Mattis Teutsch and the Romanian Avant-garde (2)
Mariana Vida and Gheorghe Vida

Part 1 Part 2
Part 3 Notes

The Contimporanul Circle

The first issue of the periodical Contimporanul, which was edited by Marcel Iancu (now returned from abroad) and his friend the poet and publicist Ion Vinea, was published in Bucharest on the 3rd of June, 1922. Although they were cautious about adopting the aggressive spirit of Futurist manifestos, the two of them still clearly articulated a rebellious, negative attitude, even in the periodical’s mission statement. Here they laid down the prerequisites necessary for the original and creative ability of the young generation to assert itself, namely: "the immaculate, glittering metal of pure thinking and flawless talent, submissive only to Reason".29

In the same year, on the 26th of December, 1922, Iancu also opened an exhibition of paintings and drawings in the Maison d’Art. The titles of the paintings were familiar from Dadaist exhibitions in Switzerland (Ball, African Dances) and three of them were inspired by Strindberg (Miss Julie, Strindberg in Hemsö, Strindberg in Paris).30 The same enthusiasm that had greeted Iancu’s return greeted this exhibition: "An artist has returned to his homeland, an artist driven by new, elemental passions, a Nietzsche-like intellect […]".31

At the same time, Maxy published a theoretical text entitled Cubism in which, besides the history and definition of the term, he gave an explanation of the collective aims of artists engaged in the search for, and continual rediscovery of, the laws of painting; a search which reconstructed the relationship between forms in terms of simplification to mere geometric figures, and thus fitted them into a general synthesis. The theory of dimensions, the relationship of planes, volume suggested by colour, these are the stages of a development which "holds out for us the prospect of an age of a completely universal art and an aesthetic comprehensible to all; it could be achieved only through joint work and fraternal co-operation, uniting French, Italian, Russian, German, American and Japanese Cubisms".

To clarify the problem of colour, Maxy quotes Gleizes: "Bearing in mind that light implies illumination and colour […], as well as indicating the way of illumination, we shall call something bright if it amazes the intellect and dark if the intellect has to penetrate it". He goes on to project the relationship of illumination, light and colour to the nature of the work of art, which in the case of Cubism exists by virtue of the transfiguration the artist achieves in his work: "And this magic spiritual power itself constitutes the essence of our own personality". He goes on to describe Constructivism as the "extreme left wing of Cubist art, which strives to represent certain abstract principles in plastic art, finding its elements in the external phenomena of our mechanical-industrial life. It is here that artistic problematisation has its organisational base, its solid constructivity, its highest possible economy, its links to geometry and its mathematical clarity".

In pursuit of a general transfiguration, Constructivism needs harmony which is "to be studied from the point of view of criticism, not from the social aspect". Constructivism wishes to address progressive intellects; therefore it has few aficionados, who are thereby, however, all the more valuable for the Modernist movement.32

When (in November 1923) Maxy also organised an exhibition of his works in Maison d’Art, he repeated the ideas of the above-mentioned article. He again firmly declared himself to be an artist belonging to Cubism and Constructivism: "for us Cubists every painting is a problem, forever different."33

Iancu, Maxy and (it may be assumed) Mattis Teutsch, through their acquaintances and personal contacts, prepared the way systematically for the exhibition in December 1924. With No. 35. in 1923, both the external appearance and the content of the periodical Contimporanul changed, giving greater publicity to literature and art. Marinetti and Prampolini, those enthusiastic prophets of speed, technology and freedom of expression, who so tirelessly travelled Europe, addressed an open letter to the representatives of the Romanian avant-garde: "We send you a thousand passionate good wishes for steel, speed, originality, dazzling light, spiritual elegance and brilliance in plastic art, music and free verse. We wish you and ourselves a great, overwhelming victory over every passion.’34

An important moment in the history of the periodical is the publication of the Activist Manifesto to Young People signed by the Futurists in April 1924.35 Here the keynote is discipline. Traditional art is condemned: poetry does little more than make girls or women weep; theatre is a recipe book for the melancholy of petty tradesmen; painting is the nappy of nature; architecture is an enterprise that consists of building mausoleums, etc. The aggressiveness of the tone is characterised by ‘creative exasperation’, as the poet Geo Bogza later defined the Modernist revolution.36 The Futurists had radical demands: "We desire the wonder of a new word, complete-in-itself, a disciplined and rapid way of plastic expression like that of Morse machines." With great vehemence, they promulgated a documentary literature, a theatre freed from clichés, an architecture undistorted by the anachronism of ornament and fine arts freed from sentimentalism, all of which were to be united by the style appropriate to the new age.

In spite of their oppositional ideology, the majority of Modernist artists also took part in official arts events. A tolerant cultural policy encouraged the annual exhibition of the Official Salon (Salonul Oficial), which was ceremonially opened in spring 1924. It was an eclectic show covering many trends. Very little time was provided for the organisation of the exhibition, neither was the hall big enough (the Căminul artelor room in the Calea Victoriei). However the jury of the Salon (chaired by G. Demetrescu Mirea, Carolus Duran’s pupil, and Fritz Storck, the Classicist sculptor and Brancusi’s older friend) provided an important opportunity for artists belonging to the minorities or to different avant-garde groups to participate.

The 147 exhibitors were presented in two sections: one was devoted to ‘Paintings, Watercolours, Pastels, Drawings, etc.’, while the other comprised ‘Sculptures’. Besides Marcel Iancu, M. H. Maxy, Henri Daniel, Sigmund Maur, Corneliu Mihăilescu and Milita Petrascu, Mattis Teutsch also exhibited (what is more, in both sections).37 Their presence provoked attacks from some of the critics: Horia Igirosanu wrote in the traditionally biased periodical of the Society of Fine Arts (Societatea de Belle-Arte), Clipa: "I don’t understand what these crazy guys, Marcel Iancu, Maxy, Mattis Teutsch and the rest, who are all birds of a feather, are doing in the salon. Above all, I don’t understand why they are mixed up in the same room with real talents. The certificate of quality the present committee gives them by letting them into the salon gives them the seal of respectability. They have already been given far too much rope."38

By the second half of 1924 the conditions had been created for the boom of the Modernist movement, which culminated in the new international art exhibition organised by Contimporanul. At the beginning of October 1924 the only issue of the anti-periodical 75 HP [75 horse power] came out, published by Victor Brauner and Ilarie Voronca. (Fig. 9.) In it they introduced the genre of the ‘picto-poem’, with contributions by Iancu and Maxy. (Fig. 10.) In praise of Victor Brauner, Voronca proclaims the spirit of creative power, defending the "aristocracy of sensitivity and intelligence", under whose aegis "the artist forever creates ... new groupings of sound, word and colour".39

Punct [Point], the international periodical of Constructivist art, was published on the 30th of October, 1924. This was a more radical journal than Contimporanul. The editors – Scarlat Callimachi, Victor Brauner and Ilarie Voronca – published a great number of early poems (by Ion Vinea and Scarlat Callimachi),40 manifestos and prints by Marcel Iancu,41 ‘the apostle of the new life’, all from the Dada-period. The journal thus sought to underline the continuity and contemporary relevance of Modernist activities.

The first international modern art exhibition in Bucharest could be seen in the rooms of the Fine Arts Union at 6 Corăbiei Street, and was staged by Contimporanul between the 30th of November and the 30th of December, 1924.42 The exhibition presented the paintings, sculptures, prints and interior decorations of a relatively large number of artists (16 foreigners, 8 from Romania), many of whom had taken part in the 1916 ‘Zürich revolt’. Poland was represented by Tereza Zarnowerowna and Mieczyslaw Szczuka, Hungary by Lajos Kassák,43 Belgium by Marc Darimont and Lempereur Haut, Flanders by Joseph Peeters, Czechoslovakia by Karel Teige, Germany by Kurt Schwitters, Hans Arp, Arthur Segal, Ernestine Segal, Paul Klee, Hans Richter, Erich Buchholz and E.R. Vogenauer, and Sweden by Viking Eggeling. It was typical of this type of show that two East Asian idols (from a German collection), three masks and a Ceylonese head were also exhibited.

Mattis Teutsch participated in the Romanian section with paintings (Kompozíció/Composition, catalogue nos. 90-99) and wooden sculptures (Faszobor/Wooden sculpture, catalogue nos. 112-120) in the company of Maxy, Marcel Iancu, Victor Brauner, Constantin Brancusi (A csók/Kiss, Csodamadár/Magic bird, Pogány kisasszony/Pagan maid, Fej/Head), Milita Petrascu and Dida Solomon. (Fig. 8.)

The exhibition was opened, in a room plunged in darkness, at around midday on a Sunday; the event was recalled as follows by the writer Sasa Pană, editor of the periodical Unu (One): "Two candles were burning on a table covered with black canvas; beside the table appeared Eugen Filotti, relaxed and genial, declaiming a text which introduced painting and art nouveau."44 Another participant, Tudor Vianu added the following recollection: "The dark room swarming with guests, in which the introductory speech delivered by Mr Eugen Filotti got a bit lost, suddenly vibrated to the roll of a drum. At this moment the lights went up, illuminating a jazz band behind the speaker on the platform, a band which even contained a coloured musician. At the sound of strings, sirens and drums the crowd began jostling for a better view."45 The arrangement and organisation of the opening bore a striking resemblance to the tradition of Dadaist evenings, at which one of the organisers, Marcel Iancu, had participated both as author and actor, as he described in detail in an interview in 1933.46

Sasa Pană also quotes from the text of the speech, which emphasised the inner cohesion and unity of modern art as well as the necessity of its intensification, this last requiring activities of a spiritual and intellectual nature. Filotti predicted that this kind of art would only be appreciated when our civilisation had got used to looking at painting in an entirely pure way. In his speech he referred to the work of Kandinsky, Vlaminck, Brancusi, Picasso and Klee, as well as to that of Romanian artists.47 Filotti was director of the second series of the weekly Cuvântul liber (1924–1926), a left wing periodical, which supported artists striving to exert an influence on society and which, in its third series (1933–1936) reproduced the works of Mattis Teutsch, while under the management of Tudor Teodorescu-Braniste in 1933 and 1934.48

In fact, Eugen Filotti published a particularly positive review of the exhibition and specifically commented on the works of Romanian artists, emphasising that they could fully hold their own in the company of foreigners. "Constructivism dominates every wall, but without completely obliterating Expressionist analyses or Cubist decompositions and colour experiments." We think Mattis Teutsch also belongs to the latter category: "Wrapped up in his world of secret rhythms, awkward inhibitions and dream-filled dynamism, Matis [sic] Teutsch from Brassó continues to create sophisticated sonatas with his palette".49

The most complete account of the exhibition was given by Tudor Vianu, the young professor of aesthetics, who had acquired his first-hand knowledge of German art back in the days of his studies in Tübingen. He also gave a valuable description of the arrangement of works in the exhibition room, as follows: "The wall on the right-hand side is almost completely filled with the works of Marcel Iancu; similarly, the wall on the left-hand side is taken up with Maxy’s works, while Mattis Teutsch from Brassó exhibits close to the entrance, and the paintings of foreign exhibitors are grouped at the end of the room. In the middle, in the corners and on the platform at the back we can see sculptures by Brâncusi and Mrs. Milita Petrascu, as well as mobiles, vases and small wooden figures by Messrs. Maxy, Iancu and Teutsch."50

Vianu compared two canvases, subjecting them to ‘meticulous analysis’: Iancu’s The Voltaire Music Hall and Maxy’s The Ancestors’ Fair: Iancu, he felt was more abstract and radical, Maxy more emotional and temperamentally closer to Expressionism. "Teutsch tends in this direction, but with him the stress is not so much on graphics as on colour. Colour, however, is by its very nature musical and emotional, so it is difficult to speak about abstraction based on just a single colour."

The article is illustrated with reproductions of a number of works by Brancusi (Csodamadár/Magic bird), Milita Petrascu (Torzó/Torso), M. H. Maxy (Portré/Portrait) and Marcel Iancu (Konstrukció/Construction). The furniture and the internal decoration – Maxy’s chest of drawers, Iancu’s table and chairs, his vases and the ‘wooden ornaments by Mr. Teutsch’, provide a ‘clue to interpretation’ and ‘may well appeal to a very wide audience with their ambitious decorativeness’.51

In Punct, the editor of the periodical, Scarlat Callimachi, published an article on the exhibition, which announced that "following this introduction involving works from Poland, Germany, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Serbia, Hungary and Romania, Contimporanul is advertising an exhibition for May, in which artists from Italy, France, Spain and Russia are intending to participate."52 This plan, however, remained unrealised.

Callimachi underlined the synchronicity of Romanian artistic events with European ones and mentioned the two pioneers of European values: "Brancusi was perhaps the first primitive,and later the first master of abstraction in Europe. Lipschitz and Archipenko are considered to be among his pupils. Marcel Iancu published the first ‘constructions’ in the periodicals of the Dada movement. As a pioneering architect, he has displayed Cubist reliefs and architectural plans such as can hardly be found nowadays in any foreign periodical […] These two examples themselves dispel the charge of the imitation and import of western art. On the contrary, this art has developed under the influence of the shared cultural ethos of the continent." In what follows he gives a brief characterisation of every exhibitor from Romania, including Mattis Teutsch, who "attempts to strike a balance between imagination and moderate sobriety. He builds on elegant emphases with lyrical colour transitions."53 Punct also published Mattis Teutsch’s four linocuts, building on the works in the MA album with Secessionist inspiration and leading on to the Constructivist works from 1925, which latter period may also be described as Expressionist – abstract.54 (Fig. 10.)

On the occasion of the exhibition of Contimporanul, the philosopher Lucian Blaga also expressed his opinion of artistic abstraction. Constructivists "aim at putting creation beyond nature; they no longer elevate nature to an abstract level, but build complexes of lines and colours, either symphonically or architectonically; they have their own internal resonance, like a cathedral, which is quite unlike any creation of nature. In this creative process, the spirit is given free rein. Geometric figures are not abstractions from nature; rather are they creative constructions which we ourselves impose on nature: this Kantian philosophy opens the way to Constructivist aesthetics and absolute creation."55

In another essay Blaga says that Kandinsky, who is ’the author of colouristic symphonies’, and the initiator of ’absolute painting’, broke off every connection with nature in his works. "[…] His work is pure colour symphony, he manipulates colours as a musician handles sounds. […] Of the painters who exhibit in Corăbiei Street, it is especially Mattis Teutsch, who followed Kandinsky. Very often the arts mutually enriched one another, and we can indeed speak of the penetration of one art form into another."56

The photograph shows the layout of the artist’s Brassó exhibition in 1924, where probably the same works were exhibited as in Bucharest. It also supplies reliable information on works of Mattis Teutsch displayed in the exhibition of Contimporanul.57 In particular, note the sections of the musically modulated, abstract Expressionist cycles entitled Sensations and Spiritual flowers, which can be seen here.58

Presumably, Mattis Teutsch’s cooperation with Contimporanul extended to the morning performance of modern arts held on the 14th of December, 1924, which also comprised ‘recitals and music’ in the exhibition halls.59 Two of his works and three of his linocuts were reproduced in the catalogue issue of the periodical in 1924. These reveal that he gradually turned to the architectonically constructed motif, especially so in the representation of the cockerel, which he probably repeated in the form of a sculpture.60


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