Artistic Horizons of Europe 1917-2017 (II part)

Author: Tatjana Koprivica

First part >>>

From everything that happened in Europe in the First World War, at the moment of a full-scale crisis of the civic civilization, a new phenomenon emerged – the anti-art. It was an attempt to react to the world and society with non-artistic means and in a non-artistic manner – with revolt and destruction (1).

Dada was “a state of mind feverishly exalted by the freedom virus, a unique mixture of insatiable curiosity, playfulness and pure contradiction” (2).

Dada did not want to build any style nor create any theory; it destroyed, demolished and mocked everything: the bourgeoisie which it blamed for the war, the civic taste, tradition and art itself.

Dada was the “negative avant-garde” which was not trying to establish new relations, but to show that no relationship between art and society was possible.

The name of the movement, which might have been coined by Romanian poet Tristan Tzara, had no meaning or sense.

Dada was created by artists of different nationalities, in Zurich, New York, Hanover, Cologne, Berlin, Paris. These artists were sons and daughters of bourgeoisie families, spared the horrors of war and financially provided for.

Especially important in the immergence of Dada was the founding of Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1916, where African and Russian music was played, French and Dutch songs sang, impossible verses recited and provocative works exhibited (3).

Dada was finding specific and new means to express its destruction: readymades, absurd machines, mechanomorphoses, assemblages, photomontages, bodily actions.

After the First World War, the Parisian Dada became very extreme, but was supressed quickly. Defeat of Germany in WWI, the humiliating peace agreement, unemployment, poverty and crime led to Dada’s initiatives in Berlin, more than in other cities, under Richard Huelsenbeck, being taken into the streets and mass communication.

In a manifesto from 22 February 1920, the Berlin Dada called for “international revolutionary alliance of all creative and intellectual peoples in the entire world based on radical communism” (4).

The idea of the Dada movement in the USA was developed by Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia and Man Ray, with the support of Alfred Stieglitz and the Gallery 291 in New York. For Duchamp, art was an idea, a decision, concept, process, not a finished work (5).

In the LHOOQ painting, Duchamp drew a moustache onto Mona Lisa, not to spoil Leonardo’s work, but to contest the respect the public was passively giving him (6).

While decreasing Mona Lisa’s value, Duchamp increased the value of ready-made objects that he labeled art, without emotions, sentimentalism or any other idea.

Because, for him, art was a decision. When, in 1917, he wrote Richard Mutt’s name on a urinal, he wanted to prove that an object does not carry an artistic value in itself, but that its value is added by the expressed judgment.

Development of the Dada movement was accompanied by realistic tendencies in painting in Italy, France and Germany, i.e. the magical realism of Giorgio de Chirico, Carlo Carrà, André Derain, Fernand Léger and others.

Parisian Dada incited development of a new European art movement – surrealism (6). The following poets and painters gathered around the idea: Breton, Supo, Éluard, Aragon, Ernst, Picabia, Miró, Masson, Tanguy, Man Ray and others.

The movement was born in 1919, at the same time with the publishing of the magazine Literature, and two surrealism manifestos were published by Breton in 1924 and 1929.

“Surrealism is a pure psychic automatism by which it is intended to express, either verbally or in writing, the true function of thought. Thought dictated in the absence of all control exerted by reason”, Breton wrote (7)

New sources were discovered in subconscience, dreams, hallucinations, event, fiction. A surrealist image did not represent a preconcerted and planned structure, but the highest level of arbitrariness, event and the unreal, because it emerged on the other side of the visual reality” (8).

Surrealism revealed new methods of creation, cadavre exquis, frottage, collective work, survey, perfected Dadaistic collages, assemblage and readymades. In the beginning, surrealism was resolutely against “artistic painting”.

Surrealism wiped away national borders in art. The movement grew to include Magritte, Tanguy, Le Roi and Dali.

Most members of the movement, excluding Dali, supported the left wing.

At the first surrealist exhibition in Paris in 1925, Giorgio de Chirico, Hans Arp, Max Ernst, Paul Klee, Man Ray, André Masson, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and Pierre Roy exhibited their works. The movement ceased to exist in the eve of the Second World War. Breton, Dali, Ernst and Masson left Europe and went to the USA.

In 1940, Breton organized the fourth International Exhibition of Surrealism in Mexico City, where Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibited, even though they were, formally, not a part of the movement.

Besides the Czech and Belgian, the Serbian surrealist group was also important, which operated simultaneously with the Parisian center from 1922 until 1932.

The most prominent representatives of this movement were Marko Ristić, Milan Dedinac, Dušan Matić, Đorđe Jovanović, Oskar Davičo, Koča Popović, Đorđe Kostić, Vane Živadinović Bor and Radojica Živanović-Noe (9).

In June 1932, members of the movement split up. Oskar Davičo, Đorđe Kostić, Đorđe Jovanović and Koča Popović became members of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, were apprehended or sent to prisons. Radojica Živanović Noe, the only educated painter among Serbian surrealists, was among the founders of the group Život (Life) in 1934, which followed the path of the socialist realism.

German and not degenerated art

When the fascists rose to power in Italy (1922) and national socialists in Germany (1933), European art scene changed significantly.

Adolf Hitler used to say that “cubists, futurists and Dadaists destroyed art and culture” and Joseph Goebbels that “German art of the following decade would either be heroic, steel, romantic, devoid of sentimentality, that it would be truly national with huge pathos, responsible, although obligation-laden or it won’t exist at all” (10).

“The pure German art” had the task of giving form to ideological hypotheses of National Socialism through architecture, painting and sculpture.

More than other forms of art, architecture served as the best medium for promotion of the Third Reich and Hitler, especially the buildings designed by Albert Speer .

Neue Reichskanzlei in Berlin
Architekt Prof. Albert Speer
Eingang vom Ehrenhof mit Freitreppe

Popular were works lays with strong male characters, the builders of Germany’s great tomorrow, such as those made by sculptor Josef Thorak

as well as those abundant in sensual women which were sending a message of a woman made for giving birth to a purebred hero such as those painted by Adolf Ziegler (11).

After the great confrontation with books containing “anti-German spirit” and with unwanted authors in May 1933 (12)


the closing of Bauhaus the same year (13) the confrontation with visual artists followed.

Minister of Propaganda, Goebbels, had an idea to organize an exhibition of “degenerated art”. Strike team soldiers started taking away the works of Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger, Kokoschka, Dix, Ernst, Macke, Mark, Schmidt-Rottluff, Jawlensky, Beckmann, etc.

The exhibition “Degenerated Art” was opened in July 1937 in Munich and the goal was to show Germans “what they should not consider theirs” and to fight for the “purity of the German spirit” with all available means (14).

A great number of works shown at this exhibition was destroyed.

In May 1938, a law was passed on confiscation of art without compensation for owners. However, some of these works were preserved because Goebbels sold them abroad.

Consequences of these measures were that some artists withdrew to their ateliers, some emigrated and some were forbidden to work in Germany.

The presence of European artists such as Breton, Mondrian, Léger, Masson, Max Ernst, Gropius, Moholy-Nagy and others in the USA contributed to the development of Informalism and Op Art in the American art, through which a new link was established between the European and American art.

(Second part)

[1] L. Trifunović, Slikarski pravci XX veka, 88;

[2] Id., op. cit., 88.

[3] D. Hopkins, Dada and Surrealism, A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press 2004, 6-7.

[4] L. Trifunović, Slikarski pravci XX veka, 85.

[5] Id., op. cit., 91.

[6] Đ. K. Argan, A. B. Oliva, Moderna umetnost 1770-1970-2000, II, Belgrade 2005, 74-75.

[7] D. Hopkins, op. cit., 16 et passim.

[8] L. Trifunović, Slikarski pravci XX veka, 95.

[9] Id., op. cit., 96.

[10] M. Todić, Umrežena avangarda: srpski, francuski i Å¡panski nadrealisti, Kultura 138, 165-178; Ead., Nemoguće. Umetnost nadrealizma [L’Impossible. L’Art du Surrealisme/The Impossible. Surrealistic Art], Belgrade 2002, 19-25.

[11] A. Mitrović, Vreme netrpeljivih, Podgorica 1998, 396.

[12] A. Mitrović, Vreme netrpeljivih, op. cit., 399-400.

[13] Id., op. cit., 393-394.

[14] The purpose of this school, founded in 1919 in Weimar, headed by Walter Gropius, was to achieve a synthesis of fine arts and handicrafts. Lecturers at Bauhaus were Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee, Theo van Doesburg and others. In 1925, the school moved to Dessau, and in 1932 to Berlin; M. Siebenbrodt, L. Schöbe, Bauhaus 1919-1933, Weimar-Dessau-Berlin, New York 2012, 35.

[15] S. Barron, Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany, Harry N. Abrams, 1991, 14 et passim; A. Mitrović, Vreme netrpeljivih, Belgrade, 396-397.