DADA TECHNIQUES IN EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE (1916–1930)
AVANT-GARDE RESEARCH GROUP OF THE KASSÁK MUSEUM
The first chapter of Dada in Hungary – Iván Hevesy’s writings on Dada
In my paper I focus on a short section of the early reception of Dada in Hungary. In 1922, the public could read the word ‘Dada’ for the first time in a Hungarian handbook of modern art. The author, Iván Hevesy was one of most important journalist dedicated to the interpretation of Hungarian avant-garde movements. He started his carrier as an art-critic in 1917 and soon joined Kassák and the avant-garde Ma-circle. He didn’t emigrate to Vienna with Kassák as many other avant-garde artists and left-wing journalists did after the fall of the short lived Hungarian Soviet republic in 1919. Hevesy stayed at home, continued to work on his books and although he was always dedicated to progressivity and avant-garde movements, in 1922 he offended Kassák’s Bildarchitektur manifest in several article for its l’art pour l’art and Dadaist character. Hevesy’s reception of Dada is strongly connected to the academic methodology of the Hungarian higher education. Contemporary scholars were deeply influenced by Viennese formalist school, especially the theories of Riegl, Wölfflin and Hildebrand. Gyula Pasteiner, the head of the art history department expected his students to apply Wölfflin’s formal analysis in their thesis. In accordance with his professor request Hevesy used Wölfflin’s principles, like pictorial and linear to tell the story of modernism from impressionism to cubism. However Dada (as well as Kassák’s art) has no place in this narrative, on the contrary, it seems to be off-limits for the artists in spite of the fact that Hevesy has dedicated a whole chapter to it.
She is an MA student at the Department of Art History of the Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. From 2011 to 2013 she took the part at the Theatre in Education programme of the Katona József Theatre. She wrote her thesis on Sándor Hevesi, friend of Georg Lukács and Lajos Fülep and co-editor of the A Szellem (The Spirit), Neo-Kantian journal which played an initiative role in formation of the Sunday-circle.
Krisztina Zsófia Csaba
The appearance of Dada in the Book of New Artists edited by Lajos Kassák and László Moholy-Nagy, 1922
The Book of New Artists was edited by Lajos Kassák and László Moholy-Nagy and was published in 1922 in Vienna. Besides the introduction, the anthology contains reproductions of various artworks of the main avant-garde Isms as well as photos of technological innovations. The editing of the book took place in the early twenties in Vienna, where the most important influences on Kassák were the Dadaism and the Constructivism. The introduction of the anthology was written by Kassák and it is one of the first manifestations of his thoughts about the dialectical development of avant-garde art. Although Kassák never considered himself a Dadaist - even criticizing it occasionally - in his avant-garde ‘genealogy’ he did place Dadaism after Futurism, Expressionism and Cubism but before Constructivism, which was the most important movement in his opinion. According to him Dadaism with its destruction made the existence of Constructivism possible as stated in the introduction: ‘What we accept from Dadaism is the fanaticism of destruction.’ Besides the authors’ theoretical examination of Dadaism, it is necessary to analyse the visual appearance of the Dada since the whole book is comprised of only illustrations. The anthology presents works from Dada artists like Francis Picabia, Man Ray, George Grosz, Max Ernst and Kurt Schwitters. Also included in the book, are photos of various machinery, like a high-voltage electrical wire, a movie projector, a dynamo and airplanes, whose placing can be interpreted as a Dada gesture as well.
Krisztina Zsófia Csaba acquired her BA degree in art history from the Eötvös Loránd University, having also studied at the University of Vienna. Her thesis was written on the Book of New Artists, an anthology edited by Lajos Kassák and László Moholy-Nagy in 1922. Her research interests include the Central European avant-garde in the 1920s and the aesthetics of avant-garde.
Much ado about nothing: Da,da and the Russian naysayers
‘Write nothing. Read nothing. Speak nothing. Print nothing,’ demanded the radical Russian group who referred to themselves as nichevoki (nothingists) or the Russian Dada in 1920. Despite this militant injunction, the group managed to produce two programmatic works, Vam (For you, 1920) and Sobachii iashchik (A Dog’s Box, 1922), as well as several poetry books published by its individual members. This presentation examines one largely overlooked poetry collection entitled VOT: (THERE:). Published in 1921 in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, which had become a temporary centre of nichevoki activity, the pages of VOT: included the work of nichevoki sympathizers, as well as of poets who did not explicitly identify with the nichevoki cause. Taking into account the scarcity of surviving documentation relating to the nichevoki, this publication presents an interesting case study that could complicate our understanding of this group’s artistic production. My analysis focuses on the poems of two nichevoki affiliates, Il’ia Berezark and Vladimir Filov. I argue that their use of language, poetic devices, and line arrangement betrays the legacy of Russian Futurism (both Ego- and Cubo-) and Imaginism, rather than of the western Dada to whom the nichevoki claimed allegiance. My presentation locates VOT: within the broader debate about the appropriateness of the term ‘Dada’ in the Russian context, which has a rich pre-history of local Dada-like artistic activity.
Irina Denischenko is a PhD candidate in Slavic and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where she received her MPhil (2013) and MA (2012) degrees. She is currently completing her dissertation entitled Mikhail Bakhtin and the 20th-century Poetics of Language in Central and Eastern Europe, focusing on the co-evolution of artistic practices and linguistic thought in the 1920s and 1930s. Her research interests include Soviet literary theory and philosophy of language, the avant-garde in Central and Eastern Europe, and contemporary literature of the region.
Writing Dada – Correspondence between Tristan Tzara and Lajos Kassák
The presentation deals with a couple of unpublished letters between the Dadaist Tristan Tzara and the Hungarian avant-garde artist Lajos Kassák. The letters offer a retrospective survey of the flourishing period of the historical avant-garde and provide an insight into the ways of publishing avant-garde art pieces in the early 1920s. In these letters the artists are not secretive about the financial problems, which they had to struggle with. Their main goal, however, is not to gain profit from their activity: they consider financial issues a technical problem, which has to be solved in order to promote their art in as many languages and places as possible. The letters exchanged between Tristan Tzara and Lajos Kassák are characteristic examples of the Dada communication merging practical aspects of the editorial activity with visual arts and poetry, mixing different languages and sociolinguistic codes.
Gábor Dobó earned his MA degree in Comparative Studies in Italian and Hungarian Literature within a double-degree program offered by the University of Florence and the Eötvös Loránd University and is a PhD candidate at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. He has been a researcher at Kassák Museum since 2014. He has studied at universities in Budapest, Florence and Angers. In his research, he applies the methods of Periodical Studies to the magazines of the Hungarian avant-garde. His doctoral research focuses on the international network of Lajos Kassák’s magazine Dokumentum (Document) in 1926–1927. His work explores how an examination of Hungarian intellectual history contributes to the understanding of 20th century Hungarian art.
Green Donkey Theatre - An experiment for making a new theatrical language in Hungary with the adaptation of Dada
The topic of my lecture is the two realized performances of the Green Donkey Theatre that was founded by Ödön Palasovszky, Iván Hevesy and László Mittay in 1925. I argue that although the new form of expression made aversion and even disgust in many people, the artists’ intention was not to outrage the audience but to make an attempt at showing different forms of expression and styles on stage. To analyse this we have to take two factors into consideration that determined the Hungarian avant-garde theatre at the beginning of the twentieth century. Firstly, in lack of experimental stages, the avant-garde in Hungary was manifested mainly in texts, so the number of performances is low. Secondly, the artists did not make effort for self-serving innovations or iconoclasm but they searched for the modern expression of new literary content and social message. These two characteristics defined the Hungarian Dadaist theatre, the Green Donkey Theatre too. I lay special emphasis on these features. I also include the literary works that formed the program of the evenings, because these works are now classic pieces of Dadaist literature experimenting on the new theatrical expressions also in their texts. I demonstrate why the Green Donkey Theatre had such a great effect on the theatrical experiments later, with the presentation of new texts in new meaning, with new characters and instruments. Remarkable is the fact that these attempts not only wanted to answer questions raised by the changing attitude toward theatre, but helped theatre artists to think in new terms about the performances on stage.
Judit Galácz is MA art historian. Graduated at the Eötvös Loránd University in 2011. Now student at the Art History Doctoral Program of Eötvös Loránd University. Research topic is János Mácza and the History of Avant-Garde theatre in Hungary. Working at the Hungarian Theatre Museum and Institute – Gizi Bajor Actors’ Museum.
Learning by wandering – Crossing borders as a way of life of Emil Szittya in the 1910s
By the time Hungarian Lajos Kassák released his first volume Éposz Wagner maszkjában (Epic in Masque of Wagner) and the earliest activist journal A Tett (The Action) in 1915, the friend of his, Emil Szittya, who had been previously mesmerized by Endre Ady, the most charismatic author of the Hungarian classical modernity, was committed for life to the avant-garde. Being uneducated, poor and part of a marginalized minority, his affections were without a doubt affected by his social status: his path to avant-garde leaded through several countries and rising interest towards socially engaged movements and communities. Due to his transnational network, he got in contact with mysticism in Ascona, several shades of communism, social democrat notions and anarchism in France, Belgium and Germany, and joined the Cabaret Pantagruel in Zurich. While learning by wandering and distributing self-published leaflets and a great number of short-lived journals (with Blaise Cendrars and Hugo Kersten among others), he made attempts to transfer and implement the ideas migrating between the international communities into Austria-Hungary. Based on his publications in Hungarian journals and his own avant-garde issues – with emphasis on ‘war magazine’ Der Mistral published in dada context –, I focus on his sources and points of view on subjects of international importance, such as social democratic movements, war propaganda or the world war itself.
Magdolna Gucsa holds an MA degree in Art History. In her MA thesis, she investigated the oeuvre of Emil Szittya through the notion of cultural transfer. Her research interest focuses on historical avant-garde and french-hungarian cultural connections.
Merz - container of trash, Dada and design
Schwitters, like several avant-garde artists, created his own ‘genre’ to convey
his artistic theory and aesthetic principles. The philosophy of Merz is strongly
connected to the anti-art approach characterising Dada, while at the same time
it reflects Schwitters’ personal thoughts as well. Consequently, the Merz-works
also illustrate how perspectives in the intellectual and art scene were
changing as movements within avant-garde grew more and more international – a
phenomenon that had an impact on Schwitters and other artists as well.
These were the influences Schwitters experienced towards the end of 1922, first during the Dada-Constructivist Congress held in Weimar, then at the First Russian Art Exhibition in Berlin – and of course as a result of getting to meet artists such as Theo van Doesburg. The uncontrollable, deny-it-all and rebellious Dada met Constructivism with its strict and conscious compositional principles and the almost engineering-like Functionalism – and this encounter opened up new directions for Western-European artistic discourse. In the meantime, the slowly crystallizing design theory approach mediated by Bauhaus was also gaining significance, and was found in the works of several artists. Schwitters was among them: his Merz evolved from a collage-assemblage genre into a periodical, into an advertisement company, and even into ‘architecture’. The fact that Schwitters kept the name ‘Merz’ throughout all these changes implies that he retained his original source – Dada – in the mentality of his works, however, he also relied on applied art and then existing design theory in their appearance. The aim of the presentation is to shed light on specific intersections between Schwitters’ Dada and developing design.
Boglárka Kőrösi graduated from Moholy-Nagy University in Budapest as an art-and design theory specialist, and continues her MA studies in the same field. Her main interest involves visual communication, advertising and typography in the avant-garde era, focusing on the questions of design and connections between text and picture. She works for Kassák Museum since 2015 and is a member of the avant-garde research group.
Merse Pál Szeredi
The New Adam (according to Sándor Bortnyik)
The presentation intends to contextualize a painting from 1924 by the Hungarian émigré artist Sándor Bortnyik. The New Adam (and its pendant, the New Eva) has been a prominent work of the canon of Hungarian avant-garde for the past decades, permanently exhibited in the Hungarian National Gallery. However, its main intention is to criticise avant-garde, explicitly referencing the Congress of Dadaists and Constructivists through visual quotes of works by El Lissitzky, Hans Richter, Theo van Doesburg and Tristan Tzara. Bortnyik, who lived in Weimar and exhibited in the gallery of Der Sturm since late 1922, utilized the techniques of Dada and Constructivism working parallel to Lajos Kassák on the theory and practice of Bildarchitektur (Pictorial architecture). To decode Bortnyik’s constantly present but still never analysed ‘irony’, ‘satire’ or ‘critique’ of the international avant-garde, one should propose the question: what is the New Adam, according to Bortnyik?
Merse Pál Szeredi holds an MA in Art History and currently works on his PhD dissertation. He is working in the Kassák Museum since 2014 as a researcher. His research focuses on the work of Lajos Kassák and his circles between 1919 and 1926 with special emphasis on the analysis of their international networks. He has been working as an intern at the Hungarian National Gallery and the Berlinische Galerie and has been researching in Berlin, Vienna and The Hague through several scholarships.