Chapter 2: The Faces of Power
In this chapter Hughes opens with the view that World War 1 changed the sense of modernity created with the age of the machine and moved culture into an age of mass-produced, industrialised death. Of course, all WW1 did, was to bring to the attention of the people, whilst machines could be our salvation, they could also be used to destroy us. This chapter moves away from Paris as the centre of modern art to mainly examine art in Germany (the Weimar Republic) and post-revolutionary Russia, as it is in these places that art struggles to redefine the social contract.
Hughes first examines the rise of the DADA movement from the Cabaret Voltaire in February 2016. He states that DADA can be encapsulated as the ‘eclectic freedom to experiment, enshrine play as the highest human activity.. with the main tool – chance’. This is a useful description as I am trying to move more towards this goal in my drawings. Two images by Kurt Schwitters stood out for me in this section of the chapter – Merz 410 ‘Irgendsowas’, 1922, which is reminiscent of the collage paintings by Robert Rauschenberg where all objects and materials have equal value; and, Cathedral of Erotic Misey, 1923, which sparked an idea to combine this with an acrylic encased drawing (Sarah Woodfine would also be an influence here, see previous post).
Hughes goes on to look at Expressionism and the DADA response to this movement. He states Expressionism is midway between idealised German gothic and an unattainable Utopia where the self or the void, ecstasy or chaos, were the choice of the artists in this movement.
The chapter then moves to art in post-revolutionary Russia where the art patron was the state. Hughes uses a quote from Anatoly Lunacharsky which I found interesting –
‘Art is a powerful means of infecting those around us with ideas, feelings and moods. Agitation and propaganda acquire particular acuity and effectiveness when they are clothed in the attractive and mighty forms of art.’
This brought to mind that whilst art, and particularly poster art in Russia, at that time fulfilled this need, today the same role is being assigned by states to TV and social media networks.
The rise of Constructivism is charted, particularly the work of Tatlin. I found his corner sculptures interesting, which he equated to icons. Making a drawing in a corner would be an interesting idea. The poster art of Aleksander Rodchenko were then explored where he combines design and photography to create powerful visions for the state, feeding into a view of the new state as a total work of art.
The chapter ends with a look at Futurism as the house-style of Italian fascism (e.g the EUR architecture) and Picasso’s Guernica, which Hughes states is the only humane, political, work of art in the last 50 years to achieve real international fame. I not sure I agree with this last statement as I am sure works by Rauschenberg, Hockney (particularly his drawings around sexuality) and even Warhol to name just a couple, have a political message.
I found this chapter interesting, with some memorable quotes and ideas for future art.