers of the Salon des Independants went as far in their chauvinism as to decide to separate foreign artists from the native Frenchmen in the exhibition.  Apparently, Lhothe and Léger came out against this.  On the whole, Paris has lately become a center of the most refined conservatism: Ingres, Renoir, Derain [are a case in point].  Only Ozenfant and Jeanneret (the founders of Purism) propagate l’esprit nouveau in the columns of their L’Esprit Nouveau. They devote a great deal of space to modern technology and architecture.

[Originally “Plastyka za granica,” unpublished manuscript (1922-23)]

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~ by Ross Wolfe on October 23, 2010.

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