Zdrój and the Poznań Expressionism
The periodical Zdrój. Dwutygodnik poświęcony sztuce i kulturze umysłowej (The Source. Bi-weekly dedicated to arts and intellectual culture), was the most efficient Expressionist publication and the first avant-garde magazine in Poland. It was published in Poznań, the capital of western Poland, prior to the state’s regaining its sovereignty after being divided for123 years between Prussia, Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Printed by the Ostoja Publishing House from April 1917 to December 1920, Zdrój made 68 issues in 13 volumes, which, though planned as a monthly, closed down in 1922 after the publication of one issue (as vol. 14). The print-run rose to 1,500 copies and thanks to representative offices in Warsaw, Kraków, and Lvov (Lwów, Lviv), it reached a nationwide readership. It had the most extensive international contacts among the early avant-garde Polish reviews; nevertheless, the term ‘Poznań Expressionism’ associated with it wrongly limits its impact to a local phenomenon.
The editor-in-chief of Zdrój, Jerzy Hulewicz was a printmaker, painter, novelist, and dramaturge. For over a year, however, the magazine was informally led by Stanisław Przybyszewski, the Nestor of the Polish avant-garde, who enjoyed ambivalent fame as a ‘genius Pole’ and Satanist in turn-of-the-century Berlin. Later, as the editor of the art magazine Życie, he transferred the ideals of German and Nordic modernism to Kraków. From mid-1917, first covertly and then openly, he exerted a powerful influence on the programme and structure of Zdrój. Each editorial was followed by poems, prose, translations, articles about art and philosophy, as well as ‘Miscellanea’, comprising reviews, correspondence with readers, and socio-political polemics. As a local cultural centre Zdrój held eight ‘matinées’ and ‘soirées’, musical concerts and open lectures, some of which were repeated in Warsaw and Lvov.
The art profile of the magazine evolved over distinct stages. During the first year, under Przybyszewski’s influence, the magazine was somewhat eclectic. It promoted the epigone stylistics of so-called ‘Young Poland’ and its ideals of ‘l´art pour l´art’. This was appropriate to the ‘unpoetic district’ of Poznań which, under German rule, was reluctant to adopt new trends and was regarded as provincial. Therefore, Zdrój initially asked for the cooperation of some older literary authorities like Wacław Berent and Jan Kasprowicz, while the magazine’s graphic design was dominated by Art Nouveau.
The heroic era of the magazine’s existence, and the second most intriguing stage of its history, was ushered in by the ‘palace revolution’ of April 1918, instigated by the Bunt (Revolt) group (1917-22). This consisted of the artists Władysław Skotarek, Stefan Szmaj, Jan Jerzy Wroniecki, August Zamoyski, the poet Adam Bederski, and the trio of Margarete and Stanisław Kubicki and the editor Hulewicz, who all three aired their views in texts and art works. The group published Zeszyt Buntu, which promoted early avant-garde tendencies, usually defined in Zdrój by the cover term ‘Expressionism’, first used in 1917.
Kubicki, the ‘spiritus rector’ of the group’s radical wing, proclaimed a collective declaration of the Bunt in his aphoristic credo, ‘Notes’:
I. Art has nothing in common with the concept of ‘beauty and goodness’ (kalokagathia) …. We are far removed from the aesthetic game …
II. The fight is on, not for images of aesthetic issues but for MAN and for our DAY (it will come) against the sordidness of your day ….
III. WE are Art.
The group’s appeals affirmed activism and the identification of art and life, and as in other avant-garde manifestos, were of a performative character oriented towards interaction with the audience. Their main ideas were presented during meetings accompanying the first exhibition of the Bunt group, held amidst a moral scandal. The Jury of the Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Sztuk Pięknych (Society of Friends of the Fine Arts) had prohibited the exhibition of two ‘obscene’ works by Zamoyski and Szmaj. Residents of Poznań were ambivalent towards Expressionism. They associated it both with German art and also with the German occupation. For the Bunt group, a revolutionary movement operating without institutions, and emphasising the role of ethics rather than aesthetics, it was a pars pro toto of modernity, perpetuating a myth of a ‘new art’ for a ‘new man’.
The linocuts appearing in the magazine were shocking in their use of contrasting black-and-white surfaces and primitivist deformation. Apocalyptic in Skotarek’s prints, examples of organic abstraction by Jerzy Hulewicz, Kubicka, and Zamoyski or Kubicki’s geometrical abstraction were a complete novelty. The explosive synergy of word and image, typical of avant-garde periodicals, highlighted the programmatic attempt to ‘épater le bourgeois’.
Like the Berlin periodicals, Die Aktion and Der Sturm Zdrój engaged in publications, exhibitions, lectures, music events, and the production of a series of postcards. It also included translations from Die Aktion and undertook joint publishing and exhibition projects, inspired by the Kubickis. The Zdrój artists expressed their ideas in an international visual language, and the parallel publications of their poetry and manifestos in Poland and Germany overcame the differences in literary idiom. For Kubicki, an author of Polish and German revolutionary-biblical poetry who came to terms with the utopia of a ‘new society’, the bilingual and international character of art was a matter of course.
Fragments of the article published with footnotes as:
Lidia Głuchowska, Poznań and Łódź: National modernism and international avant-garde. Zdrój (1917-22); Yung-Yidish (1919); and Tel-Awiw (1919-21) (Kap. 51). In: Brooker, Peter/ Thacker, Andrew/ Weikop, Christian/ Bru, Sascha u. a. (Hg.): Modernist Magazines: A Critical and Cultural History. Vol. 3, part 2: Europe 1880-1940, Oxford University Press 2013, S. 1208-1233.