Central Europe in Focus; Photographic Nationalism, Populism in '20S, '30S

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 9, 2007 | Go to article overview

Central Europe in Focus; Photographic Nationalism, Populism in '20S, '30S


Byline: Deborah K. Dietsch , SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Just when you thought museums had squeezed every last interpretative drop out of modernism, another exhibit appears to draw more juice. Through photography from Central Europe, mostly taken in the 1920s and '30s by little-known artists, a small but meaty show at the National Gallery reveals a populist and nationalistic side of modernism rarely covered in other surveys.

"Foto: Modernity in Central Europe, 1918-1945" does not concentrate solely on the work of a few outsiders experimenting with surrealism and abstraction. It shows how photography, an easily reproducible and thoroughly modern medium, became the ideal vehicle for conveying a new vision in this part of Europe. The camera became a tool for celebrating urban life as well as venerating rural customs, promoting industry as well as protesting war. Spreading enthusiasm for the latest photographic techniques were commercial studios, art schools, illustrated publications, amateur clubs and state-run bureaucracies.

That such restless pursuit of modern imagery would occur in Central Europe seems both logical and extraordinary, considering the political upheavals that disrupted the region in the first decades of the 1900s. After World War I, three major empires - Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia - were divided into smaller nation-states, only to be reconfigured again after World War II. Between the wars, modernity was seen as a means to symbolize the aspirations of societies devastated by conflict, unemployment and inflation.

The main achievement of "Foto" is to remind us of Central Europe's commitment to artistic advancement before Nazi and communist regimesseized power and isolated the region from the rest of the world. Much of this pioneering work from the 1920s and 1930s influenced later art photography and photojournalism in Western Europe and the United States.

Organized by theme rather than country or technique, the exhibit's eight sections emphasize the interchange among artists within Central Europe and with groups in Paris, Zurich and Berlin. It starts by treading territory familiar from last year's Dada show with photomontages by German artists John Heartfield, Max Ernst and Hannah Hoch, then reveals how the Polish group Blok and Czech collective Devetsil transformed this instrument of political and social critique into playful picture poems of images and words. Some of these cut-and-paste collages attempt to capture a cinematic quality - as in Kazimierz Podsadecki's humorous cityscape (which, unfortunately, is hung too high in the gallery).

Surrealism, long associated with France, also was taken up by Austrians, Czechs and Poles, even those working in small towns. It was applied to the design of magazines, dime novels and advertising to reach vast audiences, anticipating Salvador Dali's work on the films of Alfred Hitchcock by a couple of decades. Artistic developments beyond surrealism are also presaged by several 1930s works by Czech artists, including Miroslav Hak's chemical-spattered, abstract expressionistic print and Vaclav Zykmund's provocative, string-bound self-portrait, which hints at contemporary performance art.

Jaunty angles and superimposed images also were favored by Central Europeans in capturing the bustling crowds and new architecture of their cities. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's "Berlin Radio Tower" well represents the style; his treatise on photography argued that the camera could revolutionize human perception by surpassing the limitations of our eyes with special lenses and visual effects. In our current age of digitally altered photographs, it may be hard for some viewers to appreciate how inventive his and other pictures in this exhibit really were.

The exhibit includes a sidebar on Czech photographer Lucia Schulz, who married Mr. Moholy-Nagy in 1921 and played a key role in shaping his ideas. The couple joined the Bauhaus, where Lucia Moholy documented colleagues and friends. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Central Europe in Focus; Photographic Nationalism, Populism in '20S, '30S
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.