Based on the announcements and reviews, this exhibition of contemporary international art was unusually extensive and diverse in terms of artistic approaches and expressions. It was prepared in Paris by the poet and writer Alexandre Mercereau upon the initiative of the Mánes Association (SVU Mánes) and in collaboration with Josef Čapek. Mercereau called the exhibition Modern Art, a sagacious move considering the show's broad international scope. It included 188 works from Europe and America, primarily paintings inspired by various offshoots of Cubism (Metzinger's and Gleizes's sets were the largest); examples of contemporary sculpture (Archipenko, Brancusi exhibiting his legendary Sleeping Muse, Duchamp-Villon, and Conzalès, who presented his masks and metal jewellery), drawing, graphic prints and architecture. Czech art was represented by Čapek, Hoffman (with his highly successful facade designs), Chochol, Kubín, Kubišta, Šíma and Špála, whose works were included as a replacement for absent paintings by Picasso, Braque and Derain.
According to Mercereau, this was the largest exhibition representing artists who were “among the best and most characteristic” of the new trends. The exhibition aimed to introduce the various aspects of contemporary Cubist painting and sculpture and their crossovers with Abstraction and Simultaneism. This may be why reviewers and the public mistakenly took the exhibition for an overview of Cubist art. This misunderstanding was further fuelled by the fact that Skupina výtvarných umělců (Fine Arts Group) organized a parallel exhibition at the Municipal House, in which Cubists (Beneš, Filla, Gočár, Gutfreund, Janák, Procházka and others) were represented along with Picasso, Braque and Derain’s works that Mánes had been unable to acquire. On the part of Mánes and Mercereau, this was not a competition with the Skupina. Rather, the exhibition offered an opportunity to present an almost complete panorama of diverse forms of Cubism in Prague, including various offshoots such as Orphism and Simultaneism (Delaunay), Elementarism in sculpture (Brancusi, Archipenko) and Abstraction (Mondrian, Bruce).
In order to clarify SVU Mánes's and his own intention to present an open and multifaceted selection of contemporary art including both famous and almost unknown figures, Mercereau held two lectures in the Municipal House's Grégr Hall. The first, entitled New Trends in Modern Art, took place on the eve of the opening on February 24; the second, New Trends in Literature, took place on February 26. The lecture on modern art was especially enlightening because, as Karel Čapek put it, the conservative Prague milieu tended to call any modern art “Cubism.” In his report for Přehled, Čapek explained that the lecture needed to be seen as “an introduction to the international exhibition.” In his words, it offered “a valuable and illustrative overview of the new tendencies (...) presented at this exhibition.” In addition to a short outline of the artistic development in the 19th century, the lecture sketched out the interpretation of the new efforts in their full complexity, from realistic tendencies through Cubism to formal abstraction and summarizing tendencies. Another reason why Čapek welcomed the lecture was Mercereau's criticism of the local attitude to new artistic trends: “we should have a good reason if we oppose new art (...) and, even in our acceptance of it, our approach should be free of any bias and narrow-mindedness; it should engage in serious inquiry and observe with sympathy any form of the desire for the renewal of art” [Čapek 1914, p. 338]. Here, the lecture touched a nerve as this alluded to Vincenc Beneš’s entirely negative and offensive criticism accusing the exhibiting artists of absolutely misunderstanding Picasso's and Braque's efforts, and to Arnošt Procházka and Vilém Dvořák’s equally sharp judgments.
The only reviews that tried to understand and convey the artists' intentions without prejudice were those by Josef Čapek, Karel Čapek and an anonymous author writing under the pseudonym Barbara. The latter aimed to sort the creative efforts of the exhibited artists into groups based on similar artistic expressions [Barbara 1914, p. 7]. In his review, Josef Čapek also mentioned the show's preparations and the set of problems that had preceded it. His text explains the situation the young artists faced in Mánes and their conflict with its conservative members. At the beginning of his review he writes: “On the part of Mánes, this exhibition was a deed of self-denial and, to a degree, courage; its goal was to present new art that struggles to establish itself and is at odds with the opinion of the majority. Although the exhibition was meant to be informative rather than promotional, it is still an important sign that the latest development pervades general consciousness with ever increasing urgency.” [Čapek 1914a, p. 2]. Like his brother Karel, Josef Čapek defends the manifestations of contemporary, “youngest” art despite its “abstruseness” and he simultaneously demands that the viewers cast away their habits and try to understand new art and its principles. In hindsight, we may say that the main contribution of Mercereau's exhibition consisted in the array of approaches he presented there and his effort to introduce the conservative Prague milieu to the most diverse and rich selection of contemporary art.
Barbara 1914: Barbara, Výstava moderního umění, České slovo VIII, 1914, no. 78, 1. 4., p. 7
Čapek 1914: Karel Čapek, „Přednáška p. Alex Mercereau-a“, Přehled XII, 1914, no. 19, 27. 2., p. 338
Čapek 1914a: Josef Čapek 43. (sic) výstava S. V. U. Mánes. Moderní umění. Organisoval Alex. Mercereau, Čas XXVIII, 1914, no. 77, 19. 3., pp. 2–3
Dvojí osud. Dopisy Josefa Čapka, Prague 1980, pp. 130–132 and 133 (Letters of Josef Čapek to Jarmila Pospíšilová from 11. 4. 1913 and 19. 4. 1913)
Viktor Dyk, St. K. Neumann, bratři Čapkové. Korespondence z let 1905–1918, Praha 1962, pp. 79–80 (J. Čapek's letter to S. K. Neumann from March 1914)
Marie Rakušanová, Kubišta – Filla: Plzeňská disputace. Zakladatelé moderního českého umění v poli kulturní produkce, Plzeň 2019, p. 189
Marie Rakušanová (ed.), Degrees of Separation: Bohumil Kubišta and the European Avant-Garde, Prague 2021, pp. 342–349
Modern Art. 45th exhibition of SVU Mánes
Publisher: Grafia, Praha
Place and year of publication: Praha 1914
Barbara, Výstava moderního umění, České slovo VIII, 1914, no. 78, 1. 4., p. 7pdf
Vincenc Beneš, Kubistická výstava v Mánesu, Umělecký měsíčník II, 1912–1913, pp. 326–331pdf
Josef Čapek, 43. (sic) výstava S. v. u. Mánes, Moderní umění, Organisoval Alex. Mercereau, Čas XXVIII, 1914, no. 77, 19. 3., pp. 2–3pdf
Karel Čapek, 45. Výstava Spolku výtvarných umělců Mánes v Praze: Moderní umění, Lumír XXXII, 1913–1914, 13. 3., p.191pdf
Karel Čapek, Moderní umění. (K 45. výstavě S.V.U. „Mánes“ pod Kinského zahradou), Přehled XII, 1913–1914, no. 21, 13. 3, pp. 379–381; no. 22, 20. 3, pp. 398–399pdf
Vilém Dvořák, Dvě výstavy mladého umění („Mánes“ a „Skupina“), Snaha II, 1914, no. 9, 7. 4., pp. 124–126pdf
František Xaver Harlas, Výtvarné umění, Topičův sborník I, volume 7, April 1914, p. 354pdf
Hubert Cyriak [Arnošt Procházka], Moderní umění [v pavilonu „Mánesu“], Moderní revue XXVIII, 1914, pp. 282–284pdf
Anonymous author, Čas XXVIII, 1914, no. 41, 11. 2., p. 4
Anonymous author, Čas XXVIII, 1914, no. 49, 19. 2., p. 4
Anonymous author, Čas XXVIII, 1914, no. 55, 26. 2., p. 4
Anonymous author, Čas XXVIII, 1914, no. 61, 3. 3., p. 4
Anonymous author, Čas XXVIII, 1914, no. 62, 4. 3., p. 4
Anonymous author, Čas XXVIII, 1914, no. 64, 6. 3., p. 5
Anonymous author, Čas XXVIII, 1914, no. 72, 14. 3., p. 4
Anonymous author, České slovo VIII, 1914, no. 49, 26. 2., p. 6
Anonymous author, České slovo VIII, 1914, no. 50, 27.2., p. 3
Anonymous author, České slovo VIII, 1914, no. 57, 7. 3., p. 7
Anonymous author, České slovo VIII, 1914, no. 60, 11. 3. p. 3