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Continuity and Rupture in Central European Art and Architecture, 1918-1939

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - CRAACE (Continuity and Rupture in Central European Art and Architecture, 1918-1939)

Reporting period: 2020-10-01 to 2022-03-31

CRAACE concerns the legacy of the Habsburg Empire in architecture and art in central Europe in the period 1918 - 1939. Traditionally, the year 1918, when the Habsburg Empire collapsed, has been treated as a caesura, inaugurating an entirely new state of affairs. Focusing on Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, which emerged from the ruins of the former Austria-Hungary, this project questions such an account. How did the cultural and social elites respond to the new political reality. How did they address the memory of the Habsburg Empire? How did the successor states construct new identities and what place was envisioned for the visual arts? How did artists and architects respond to these imperatives?

This project focuses on a moment of crisis - the collapse of Austria-Hungary - and examines how artists, architects and elites respond to that crisis. Is it seen as an opportunity for new innovation or as a moment of trauma? The project is concerned with central Europe, but its concerns have much wider importance, since its concerns the aftermath of empires. It aims to examine the resilience of societies and cultures in central Europe, and how that resilience was shaped by the relation to the past.
The initial focus of the project has been basic ground research, delineating the broad parameters of the research and defining its scope.

In addition, the project website: was launched and we have used it as a portal for promoting the project as well as events elsewhere that are relevant to the project. The website has been used for publication of shorter texts by the project team for a wider public. By February 2021, it included 56 papers.

The first project conference, In the Shadow of the Habsburg Empire? Art and Culture in Interwar Central Europe, was staged in Brno in the Moravian Gallery in September 2019. The next workshop, Multiplying Modernity: Vernacular Modernisms, Nostalgia and the Avant-Garde, took place at the East Slovak Gallery in Kosice in December 2019. And the third one, Modernity and Religion in Central European Art and Architecture, was due the Covid restrictions moved to online serie (Feburuary - May 2021).

4 peer-reviewed articles have been published and one monograph completed, as well as 3 chapters in edited collections were published.

The team also presented the preliminary results of research at 33 conferences / workshops/ lectures.

The project is signed up to the Open Data Pilot project, and is accessible on the Open Science Foundation repository.
The original proposal sought to challenge the traditional histories of art of interwar Hungary, Austria and Czechoslovakia. These had tended to be selectively narrated to confirm certain wider stereotypes about national identity and character and to legitimise the states concerned. Our research has confirmed the need to critique such embedded understandings, in order to overcome one-sided accounts (particularly those privileging the avant-garde), leading to a greater emphasis on ambiguity, ambivalence and what one might term the 'grey zones' of modernism. Specifically:

Research on ‘vernacular modernism’ has shown that regional trends were intertwined much more closely with constructions of a ‘national art’ than previously expected. Tyrol Modernism, for example, served as a blueprint for the visual culture of interwar Austria. Regional modernisms also reached beyond the national stage. The artist Anna Lesznai, for example, whose work strongly focused on folk art, was well-received across Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary in the interwar period: in Austria, it was presented as ‘exotic’, in Czechoslovakia it represented an idealised view of rural life. In Hungary, Lesznai was acknowledged in line with her success as a pre-war avant-gardist. Archival research has made clear how significant emigré communities were in shaping the presentation of nations at international exhibitions. They retained a very specific image of their home country, informed by physical objects and memories of the homeland. The image such communities kept of their homeland was often romanticised and selective, and its encounter with the official image presented by the states is a novel topic that has received little attention, and changes the interpretative framework within which this material has been hitherto examined.

Analysis of the theme of the church as an agent and patron of architecture and art has thrown up the question not only of the impact of Catholic teachings on wider political ideologies, but also deeper methodological issues to do with the historiography of modern architecture and the place of religious buildings in the history of modern art and architecture. Religious themes and imagery were prominent in the work of many 'progressive' artists, while religious and conservatively minded architects managed to formulate an architectural language that expressed the compromise between Church suspicion of modernity and the needs of contemporary society.

In the first year, an important aim has been to identify a wide array of visual representations of the historical past. In the case of paintings, this overview confirmed the prevalent view that the avant-garde was less preoccupied with the historical past than artists working in more traditional modes. Prints and drawings, however, presented a more variegated picture: a number of avant-garde artists created series of illustrations depicting historical events, often with a left-wing political message.
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