The region is characterized by great political and ideological conflict during the twentieth century. Hungary, aligned with Austria, plays a major role in World War I. Following the conflict, Czechoslovakia is established as a political entity. It possesses 70–80 percent of the industry of the former Austria-Hungary. With the exception of Liechtenstein, which maintains neutrality, all of the nations in this region are involved in World War II: Hungary and Romania are allied with Nazi Germany; Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland are occupied by the Nazis. In the postwar period, with the exception of Austria and Liechtenstein, all are dominated by communist political regimes that do not fall until around 1990. Austria is occupied by the Allies after World War II, until it becomes independent in 1955.
From the turn of the twentieth century to the beginning of World War I, intellectual and cultural life flourish in many parts of the region. The Vienna Secessionists expand the vocabulary of modernism in architecture and the applied arts. Hungarian artists and architects adapt Art Nouveau. In Prague, groups of artists combine an interest in local traditions with a fascination for Parisian Cubism to develop a unique Cubist style, seen in works of painting and sculpture, but also, most distinctively, in architecture and the decorative arts. Two world wars and the domination of the region by repressive regimes has a chilling effect on this vibrant international culture. In postwar communist states, the early connections with Western European art are often suppressed. It is only with the fall of communism that Western Europeans become more conversant with the histories of avant-garde movements in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
Exhibitions of modernist design by the Vienna Secession are held in the group’s building, designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867–1908). At the head of the group, founded in 1897, is Gustav Klimt (1862–1918). Josef Hoffmann (1870–1956) is also a founding member. In 1907–8, Klimt will paint one of his best-known works, The Kiss (Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna).
Czech-born artist Alphonse Mucha (1860–1939), known primarily for his posters in the Art Nouveau style, designs the Bosnia-Herzegovina Pavilion at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris. In 1909, he begins a series of murals, The Slav Epic, commissioned for the Lord Mayor’s Hall in Prague. The twenty canvases, measuring about 24 x 30 feet, are not completed until 1928.
Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, as well as Tolstoy’s heroic depictions of the peasantry, the Gödöllö artists’ colony is founded outside Budapest to foster a modern national style in the decorative arts by adapting elements of Hungary’s vernacular art and architecture. Gödöllö’s workshops, which are open to the rural poor, include weaving, textile and wallpaper design, furniture making, stained glass, sculpture, graphics, and ceramics. Until the colony disbands in 1921, its designers and craftsmen exhibit at international salons to much acclaim and receive commissions for important public projects.
The Weiner Werkstätte is founded in Vienna by Josef Hoffmann (1870–1956) and Koloman Moser (1868–1918), embracing both machine production and the Arts and Crafts principles of William Morris (1834–1896).
The Cifra Palace in Budapest, designed by Géza Márkus (1872–1912), is completed. With its organic forms, polychrome tile roof, and floral ornamentation on the exterior, it exemplifies the Hungarian Art Nouveau. The simple geometry of the building’s massing also demonstrates the influence in Hungary of the Vienna Secession.
Prague-born Maria Kirschner is the principal staff designer for the Bohemian Loetz glassworks. Kirschner and other designers, such as Dagobert Peche (1887–1923) and Josef Hoffmann (1870–1956), contribute to the high quality of Loetz wares. Their designs reflect the influence of both French Art Nouveau glassmaking and Viennese modernism.
Construction of the Postal Savings Bank, designed by Otto Wagner (1841–1918), is begun in Vienna. The building represents the architect’s incorporation of rationalist elements, such as frankly expressed modern materials like steel, within an overall conception that is classical in inspiration.
Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957) travels from Bucharest, where he had studied at the School of Fine Arts, to Paris, where he will produce important modernist works, starting with The Kiss in 1908.
The Gresham Palace Hotel is constructed in Budapest, an important example of the Hungarian Art Nouveau style in architecture. Designed by Zsigmond Quittner (1857–1918), the hotel is built by the Gresham Life Assurance Company of Britain, and originally caters primarily to a British clientele.
An exhibition in Prague of paintings by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863–1944) is a catalyst for the formation of Osma (the Eight), the first specifically modernist Bohemian group. Members, including Emil Filla (1882–1953) and Bohumil Kubista (1884–1918), create an aesthetic vocabulary melding expressionism and primitivism to explore a sense of alienation engendered by the sociopolitical conditions of a kingdom on the verge of collapse. Many of the Eight will be instrumental in the development of Czech Cubism.
Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846–1916) receives the Nobel Prize in literature for his novel Quo Vadis.
The Palais Stoclet in Brussels is constructed by German architect Josef Hoffmann (1870–1956), embodying the contemporary German concept of theGesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”), with furnishings designed by the architect and murals by Gustav Klimt (1862–1918).
Viennese architect Adolf Loos (1870–1933), an early proponent of Functionalism, writes the essay “Ornament and Crime.” It will be taken up by some modernist architects as a manifesto and a denunciation of the supposedly decorative traditional architecture they despise. In 1910, Loos completes the Steiner House in Vienna, which, despite its unornamented facade, includes Arts and Crafts elements such as paneling and large fireplaces in the interior.
The Association of Architects of the Mánes Union of Artists (Spolek Vytvarnych Umelcu Mánes) is founded in Prague. Among its members are Pavel Janák (1882–1956), Otakar Novotny (1880–1959), and Josef Gocár (1880–1945), who, inspired by the buildings and writings of Viennese architect Otto Wagner (1841–1918), formulate an aesthetic for architecture and the decorative arts that incorporates aspects of Cubist painting. In 1912, Janák and Gocár establish the Prague Art Workshops for crafts and furniture design, through which they produce Cubist-inspired utilitarian household items.
English king Edward VII (r. 1901–10) orders a set of crystal drinking vessels from Moser & Sons, the Bohemian glass manufactory established by Ludwig Moser (1833–1916). The firm’s high-quality product then becomes known as the “Glass of Kings.”
The paintings of Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980) are included in the Hagenbund exhibition in Vienna. Critic Arthur Roessler (1877–1955) refers to them as “massacres in paint.” Kokoschka is the leading exponent of Austrian Expressionism, along with Egon Schiele (1890–1918), whose erotically charged figurative works cause a sensation.
The Group of Plastic Artists (Skupina Vytvarnych Umelcu) is founded in Prague, its members embracing Cubism as a means of establishing a national Czech style in painting and other visual arts. Three works produced by sculptor member Otto Gutfreund (1889–1927) in 1911 (Anxiety, Hamlet, and Don Quixote) embody the group’s “Cubo-Expressionist” style. By 1912, however, a schism will develops between practitioners of this “pluralism” and the more “concentrated” devotees of Parisian Cubism.
Czech-born painter and graphic artist Frantisek Kupka (1871–1957) exhibits Amorpha: Fugue in Two Colors at the Salon d’Automne in Paris. A pioneer of abstract art, that same year Kupka creates Vertical Schemes I, which is later be described as the first purely geometric work in modern painting.
A concert of atonal musical works by Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951), Alban Berg (1885–1935), and Anton Webern (1883–1945), held in Vienna, so incenses the audience that fights break out and police are called in to subdue the fracas. After World War I, Schoenberg will develop the twelve-tone method; he and his followers, who comprise the Second Viennese School of composers, are deeply influenced by the Expressionist movement.
Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia, thus beginning World War I. Austria-Hungary is aligned with Turkey, Bulgaria, and Germany as the Central Powers against the Allies: Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the U.S. In 1916, Romania enters the war on the Allied side.
Hungarian pianist and composer Béla Bartók (1881–1945) achieves international renown with his score for the ballet The Wooden Prince. When his ballet The Miraculous Mandarin is poorly received in 1919, he gives up performing in Hungary and later moves to the U.S. Bartók is known for preserving Hungarian folk music and incorporating aspects of it into his own compositions.
“The Metamorphosis,” a short story by Czech writer Franz Kafka (1883–1924), recounts the saga of traveling salesman Gregor Samsa, who metamorphoses overnight into a giant insect. One of the few works by Kafka to be published during his brief life, it encapsulates the haunting narrative more fully elaborated in novels such as The Trial: the alienated individual persecuted by unseen forces.
The first issue of the journal A Tett (The Act) is published in Budapest. Edited by writer and artist Lajos Kassák (1887–1967), A Tett is a forum for the avant-garde group Aktivismus (Activism), whose members include László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) and Béla Uitz (1887–1972). Inspired by the international avant-garde, particularly Expressionism and Constructivism, the Activists’ revolutionary politics and cultural ideas attract official condemnation. When A Tett is banned for its socialist, antimilitarist stance, Kassák and Uitz found Ma(Today) to promote modernist art, international and Hungarian. In 1920, Ma is banned and Kassák moves to Vienna, where he continues to produce the journal for a Hungarian audience until 1926.
Edvard Benes (1884–1948), Milan Stefánik (1880–1919), and Tomás Masaryk (1850–1937) lead the movement for Czech independence. With the support of the Allied forces of World War I, the Czechoslovak Republic (Czechoslovakia) is created in 1918 and Masaryk is elected its first president. The end of the war also brings the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and Hungary becomes an independent republic, as does Poland.
Various currents in Polish avant-garde art are embodied in a number of groups active after World War I. Inspired by Expressionism, the Formisci (Formists, 1917–22) of Kraków attempt to articulate a new national style comparable to Italian Futurism or French Cubism. Bunt (Revolt), a group of painters, graphic artists, and poets in Poznan (1918–20), have strong ties to the German Expressionists as well. The 1923 Exhibition of New Art in Wilno (now Vilnius, Lithuania), organized by Wladyslaw Strzeminski (1893–1952), functions as a manifesto for Polish Constructivism, inspired by the Soviet avant-garde. Strzeminski will co-found several Constructivist groups–Blok (Block, 1924–26), a.r. (artysci rewolucyjni, “revolutionary artists,” 1926–39), and Praesens (1929–36)—that advance the cause of modernism through exhibitions, publications, and the International Museum of Modern Art, established in Lódz in 1931.
“Red Vienna,” the stronghold of the Social Democratic Party in Austria, becomes an internationally acclaimed model of socialist municipal government. Embarking on a radical program of democratization and redistribution, the administration focuses on the provision of housing equipped with modern amenities, green space, and community infrastructure such as libraries and kindergartens. The program’s aspirations are exemplified by the Heiligenstadt Houses (Karl Marx Hof, 1927–30), designed by Karl Ehn (1884–1957), a student of Otto Wagner.
Communist rule in Hungary under the leadership of Béla Kun (1886–1939) is halted by Admiral Miklós Horthy (1868–1957), aided by Romanian troops. Horthy establishes a dictatorial regime (1920–44), launching a “white terror” aimed at ridding the country of leftists and Jews. Some 5,000 people are executed, another 100,000 forced to emigrate. In the inhospitable political environment of hypernationalism and rising fascism, many artists and intellectuals leave the country, among them several Hungarians who will have a profound impact on graphic design and photography in their adopted homes, including László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946), André Kertész (1894–1985), Gyula Halász (later called Brassaï, 1899–1984), György Kepes (1906–2001), Martin Munkacsi (1896–1963), and Robert Capa (1913–1954).
The Czech avant-garde group Devetsil (“nine forces”) is founded in Prague to advocate the fusion of Constructivism and “poetism” in architecture, literature, the arts, film, and photography. The group’s leader, Karel Teige (1900–1951), makes major contributions in book design and typography, particularly through the house organ ReD (Revue Devetsilu), and becomes an internationally recognized architectural theorist whose concept of the “minimum dwelling,” a model of Functionalist design, will be incorporated into Communist-era housing.
Romanian composer Georges Enescu (1881–1955) begins the work that is considered his masterpiece and which establishes his reputation as one of the country’s greatest musicians of the century, Oedip: Tragedy in Four Acts and Six Tables.
Romanian-born writer Eugène Ionesco (1909–1994) returns from Paris (where he had lived with his family since shortly after his birth) to Romania, where he will be educated in Bucharest and begin his career as a critic, before returning to France for good in 1942. Ionesco will become a well-known playwright associated with the Theater of the Absurd.
Czech satirist Jaroslav Hasek (1883–1923) dies before completing his multivolume masterwork, The Good Soldier Schweik, an absurdist antiwar novel that becomes a world classic.
The Czech Photographic Society is founded to oppose the romanticized aesthetics of Pictorialism and promote avant-gardism. Its leading proponents, including Jaromír Funke (1896–1945) and Josef Sudek (1896–1976), bring preciseness and objectivity to photographs of architecture, city scenes, the artifacts of technology and industry, and everyday objects, using bold cuts, sharp diagonals, unconventional overviews and underviews, and diagonal compositions.
Polish writer Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont (1867–1925) receives the Nobel Prize in literature for his novel Chlopi (The Peasants).
Hungarian-born architect and furniture designer Marcel Breuer (1902–1981) becomes head of the carpentry workshop at the Bauhaus in Dessau, where he begins to experiment with tubular steel in various chair designs (i.e., the Wassily) and develops a line of modular furnishings. Breuer will tap new technologies and unusual materials—plywood, cane, mortared rubble, concrete, aluminum—throughout his career in Germany and the United States, where he emigrates in 1937.
Marshal Józef Pilsudski (1867–1935) stages a coup and inaugurates the Sanacja (“sanitation”) regime in Poland. Autocratic rule will continue under the military after Pilsudski’s death.
A period of worldwide economic depression and unemployment begins. In 1931, the Austrian bank Creditanstalt crashes, causing a financial panic in Austria and Germany.
The Iron Guard, a fascist mass movement, is a major social and political force committed to the “Christian and racial” restoration of Romania.
The Kraków Group (Grupa Krakowska) of avant-garde artists forms in response to the conservative teaching methods of the Academy of Fine Arts as well as the rise of fascism in Polish politics. Led by sculptor Henryk Wicinski (1908–1943), the group is affiliated with the (banned) Communist party and defines its program as pro-proletarian and antinationalist. Most members’ works are destroyed during the Nazi Occupation.
The Nobel Prize for physics is awarded to the Swiss-English Paul Dirac (1902–1984) and the Austrian Erwin Schrödinger (1887–1961) for the discovery of new forms of atomic energy.
Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957) erects the Infinite Column, a sculpture more than 96 feet tall and constructed of cast iron beads on a steel framework, in Tîrgu-Jiu, Romania, near his birthplace. One of a series of similar works begun in 1918, the Infinite Column commemorates those killed in a battle against the German Army in World War I.
Prince Franz Josef II (1906–1989) is the first prince of Liechtenstein to reside in the country, where he rules from the capital city of Vaduz until his death in 1989.
Austria is annexed by Nazi Germany.
Nazi Germany invades Poland. World War II begins when Britain declares war on Germany in response to the invasion. In 1940, the Jewish quarter of Warsaw is cordoned off. In 1941, Germany begins building concentration camps in Poland (Auschwitz and Treblinka). In 1943, Jewish resistance erupts in the Warsaw Ghetto; the uprising lasts nearly four weeks before the Germans raze the ghetto. In 1944, Polish resistance forces capture Warsaw, but the Germans recapture the city and burn it to the ground. In 1945, the Soviet Red Army drives the Germans from Poland.
The Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia begins. The country is partitioned and Slovakia declared an independent state. Czechoslovakian Jews are sent to a ghetto at Terezín, and then to camps in Poland, where they are exterminated. A 1945 uprising against the Germans in Prague precedes the end of World War II in that year. Liechtenstein remains neutral, while Hungary and Romania are aligned with the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, Japan). In 1944, Miklós Horthy (1868–1957) is deposed by Hungarian Nazis after he attempts to negotiate an armistice with the Soviets; a puppet government is installed and Hungarian Jews and gypsies are deported to death camps.
A Soviet-backed government is installed in Romania. The Romanian People’s Republic is proclaimed in 1947. The next year, Socialist Realism is imposed on artists; all avant-garde forms of expression are banned.
German troops are driven from Hungary by the Soviet Red Army. The new government introduces a land reform bill, redistributing land from large estate owners to peasants. By 1949, the Communist Hungarian Workers Party dominates the government and the country becomes part of the Soviet bloc.
The Art Club is founded in Vienna by a group of modern painters–some of whom had been in exile during the war—as a space for recovering and rediscovering European avant-garde art. The club becomes the center of progressive tendencies in Austrian culture for the next decade.
In elections widely regarded as rigged, Communists consolidate power in Poland and the country becomes a Soviet satellite. From 1949 until 1954, the doctrine of Socialist Realism prevails in the arts; independent artistic formations are discouraged, and independent galleries are replaced by large, state-sponsored exhibitions held in Warsaw.
A political crisis in Czechoslovakia is followed by the establishment of a government dominated by members of the Communist party and modeled on the Soviet Union, of which it becomes a satellite state. The Union of Artists is established to promote Socialist Realism and the avant-garde art community withers.
In Bucharest, Romanian painter Corneliu Baba (1906–1997) exhibits The Chess Player, among the works that will establish his reputation as one of the foremost painters in his country during the twentieth century. The painting will be shown at the Venice Biennale in 1956 and later in Moscow, Prague, and elsewhere.
The National Museum of Art in Bucharest is founded to house the former Royal Collection, as well as those of other museums in the Romanian capital. The collection includes Romanian traditional and modern art, but also emphasizes French art of the turn of the twentieth century.
Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s (1889–1951) Philosophical Investigations is published posthumously. Wittgenstein’s work is influential in using linguistics to resolve philosophical issues.
Soviet control over the Eastern Bloc begins to loosen after the death of Joseph Stalin. Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s official denunciation of Stalin at the XX Party Congress in 1956 is the first step in a gradual process of “destalinization” in the Soviet satellites.
The State Treaty of Austria declares the country “permanently neutral.”
Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania are founding member of the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance of Soviet Bloc countries organized against the perceived threat of the NATO alliance of Western nations.
Polish theater director and painter Tadeusz Kantor (1915–1990) founds Cricot 2, an avant-garde collective of artists and theoreticians, in Kraków.
In Poland, a critical break with the tenets of Socialist Realism occurs with the state-sponsored Polish Exhibition of Young Artists. Held at the Arsenal in Warsaw, the show features expressionistic canvases and galvanizes public discussion of the state of contemporary art. In the aftermath, new artistic formations dedicated to abstraction and Art Informel spring up around the country and new venues showcase contemporary European art (East and West), including Warsaw’s Galeria Krzywe Kolo (opens 1956), Krzysztofory Gallery in Kraków (1959), and El Gallery in Elblag (1960), the first space in Poland dedicated to experimental art.
The postwar trilogy of filmmaker Andrzej Wajda (born 1926)—A Generation(1955), Kanal (1957), and Ashes and Diamonds (1958)—brings international renown to the “Polish School” of cinema, which flourishes in the more liberal post-Stalinist climate of the years 1956 to 1963. Wadja is a graduate of the Lódz Film School, a state-operated institution that opened in 1948. Over the years, its students will include Kryzysztof Zanussi (born 1939), Jerzy Skolimowski (born 1938), and Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941–1996), among other famed filmmakers.
A demonstration by Hungarian students and workers escalates into a full-scale uprising against Stalinism and interference from Moscow. Thousands are killed in street fighting before the rebellion is crushed by Soviet troops. Prime Minister Imre Nagy (1896–1958) is removed from office and later executed, along with some 400 freedom fighters and sympathetic politicians.
Polish workers riot in Poznan over social and economic conditions, and more than fifty people are killed. In response, the Polish Communist party—over Moscow’s objections–selects the more liberal Wladyslaw Gomulka (1906—1982) as its new chief. Gomulka initiates modest reforms but stops short of full-scale destalinization.
Working in Czechoslovakia’s collectivized glass industry making utilitarian objects, designers such as René Roubícek (born 1922), Jaroslava Brychtová (born 1924), and Stanislav Libensky (1921–2002) create a new art form: monumental glass sculpture. Their astonishing works are introduced to the West at the Milan Triennale in 1957 and Expo ’58 in Brussels.
The Wiener Gruppe (Viennese Group), a collective of experimental poets interested in transforming the written word into action and music, stage their Literary Cabarets in Vienna. A precursor to the happenings of the 1960s, these “total theater” events include performances of “sound poetry,” sketches, and songs, and attract huge crowds.
The Béla Balázs Studio for young experimental filmmakers opens in Budapest. The studio will nurture a renaissance in Hungarian documentary and feature films in the 1960s, and provide a sympatico working environment for avant-garde film and video artists in the 1970s.
Jerzy Grotowski (1933–1999) founds the Laboratory Theater (Teatr Laboratorium) in Opole, Poland, where he transforms the relationship between actors and audience by incorporating audience members into dramatic productions. Grotowski’s Towards a Poor Theater (1968) becomes the bible of exploratory theater in the 1970s.
Tadeusz Kantor (1915–1990) organizes an “anti-exhibition” at Krzysztofory Gallery in Kraków, Poland, consisting of 937 objects of everyday life. Kantor’s theatrical environments and happenings (the first in 1965) lay the groundwork for much of Poland’s experimental art in the 1960s and ’70s.
Aiming for a total synthesis of art and life, Czech and Slovak artists take to the streets in Fluxus-style actions and happenings. Among their numerous ephemeral activities: Stano Filko (born 1937), Alex Mlynárcik (born 1934), and Zita Kostrová release their Happsoc (“happenings” plus “society”) manifestos declaring the city of Bratislava and all its inhabitants a work of art. Milan Knízák (born 1940) and members of the Aktual Group organize walks through Prague staged as happenings and deliver packages filled with art to randomly chosen mailboxes.
The István Király Museum in Székesfehérvár becomes a hub of contemporary culture with its series of exhibitions documenting the history of modernist Hungarian art and shows of avant-garde artists unable to exhibit in Budapest. In 1968–69, the museum organizes landmark exhibitions of the work of László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) and the long-neglected pioneer Lajos Kassák (1887–1967).
Nicolae Ceausescu (1918–1989) becomes leader of the Communist party in Romania. Although he challenges Soviet domination—largely because of his opposition to destalinization—Ceausescu rules the country with an iron fist, notable for extreme cruelty and the exploitation of workers. Internal dissent is swiftly suppressed.
Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz (born 1930) receives the Grand Prix at the São Paulo Bienal for her fiber sculptures called Abakans, three-dimensional relief weavings suspended from the ceiling. In the 1970s, Abakanowicz expands her repertoire of materials, using sisal, burlap, and resin over plaster casts to create installations of figures and body parts (i.e.,Backs, 1976–82), each installation containing dozens of sculptures.
Polish painter and Conceptual artist Roman Opalka (born 1931) begins the series Counted Paintings, a lifelong project that consists of painting rows of tiny numbers from zero to infinity in shades of gray on uniformly sized rectangular canvases.
The First Biennial of Spatial Forms is organized in Elblag, Poland. Sponsored by Zamech, the local industrial plant, the project commissions artists to partner with plant workers in creating public sculptures from scrap material. The Elblag biennials continue through 1974, involving artists such as Henryk Morel (died 1968) and Andrzej Matuszewski (born 1924). The “plein-air” movement climaxes with the Symposium Wroclaw ’70, in which Henryk Stazewski (1894–1988) presents his “light sculpture” drawn in the sky with anti-aircraft spotlights. Stazewski’s career stretches back to the first Polish avant-garde formations in the 1920s, when he belonged to the Constructivist groups Blok and a.r.
The state-sponsored Galeria Foksal opens in Warsaw and quickly becomes a progressive venue for Conceptual and other types of experimental art. Among the artists who congregate at the gallery is Krzysztof Wodiczko (born 1943), whose early installation works—ironic comments on modern technology—invite viewer participation. In the 1980s, Wodiczko will organize Public Projections—gigantic images projected onto public buildings—in New York and other cities.
Romania bans contraceptives and mandates a five-child quota per family.
Miklós Erdély (1928–1986), Gábor Altorjay (born 1944), and Tamás Szentjóby (born 1944) organize Hungary’s first “happening,” The Lunch: In Memoriam Batu Khan. Spurred by the radical politics of the student movement, Conceptual Art flourishes during the late 1960s and into the ’70s, encompassing all media. Erdély produces “textual actions” and photo-text series. Szentjóby’s work precedes from the idea that art is what is forbidden, hence his “Be Prohibited” slogan. Dóra Maurer (born 1937) begins her pioneering work with the photogram. Endre Tót (born 1937) renounces painting and begins his purely verbal works, particularly in book form, for instance, My Unpainted Canvases and the I Am Glad If … series. Sculptor György Jovánovics (born 1939), exploring various logical systems on which to base his work, reconstructs a 1916 chess match between Lenin and Tristan Tzara. Performance artist Tibor Hajas (1946–1980) uses a camera flash to illuminate essential moments of the action. Many of these artists are included in the groundbreaking exhibitions held in 1968–69 at the architectural planning office IPARTERV in Budapest, organized to draw attention to and energize Hungarian avant-garde art.
Closely Watched Trains, a film by Jirí Menzel (born 1938), becomes the first international hit of Czech New Wave cinema. The film is adapted from a novel by Bohumil Hrabal (1914–1997), whose tales of ordinary people inspire many New Wave directors.
Czech writer and opposition leader Milan Kundera (born 1929) publishes his first novel, Zert (The Joke), a satirical account of everyday life under Stalinism in the 1950s.
The Prague Spring. Hardline Czech party leader Antonín Novotny is replaced by liberal Alexander Dubcek (1921–1992), who implements political, economic, and cultural reforms intended to create a new model of socialism. Censorship is lifted; guidelines are drafted for democratizing the electoral system, and freedom of assembly and expression are to be constitutionally guaranteed. As the movement to democratize socialism becomes more widespread, antireformists appeal to Moscow and Warsaw Pact troops invade Czechoslovakia in August. The extraordinary popular resistance to the invasion is captured by photographer Josef Koudelka (born 1938) in stirring images smuggled out of the country and published around the world.
Polish authorities ban the theater production of Dziady by Adam Mickiewicz (1798–1855) at Warsaw University, claiming the play is anti-Soviet. The action, taken at a time of simmering discontent over the restoration of strict communist doctrine in school curricula, triggers student protests that are met with severe reprisals.
The Hungarian Communist party introduces a package of reforms called the New Economic Mechanism, coinciding with a period of liberalization that begins in the mid-1960s.
An exhibition of works by Romanian sculptor and Conceptual artist Paul Neagu (1938–2004) is held at the Demarco Gallery in Edinburgh. Neagu settles in London, where he founds the Generative Arts Group (GAG), with Philip Honeysuckle, Husney Belmood, and others. The members are actually fictitious personas invented by Neagu, through which he creates work in a variety of styles.
Romanian textile and installation artist Ana Lupas (born 1940) creates an earthwork with the women of Margau, a village in Transylvania, by hanging dozens of white sheets on laundry lines extended across a green hillside. Lupas, who refers to the process of her art as “social therapeutics,” will influence a generation of Romanian artists as a teacher at the academy in Cluj.
Balatonboglár Chapel Gallery, an alternative space established by Conceptual artist György Galántai (born 1941) outside Budapest, hosts lively gatherings of the avant-garde. Regularly harassed by authorities, the gallery is closed by police in 1973 as part of renewed restrictions on culture and the arts after Moscow halts the New Economic Mechanism.
Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu (1918–1989) launches a program of demolition and reconstruction in town and country. Much of historic central Bucharest, once known as the “Paris of the East,” is destroyed to make way for a new civic center, which will include the president’s palace, the third largest building in the world (popularly referred to as the Madman’s House).
Charter 77 circulates in Prague. Drafted by a group of dissidents including Václav Havel (1936–2011) and Jan Patocka (1907–1977), and signed by 240 intellectuals and activists, the document demands the restoration of civil rights. Havel and Patocka are arrested; Patocka dies as a result of police abuse during interrogation.
Hungarian Conceptualist Gyula Pauer (born 1941) creates A Forest of Demonstrating Boards, an installation of 131 placards with slogans and inscriptions, for a sculpture exhibition in Nagyatád. Authorities confiscate and destroy the work.
Romanian intelligence officer Ion Mihai Pacepa (born 1928) defects to the West. In 1986, he publishes Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief, which is a condemnation of the Ceausescu regime.
Liechtenstein initiates greater integration into Europe by becoming a member of the Council of Europe. In 1990, Liechtenstein will join the United Nations and in 1995 the World Trade Organization.
Husband-and-wife team György Galántai and Júlia Klaniczay establish Artpool in Budapest as an archive for alternative art, collecting and cataloguing documents of the nonofficial art scene from the 1960s to the present.
Polish émigré poet and literary critic Czeslaw Milosz (born 1911) receives the Nobel Prize in literature.
Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and the Soviet Union boycott the Venice Biennale when the director refuses to cancel an exhibit of Eastern European and Soviet dissident art.
The trade union Solidarnosc (Solidarity) emerges in the tumult of strikes and other disturbances at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk, Poland, under the leadership of Lech Walesa (born 1943). Within a year, 10,000 Poles have joined the union. Authorities respond by imposing martial law, outlawing Solidarity, and jailing many of its leaders. In 1983, martial law is lifted and Walesa receives the Nobel Prize for Peace. Solidarity is legalized in 1988 and helps to form a coalition government. In the 1989 elections, Solidarity candidates defeat the Communists; Walesa becomes president the next year and immediately introduces market reforms, including large-scale privatization, in what becomes known as the “big bang.”
Czech collagist and poet Jirí Kolár’s Newsreel 1968, composed of fifty-two collages each devoted to a week in 1968, is exhibited at Kunsthalle Nuremberg. The graphic diary combines documents of private and public life—newspapers, letters, manifestos, petitions, obituaries—and short commentaries by Kolár (1914–2002).
Group Inconnu invites Hungarian and foreign artists to submit mementos of the 1956 Revolution for an exhibition entitled The Fighting City, to be held in the apartment of Inconnu member Tibor Philipp in Budapest. The entire collection of works is confiscated by the police before the exhibition opens.
Romanian workers storm Communist party headquarters to protest the mass starvation caused by President Ceausescu’s brutal economic policies.
Communist power in Czechoslovakia comes to an end with the Velvet Revolution. As mass protests and strikes gain momentum, a broad antigovernment coalition forms, called the Civic Forum. The Communist leadership resigns and longtime dissident Václav Havel (born 1936) is elected president.
Romanian security forces fire on demonstrators in Timisoara, triggering a rebellion that spreads to Bucharest and into the armed forces. President Ceausescu attempts to flee, but is captured by the military. Charged with a number of crimes, including genocide, Ceausescu is executed on Christmas Day. The leader of the revolution, Ion Iliescu (born 1930), is elected president in 1990.
Milan Knízák (born 1940), an artist associated with the earlier Fluxus movement, is appointed professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. In 1999, he is made General Director of the National Gallery in Prague and in that capacity undertakes its financial, curatorial, and physical reorganization, placing greater emphasis on modern and contemporary art.
The collapse of the Soviet Union leads Hungary, which had been moving toward a free-market economy and democratic political institutions during the 1980s, to establish closer ties to Western Europe. Hungary will join NATO in 1999.
Czechoslovakia is divided into two independent countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, an event called the Velvet Divorce. Vladimír Meciar (born 1942) becomes prime minister of Slovakia. His regime is characterized by resistance to economic reform in the post-Communist era and political distance from the rest of Europe. When Mikulás Dzurinda (born 1955) becomes prime minister in 1998, he leads Slovakia toward European Union and NATO membership.
Poland and the Czech Republic ban abortion.
The Czech Republic gains membership in NATO. The Republic’s future membership is threatened when Austrians protest the Czech start-up of a nuclear power plant at Temelin.
The extreme right Austrian Freedom Party, led by Jörg Haider (born 1950), enters government in a ruling coalition with the conservative People’s Party. Alarmed by the rise of fascist elements, the European Union imposes diplomatic sanctions on the country, but these are lifted seven months later.
The Museum of Fine Arts (Kunstmuseum) of Liechtenstein, in Vaduz, opens a new building designed by the Swiss firm of Morger, Degelo & Kerez. The museum exhibits works produced since 1900 and emphasizes sculpture and installation art.
The Communists return to power in Moldova with more than 50 percent of the vote. Vladimir Voronin becomes president.
After decades of denial, the Romanian government admits complicity in the Holocaust.
In Poland, the rightist Law and Justice party, led by the Kaczynski twins (Lech and Jaroslaw), leads a coalition government.
Thousands protest in Budapest against Hungarian prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány. A commission investigating the disturbances, in which 800 people are hurt, condemns the police and the country’s political elite.
The Czech Republic’s center-right government signs an agreement allowing the United States to construct components of a missile defense shield on Czech territory, a plan that had sparked massive protests the previous spring. The plan is later scuttled by President Obama’s administration.
Key members of the Polish government, including President Lech Kaczynski, top military officials, MPs, and the central bank governor, die in a plane crash in Smolensk, Russia. The Polish delegation had flown from Warsaw to Smolensk to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Katyn massacre, in which thousands of Poles were killed by Soviet forces during World War II.
“Central Europe, 1900 A.D.–present.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=11®ion=euwco (October 2004)