Mart Stam’s “M-Art” (1927)

Translated from the Dutch by C. v. Amerongen.

From Mart Stam: A Documentation of His Work, 1920-1965.

(Royal Institute of British Architects.  London: 1970).

• • •

The machine nut is angular, not round — we know why

The bathtub is smooth — we know why

The door is 2 metres high — we know why

Stones are sawn, ground, polished, after that they are piled on top of one another, sometimes at right angles, sometimes in hexagons, octagons or decagons, perhaps

one meter high, perhaps 20 meters high — but nobody knows why.

These stone barriers are erected in our town squares.  They are placed in the center of our urban life, dominated though it is by economics, all among the bicycles and cars and trams and buses.  There they stand during the rush hours, when every street is too narrow and every inch of space is needed.  Engineers go to great trouble to economize in material, reduce weight and cost or cut down petrol consumption by half — yet in the same century these pointless blocks of stone arise, of no interest to anyone.  A monument is a reminder of the past, whereas the modern town is controlled by the living present, never static, always in the process of disappearing.  A town is a complex entirely dominated by the struggle for existence, which forces it inexorably towards growth and change.  In the middle of this living complex stand stupid, pointless, unchangeable and rigid monuments.  We have no objection to remembrance and reverence, but the monument should be put where it belongs — in the churchyard.

“M-art” is deep-rooted.  All our buildings are monuments and we all turn the simplest projects into something monumental.  Even our transformers look like stone-block architecture and our urinals like little temples; stations, post offices, town halls and stock exchanges — they, too, are just so many monuments.

Of course we make our buildings utilizable, that is to say the rooms the light and the stairs accessible, but in principle we are creating monuments intended to stand for all eternity.

The problem of modern architecture is not one of form.  It is not modern architecture when outward forms are adopted and used in the old aesthetic representative manner.  We must learn to free a project from all its adventitious associations and to see it in a contemporary light: in other words, a building erected today as a bank must be suitable for use tomorrow as an office building, warehouse or hotel.

The building must be serviceable in the widest sense of the word.

Of “m-art,” the art of those who feel compelled to) add something to the practical essentials, there are more than a few recent examples.

[From International Revue 1/2, 1927, p. 41.]

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~ by Ross Wolfe on October 23, 2010.

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