Modern Pluralism: Social and Political Art in the 20th Century
Locations: Café Odeon & Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich, Switzerland.
What is Modern Pluralism?
The turn of the twentieth century gave birth to a new world and way of life that became congruous with the makeup of society, technology, globalization, politics, and art of its time. The Industrial Revolution, which began in the eighteenth century, created a brand new dynamism of social inequity, ie. the rise of the proletariat and the emergence of a new class, the middle class, which was composed of professionals, wealthy businessmen and the highly educated.
Urbanization of large cities (large masses of people moving from the countryside to the city) created jobs, increased education, encouraged individuality and freedom in thought and action, and affected religion and culture significantly. Ideas of universality, metaphysics, individuality, ethnicity, culture, and revolution rose out of the Age of Industrialisation, the Enlightenment and Modernity, as is evident through the works of art from the early twentieth century. The culminating of these themes, ideas, media, and expression of thought is referred to as modern pluralism.
“I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.”marcel duchamp, artist.
The social and political landscape of Europe in the beginning of the twentieth century varied greatly. Urban and industrialized cities like London, Paris and Berlin were busy and full of life, where the ultra-wealthy and ultra-poor coexisted. Comparatively, a country like Russia, who began to industrialize in the late nineteenth century, was struggling with the tsarist government, urbanization and the emancipation of the serfs, who made up over ninety percent of the Russian population. These people cried out for freedom from the oppression; The Russian revolution eventually took place in 1917, where the mass population overthrew the autocracy and aristocracy (the feudal nobility, who believed they were God’s chosen people).
The dissidents wanted a revolution against technological and capitalist warfare, industrialization, urbanization, the bourgeoisie, and the social and political guidelines of art and technique. They took their revolutionary thoughts and ideas, portraying them via canvas, print, media, literature and even literal revolutions (Russia, 1917) as an art form to provoke the growing masses, those living a complacent bourgeois lifestyle, by stirring up the spirit of creative spontaneity, to explore the inner recesses of our minds and emotions with psychology, the subconscious and sexuality. Where Renaissance art was predominantly about religion, patronage and subject matter, modern art did not have a mono-focus but rather mediated pluralistic themes to express creatively and technically the concerns of the artist.
Without the infamous Café Odeon and Cabaret Voltaire, modern art would not have Dada, a style of art aimed to attack technology, bourgeois values and traditions through chance occurrences and the absurd in a nihilistic spirit, all of which was a direct result of the Great War. Individuals like Hugo Ball, Marcel Duchamp, Vladimir Lenin, Puccini, and Max Ernst, some exiled and some not frequented these types of cafés and cabarets in Zurich with their fantastic dreams and soaring ideals which indeed changed and shaped the modern twentieth century in some way, shape or form.
In terms of impact and influence, how does the coffee culture of the twentieth century compare to modern-day culture?
Are we experiencing a renaissance of coffee culture now through the medium of social media? I’d love to know your thoughts.