- “In the Iron Dead-end (on a Moscow exhibition)”1
He nails the temples with a rusty—great! Then I looked around—my wife! She walked away and kept laughingly was telling the doctor.(A. Kruchenykh)2
I was told what happened this spring at one of the Moscow exhibitions. In a secluded room, a young woman started crying hysterically in front of a painting depicting a beautiful island in the middle of calm seas, a haven of love and beauty. Surprising and terrible were those real tears in front of a golden-framed painting which had nothing upsetting in itself. The organiser of the exhibition, K., a nice and friendly person, tried to calm the young lady. She kept repeating through tears: “Blood, blood, blood everywhere... but here it feels so good.” Then the reason for her weakness became understandable. She had been to Poland, had seen a lot, had read the newspapers daily but precisely here, in front of a painting, the thought of the inadequacy between the “blood” and the most cherished human dreams struck her with a particular violence. Undeniably, at this very moment, the colour-covered canvas in a golden frame won a great victory!
People might say: the young woman was naïve and sentimental. But doesn’t truth disclose itself to children, didn’t a child denounce the lies of the king in Andersen’s story? The young woman was moved by the genuine mission of art: a plea for human and humanist beauty, for the azure kingdom, for the kingdom of God. Of course art ceases to be art when it preaches [End Page 905] this plea; but it achieves its highest vocation when its unknown energies succeed to inspire will for life, faith in life. Nothing is hideous to such art, religious in its very nature; it unveils the wonderfully human in the typically human. Nothing is inanimate to such art; it perceives a soul in every “dead” thing.
Yet how far is this kind of art from the present-day futurism with its cult of the painterly bric-à-brac* and its “ferro-concrete” poems!
There was a time, at the beginning of the war, when it seemed that a return to futurism was not possible, that it had dissipated as a bad dream. For the everyday reality with its death-propelling airplanes, its floating mines, its far-firing monsters, and its suffocating gases turned out to be more “futurist” than anything Marinetti’s most frenzied and militant fantasies could have dreamt of when he was glorifying war as the “world’s only hygiene.”3 Moreover, the very destruction of the monuments of the old art, to which the first futurist manifesto was appealing with the hotheadedness of the youth, did not only became a military event but even found a particular kind of ideological defence on the side of the most zealous and old-fashioned explorers of the past, the German Gelehrters.4 In the face of the sorrowful ruins of the Reims cathedral, this first embodiment of a futurist act, this triumph of technology, yesterday’s verbal and artistic futurism seemed like childish stammering or, on the contrary, like worn-out “passéism.” Indeed, how could Marinetti’s “telegraphic lyricism” and battle onomatopoeias or Kamensky’s ferro-concrete poems compete with the genuine ferroconcrete poem of the most recent war?
It seemed that the time had come for a change of minds, that the roar of the military events would deafen the militant verbosity of our youth. For it could now have a glimpse at the “future” it was dreaming about: a future of bare physical strength and deified, soulless machine, a future of lightning-quick and ubiquitous speed... It seemed that our youth, saddened and ashamed, would come back to what it was burning before—the human being [čelovek]—, to its eternal ideal—a beautiful soul and a beautiful body; that the “blood” spilled over “there” would not have been worthless but expiatory and purificatory blood; that the military thunder, calming down after the destruction, would give birth to a new conscience. For war is often part of the force that...