Activism, Modernism, and the Avant-Garde
341 pp., 6 x 9 in, 10 color illus., 90 b&w illus.
- Published: April 28, 1998
- Published: February 28, 2000
New critical perspectives on Hans Richter, the artist and political activist who played a major role in the shaping of the twentieth-century avant-garde.
Few artists spanned the movements of early twentieth-century art as completely as did Hans Richter. Richter was a major force in the developments of expressionism, Dada, De Stijl, constructivism, and Surrealism, and the creator, with Viking Eggeling, of the abstract cinema. Along with Theo van Doesburg, László Moholy-Nagy, El Lissitzky, and a few others, he is one of the artists crucial to an understanding of the role of the arts in the reconstruction era following World War I. Most American scholars have focused on Richter's film work and have favored a strictly formalist approach that separates art and politics. The contributors to this book rewrite Richter's history to include his pivotal role in the development of the early twentieth-century avant-garde and his political activism. When Richter's work, particularly that of his earlier, European career, is viewed in its historical and political context, he emerges as an artist committed to the power of art to change the fabric of social, political, and cultural affairs.
The articles in Stephen Foster's skillfully edited anthology put Hans Richter into the context of political and social events which formed the crucible of his work. A valuable work—not just for the study of Richter, but as a model of current scholarship.
Johanna Drucker, Department of Art History, Yale University
Like modernism itself, Hans Richter's achievement has for too long been decontextualized and depoliticized by historiography and criticism. Stephen Foster and his collaborators challenge such aestheticization and thereby restore this pivotal modernist to the place he deserves in the culture of creation of the First World War years, not least by prioritizing the interaction between art and social purpose that was the focus of Richter's preoccupations from Expressionism and Dada through to his filmmaking in the twenties and thirties.
Robert Short, Senior Lecturer, School of Modern Languages and European Studies, University of East Anglia, England and author of Dada and Surrealism
Stephen Foster has introduced a dimension of challenging rigor to Dada studies, insisting on the cultural transactional role of this early European modernism, establishing an approach which shapes these essays. We are presented with a culturally political Richter, concerned with artistic innovation as strategic and revolutionary intervention within its historical moment, be it post-November Revolution Weimar or National Socialist Germany. This is a truly enhanced portrait of the activist artist as painter and filmmaker, detailed across the chronologically arranged essays. It is a major contribution to a still-neglected strand of modernism.
Martin I. Gaughan, Director of Art History Studies, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff
This book untangles Hans Richter's manifold lifetime and complex body of work, thus revealing an unique personality at the epicenter of early twentieth-century avant-garde. Despite the inevitable unrest in the life of a German Jew born in Berlin in the 1880s, Richter deployed undiminished energy as a key figure to coin utopian and experimental movements. His life and work as presented in this volume reflect the pea of a generation's cultural history.
Helen Adkins, art historian, Berlin