Wendingen: A Journal for the Arts, 1918-1932

September 18 – November 1, 2008
at Peter Blum SoHo


October 16, 2008

It could be that there’s simply no such thing as modernism—that it’s a barely adequate heuristic we like to impose on the past, rather than some upwelling from the truth of history. Such suspicions get confirmed in this compelling show of 116 covers, back and front, from Wendingen (Dutch for “upheavals”), the great “modernist” journal of the arts published in Amsterdam from 1918 to 1932. (The issues in this show—the magazine’s entire run—have their inside pages, too, but glass cases let us see only the covers.) One man, the Dutch architect Hendricus Theodorus Wijdeveld, spearheaded the whole venture and led it until 1925. In those first seven years, we see a single pair of modern eyes embracing a stunning range of art—everything from an evidently (to us) modernist abstraction from 1921 by El Lissitzky (weirdly, gracing the cover of one of many issues devoted to Frank Lloyd Wright) to an obviously (to our eyes) retrograde Art Nouveau cover by one H. A. van den Eijnde, designed the year before. History, it turns out, is truly the winner-take-all game it’s always been said to be. All the revisionism in the world won’t let contemporary viewers see the feints and false starts glimpsed on so many of these covers as central modernist conceits, equivalent to any Lissitzky Proun. But they must have as much claim to give voice to modernity as any others. If not, perhaps it is time to drop the notion of modernity as well.                 - Blake Gopnik