Avant-Gardes in Transition, Part II

Avant-Gardes in Transition, Part II: Informed cases

Session chair: Annika Öhrner, Dep. of Art History, Uppsala University.

E-mail: annika.ohrner@konstvet.uu.se


Trapped bugs, rotten fruits, faked collages and painted stories: how avant-garde migrates south

Joana Cunha Leal, Art History Institute, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, e-mail: j.cunhaleal@fcsh.unl.pt

Collage plays a central role in the history of modernist avant-garde. It is a theoretical object par excelence, one that has been taken to overcome illusionist (referenced) representation, and to contribute to the ideal purity of formalist concerns putatively implied by its practice. On what basis, and how far collage’s revolution went is not a consensual subject. In fact, it prompted clashing discourses either striving to question formalist-structuralist interpretations, or determined to settle and reinforce them.  This paper aims to revisit this dissensus from an outer perspective: the later work of Amadeo Souza Cardoso (1887-1918), still a relatively unknown Portuguese high modernist. Amadeo’s work is a particularly interesting case to discuss if one has collage’s means and troublesome analyses in mind. Firstly, because some of his paintings stage collage’s possibilities using paint instead of papier collés (there are collages as well as faked collages in his work). This is by no means an accident. Amadeo uses collage while assuming a deliberate critical stance towards its inventors.

A particularly striking example of the use of faked collages is Entrada (Entrance; Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation). In this canvas painted c.1917, Amadeo counterfeits the effect of Picasso’s papier collés, exploring the ironic potential of such a move. This happens not only because he evokes papier collés as they appear in Bowl with Fruit, Violin, and Wineglass (1913; Philadelphia Museum of Art), turning the pears into putrescent fruits, but also because he forces those counterfeit collages to dialogue with Delaunay’s colour circles, which in turn appear infested by bugs. Thus, it becomes quite clear that Entrada depicts pre-war avant-garde milieu tensions.

Moreover, by 1915 the Delaunays had settled themselves in a small Portuguese village. Their presence in Portugal was a major fact for Amadeo as they put together several projects, namely the creation of a Corporation Nouvelle destined to promote itinerant exhibitions. References to this close friendship end up in Amadeo’s canvas, as well as the story of their unaccomplished collaboration. The functional inversion of delaunayan colour circles (using them as bull’s-eye targets, elbows, etc) can be read as a critical stance.

Other stories eventually reached Amadeo’s work. Specially the above mentioned Entrance (c.1917). Although it has remained completely unacknowledge, this painting merges and superimposes visual signs referencing not only the involvement of the US and Portugal in World War I, but also the episode of the arrestment of Sonia Delaunay under the accusation of espionage (based on the assumption that the color circles where encoded signs to German u-boats). Therefore it gives us an opportunity to ponder over how referenced and narrative modes of representation cope with the unstable world of the arbitrariness of signs and the appropriation of collage. So, at least in Amadeo’s case, avant-garde migrates south taking along the main questions out of which it comes, while also constructing a new painting with the debris, namely confirming the possibility of merging modernist aesthetics with overtly narrative modes of representation.


Official and Clandestine: The Russian Artists’ Collective Dvizhenie

Margareta Tillberg, Södertörn University.

E-mail: margareta.tillberg@sh.se

In the 1960s and 1970s the artists’ collective Dvizhenie (Movement) succeeded in producing huge shows “without content” from the point of view of Socialist Realist ideology, participated in exhibitions in the West despite its artists being confined to the totalitarian Soviet Union, and even managed to include classified technology in its art installations. How was this possible?

This paper will discuss the strategies and the intricate networks used by Dvizhenie which, by way of manipulating the discourses of art- and technology institutions respectively, parallel to official success at the same time produced clandestine exhibitions. The group is an interesting case in its strategies of manipulating spatial and cultural geographies to show its artistic work despite severe censorship. Among its fellow artists on the alternative art scene, holding “apartment exhibitions” was a wide-spread format used for reaching an audience. But instead of keeping away from the large public eye, Dvizhenie used quite the opposite tactics.


Bauhaus and VCHUTEMAS: New Approaches to Avant-Gardes in Transition

Nicola Hille, University of Tübingen.

E-mail: nicola.hille@gmx.de

The Moscow higher state artistic-technical workshops (VCHUTEMAS) originated in 1920 in the course of the pedagogical efforts to reforms the artistic education in Russia. The VCHUTEMAS were established immediately after the revolution of 1917 as an art college that enclosed both free and applied arts and offered faculties for painting, sculpture, architecture, graphics, textiles, ceramics, wooden and metal processing.

Within the first ten years (1917-1927) this institution experienced a tension-loaded history of change. Renamed in 1927 as higher state artistic-technical institute (VCHUTEIN) this school played a central role for the artistic education in Soviet Russia. It was comparable to the German “Bauhaus” which was established as a college for construction and creation in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius in Weimar and moved six years later (1925) to Dessau.

The study methods applied at the “Bauhaus”-school can be compared with the study program at the VCHUTEMAS. Both schools had been highly innovative with respect to their didactic and artistic Curricula and both schools orientated themselves by the needs and production technologies of the industry. This ‘art into production’-movement put emphasis on the efforts of standardisation of individual forms for industrial duplication. Both institutions – the “Bauhaus”-school in Weimar/Dessau and the VCHUTEMAS in Moscow – provided innovative artistic and didactic educational training. Both institutions tried to reshape former arts- and crafts faculties into training centres for industrial design. The pre-course at the “Bauhaus” is comparable with the basis course hold at the VCHUTEMAS. Both courses enclosed three disciplines: the artistic direction, the technical orientation and the scientific focussing. All disciplines were closely linked to social theory.

In my paper I analyse the teaching structures of the “Bauhaus”-school and the VCHUTEMAS. This comparison is still a fundamental desideratum of research. I will focus on the interaction and mutual influence of both institutes concerning artistic exchange and formative experiments during the 1920s. The central issue of my paper will be the question how the Russian artists trained at the VCHUTEMAS have looked at the study programs of the “Bauhaus”-Avantgarde. My paper combines historiographical and theoretical reflections on aspects of avant-gardes as well as analysis of transitions and mobility in artists and ideas.