Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




Radical Women: Jolán Simon and Other Female Artists in Hungarian Avant-Garde Periodicals

This event was held virtually as a Zoom webinar and streamed via YouTube Live

Please join the East Central European Center at the Harriman Institute for a presentation by Gábor Dobó, literary historian and researcher at the Kassák Museum – Petőfi Literary Museum, Budapest. This event is part of the event series East Central Vanguard: New Perspectives on the Avant-Garde.

Gábor Dobó investigates how, just shortly after the global turmoil caused by the First World War, a dense transnational network was established by East-Central European radical artists, in which avant-garde journals played a central role. In this presentation, Dobó will focus on the role of Hungarian periodicals in this process, specifically, the role of Hungarian avant-garde women, who usually appear in supporting roles (if at all) in the history of Modernism, although they played an important part in this story, actively contributing to and shaping the field. Besides covering their multifaceted, yet until now largely under-researched activities, Dobó will also reflect on their structural invisibility within the avant-garde movements themselves. A particular focus will be on Jolán Simon, who is primarily known as the wife of artist and Ma editor Lajos Kassák. Based on recent archival findings, Dobó will explore her then-influential activity in such less-canonized fields as performative arts, journal editing, avant-garde networking, and education in the milieu of trade unions. How did Hungarian women enter the public sphere using the avant-garde journal as their platform that also allowed them to shape their own public image? How can we reconstruct their largely ephemeral activities, especially if, as in the case of Jolán Simon, they were mostly active in the workers’ movement, far from prestigious and established cultural institutions? And finally, instead of merely demanding the canonization of these figures, how can the basic framework of literary and art history be questioned through the research of East-Central European avant-garde women?

Image caption: Jolán Simon on a still of György Gerő’s movie, Dokumentum, 1927/1, 20–21. Kassák Museum.

Gábor Dobó is a PhD literary historian. He studied at universities in Hungary, Italy, and France. He has been working at the Kassák Museum – Petőfi Literary Museum (Budapest) since 2015 as a member of the research project “Lajos Kassák’s Avant-garde Journals from an Interdisciplinary Perspective (1915–1928).” He has widely published essays, edited volumes, curated several exhibitions and organized conferences on the topic of avant-garde journals and movements. He is a committee member of the European Society for Periodical Research (ESPRit). He was awarded a Fulbright visiting scholarship to the Harriman Institute at Columbia University recently.

East Central Vanguard: New Perspectives on the Avant-Garde

2021 Lecture Series

East Central European Center is pleased to host a webinar series on interwar art and culture. This series focuses on artists from East Central Europe whose art practices and contributions to various local and international avant-gardes have attracted less or no critical attention within Modernism Studies.

The avant-garde demand for crossing aesthetic boundaries within the domain of everyday life does not necessarily nullify the modernist right of art to its autonomy, but seeks to understand art as a practice accessible to all and based on the belief in its power to fundamentally change and improve social conditions. The avant-garde replaced the modernist perception of the uniqueness of the work of art that yields aesthetic pleasure isolated from practical life, with the direct call for “Art into life!” The repercussion of efforts to abolish the distance between art and life is characterized, above all, by the fact that we no longer speak of avant-garde texts or objects in the categories of literary work or aesthetic artwork, but in the categories of literary, or rather, avant-garde manifestations. The East Central Vanguard webinar series is devoted to an investigation of artists from East Central Europe whose lives and art practices deserve to be credited amongst such avant-garde manifestations.

FEBRUARY 23, 2021
Off the Page: In Search of the Romanian Avant-Garde Outside its Publications

Alexandra Chiriac (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

MARCH 23, 2021
Many Masks: The Radical Politics and Performance of Míra Holzbachová

Meghan Forbes (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

MARCH 30, 2021
Radical Women: Jolán Simon and Other Female Artists in Hungarian Avant-Garde Periodicals

Gábor Dobó (Kassák Museum – Petőfi Literary Museum, Budapest)

APRIL 6, 2021
The Zenithist Woman

Žarka Svirčev (Institute for Literature and Arts, Belgrade)

APRIL 20, 2021
Katarzyna Kobro and Debora Vogel as “Composers of Space”

Michalina Kmiecik (Jagiellonian University, Kraków)

Event Video