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Cabarets and Clubs, As Portrayed in Modern Art

  • Giacomo Balla - Design for the sign and flashing light
October 3, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

One of the novelties of modern art was the conquering the public space. The artists yearned for new venues freed of constraints of tradition and socially acceptable modes of behavior, so they started assembling where the real-life, entertainment and politics used to merge. That is how cabarets and clubs started emerging and became hotspots not only for the various cultural proponents but for art consumers, people of color and queers.

Having in mind the importance of these spaces, The Barbican decided to organize Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art, the first major exhibition devoted to the development of this phenomenon and examine the influence it had on a global scale from its early days back in the 1880s all the way up to 1960s.

Left Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - Miss Loie Fuller Right Josef Hoffman - Kabarett Fledermaus
Left: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Miss Loïe Fuller, 1893. Bibliothèque de l’Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Collections Jacques Doucet Inv. no. NUM EM TOULOUSE-LAUTREC 49 e. Courtesy Bibliothèque de l’Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Collections Jacques Doucet © DACS, 2019/ Right: Josef Hoffmann – Wiener Werkstätte Postkarte No. 74 (Interior view of the bar at the Cabaret Fledermaus), 1907, Collection of Leonard A. Lauder

The Decadence of It All!

This survey will show famed avant-garde hubs such as the Folies Bergèr or Cabaret Voltaire and will unravel less known, but equally important venues such as The Cave of the Golden Calf or the clubs in Nigeria and Teheran. These toponyms offered a safe space, where artists nurtured experimentation and unorthodox approaches to art.

With an impressive selection of more than three hundred and fifty artifacts including paintings, posters, sketches for neon lighting, set designs, films and photographs, Into the Night will underline the intersection of various disciplines between prolific artists (such as Josef Hoffmann, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Loïe Fuller, Giacomo Balla, Josephine Baker, Jeanne Mammen, and others) by focusing on clubs and cabarets that were operating in New York, Tehran, London, Paris, Mexico City, Berlin, Vienna and Ibadan.

The exhibition highlight will be exquisite recreations of the multi-colored ceramic tiled bar of the Cabaret Fledermaus in Vienna (1907), designed by Josef Hoffmann for the Wiener Werkstätte, and the striking abstract composition of the Ciné-Dancing designed by Theo van Doesburg for L’Aubette in Strasbourg (1926–28).

Left Karl Hofer - Tiller Girl Right Erna Schmidt-Caroll - Chansonette
Left: Karl Hofer – Tiller Girls, before 1927. Kunsthalle Emden – Stiftung Henri und Eske Nannen © Elke Walford, Fotowerkstatt Hamburg © DACS, 2019 / Right: Erna Schmidt-Caroll – Chansonette (Singer), c. 1928. Private collection © Estate Erna Schmidt-Caroll

The Clubs and Cabarets

The exhibition develops in chronological order, opening with two iconic locations of the avant-garde in Paris functioning at the begging of the 20th century. The silhouettes and works that were located in the interior of the cabaret Chat Noir in the 1880s (where founder Rodolphe Salis, artist Henri Rivière and composer Erik Satie used to spend time) will be followed by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s lithographs of serpentine dances of Loïe Fuller performed at the Folies Bergère in the 1890s. On display will also be the mentioned design of the Viennese Cabaret Fledermaus (1907), as well as original documentation of Oskar Kokoschka’s puppet theatre and Gertrude Barrison’s expressionist dance.

The second venue to be examined will be the underground café called The Cave of the Golden Calf (1912) through interior designs made by British artists Eric Gill and Spencer Gore, and sophisticated programs for the performance evenings by Wyndham Lewis.

The production created in Zurich under the notorious Cabaret Voltaire (1916) is characterized by Dadaist humor and ridicule. The radical performances of Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, and Marcel Janco were aimed to annihilate the language as we know it and attack all the moral values proposed by the mankind amid WW I.

During the 1920s two important clubs were opened in Rome and were equipped according to Futurist fashion. On display will be the work Bal Tic Tac (1921) made by Giacomo Balla as a sketch for the club’s interior, alongside drawings and furnishings for Fortunato Depero’s spectacular inferno-inspired Cabaret del Diavolo (1922).

The exhibition will show the artworks of many radical artists behind the movement Estridentismo that used to gather at the Café de Nadie (Nobody’s Café) in Mexico City during the same decade, as well as the works made by the ¡30-30! group. In Strasbourg, Theo van Doesburg, Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp collaborated on a project the L’Aubette (1926–28), a multipurpose venue conceived as the ultimate deconstruction of architecture.

After the end of WW I, Germany (then the Weimar Republic) and especially Berlin became known as the most fashionable city with an array of intriguing late night clubs, bars and cabarets and burlesque venues where the artists such as Jeanne Mammen, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, George Grosz, Otto Dix, and Max Beckmann hung out and instantly captured the seen onto their paintings.

The Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s gathered various artists enjoying jazz, alcohol and multicultural environment. It was there the paintings and prints by Aaron Douglas and Jacob Lawrence were made capturing liberated racial and sexual politics of the time.

Finally, Into the Night will feature lesser-known but highly influential Mbari Artists and Writers Club, founded in the early 1960s in Nigeria (Ibadan and Osogbo), where groundbreaking Yoruba operas by Duro Ladipo and Fela Kuti’s Afro-jazz took place, as well as the activity behind Rasht 29, the most radical club in Tehran where avant-garde painters, poets, musicians, and filmmakers gathered to discuss their practice.

Left Rudolf Schlichter - Damenkneipe Right Aaron Douglas - Dance
Left: Rudolf Schlichter – Damenkneipe (Women’s Club), c. 1925 Private collection © Viola Roehr v. Alvensleben, Munich. Photo: akg-images / Right: Aaron Douglas – Aaron Douglas, Dance, c. 1930 © Heirs of Aaron Douglas/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019

Into The Night at The Barbican

It seems that the upcoming exhibition will bring a fresh view of what modernity was and how it developed outside the institutions and artists’ studios, as well as how important those clubs and cabarets were for social and political articulation and international collaboration.

Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art will be on view at the Barbican Art Gallery in London from 4 October 2019 until 19 January 2020.

Featured images: Giacomo Balla – Design for the sign and flashing light for the facade of the Bal Tic Tac, 1921 © DACS, 2019. Reproduced by permission of the Fondazione Torino Musei. Photo: Studio Fotografico Gonella 2014; Unknown photographer – Slide on the Razor, performance as part of the Haller Revue ‘Under and Over’, Berlin, 1923. Courtesy Feral House; Theo van Doesburg – The Ciné-bal (cinema-ballroom) at Café L’Aubette, Strasbourg, designed by Theo van Doesburg, 1926-28. Image: Collection Het Nieuwe Instituut, donation Van Moorsel. All images courtesy The Barbican.