Critics’ Picks

Sándor Bortnyik, The New Adam, 1924.

Sándor Bortnyik, The New Adam, 1924.

Los Angeles

Central European Avant-Gardes: Exchange and Transformation, 1910–1930

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
March 10–June 3, 2002

The Polish painter Wladyslaw Strzeminski makes an occasional cameo in accounts of early-twentieth-century modernism. From seeing the paintings only in reproduction, however, one is unprepared for the extraordinary facture of his Architectural Composition 13c, 1929, or for the subtlety of his color in Unistic Composition 7, 1929. But Strzeminski and a couple of other notable exceptions aside, the most affecting works in the exhibition are in media other than painting. Perhaps this is because Central European art tends to be thoroughly syncretic, absorbing styles and tendencies not only from Central Europe but from France and Russia as well. Among the highlights are Aurél Bernáth’s wonderful portfolio of work that combines folk elements—absent from Russian art after World War I—with a pictorial space derived from Cubism and constructivism; László Péri’s linocuts printed in black on colored paper so that the color seems integral rather than applied; and the “Picturearchitecture” of Sándor Bortnyik and Lajos Kassák. Absolutely stunning are seven sculptures by Katarzyna Kobro (though they should have been installed so the viewer could walk around them); these range from Space Composition 4, 1929, one of the most fully realized uses of color in modern sculpture, to monochrome works in painted steel that combine flat planes and curved forms, presaging Anthony Caro and much of ’60s sculpture. They remain absolutely relevant today.

This exhibition does more than merely resurrect the work of important individual artists who, because of geography and historical vicissitudes, have remained on the periphery of art-historical narratives of the ’10s, ’20s, and ’30s; it also places them in the context of the numerous organizations they formed to work collectively, often with the goal of progressive social transformation. This struggle is documented in the numerous books, journals, manifestos, and posters that comprise some of the most significant work of the era, many of which are on view here. Curator Timothy Benson and his collaborators deserve credit for what will undoubtedly stand as one of the most important exhibitions of the year.