Marcel Janco – one of thefounders of the Zurich-Dada group and the man who established the Ein Hod artists’ village – is famed also as an artist, architect, teacher, and visionary. Less well-known, however, is his work as an illustrator and theorist. This exhibition displays Janco’s outstanding position in the Romanian avant-garde, based on his book illustrations, on the contribution he made to the founding of Romanian cultural periodicals, and on illustrations and articles he published in them. All the works were produced in Romania from 1912 until 1941, when Janco moved to Palestine. Most of them are from the collection of Adrian Buga of Bucharest, and were brought to Israel especially for exhibition in the Museum.
Periodicals 1912-1932
The treaties signed at the end of World War I annexed considerable territory to Romania, including Transylvania, Bukovina, and Bessarabia, substantially increasing its population and natural resources. “Greater Romania” flourished between the wars, and was marked by a lively social and cultural scene (which took its cues from Paris and Munich in the west), as well as corrupt politicians, and social, political, and economic criticism. Against this background, the first tokens of modernism began to emerge. The journals published in Romania in the early part of the twentieth century occupy an important place in the annals of Romanian modernism and avant-garde. Some were noted for their innovative graphics and flouting of the dictates of logic, others for their radical articles. Their contributors included leading figures in the cultural world of Romania and Europe at large.[1]
One of the earliest works in the exhibition, a pencil drawing of a woman playing the piano, appeared in March, 1912 in Flacara (The Flame), no. 24. The caption reads: “Illustration by Marcel Janco, talented young student of Josef Iser.” Iser, Janco’s art teacher in his adolescence, had an illustration of his own in the first issue of Flacara.[2]
A few months later, in October 1912, 17-year-old Janco and several schoolmates, the artists and poets Samuel Rosenstock (later known as Tristan Tzara), Eugen Iovanaki (later Ion Vinea), Paul Chapier, and Jacques G. Costin, started the magazine Simbolul (The Symbol), one of the earliest modernist publications in Romania and close in spirit to Romanian symbolism of the time. Janco served as graphics editor, illustrator, and funder of the magazine, which put out several issues until its demise in the spring of 1913.[3]
In October 1915, Janco collaborated on Chemarea (The Call), a magazine published by Ion Vinea and members of the Simbolul group, which came out against intolerance and anti-Semitism in Romanian politics. Then, ten years after launching their first journal, several of the founding fathers of Simbolul established the most important mouthpiece of the Romanian avant garde, Contimporanul(Contemporary),[4] whose first edition appeared on June 3, 1922. The periodical remained in publication until January 1932, producing a total of 102 issues consisting of 4-16 pages in changing format. Although the magazine began as a weekly, from the tenth issue it came out bi-weekly, and in its final years appeared erratically. Contimporanul marked the beginning of the wave of avant garde that washed over Romania. In its early period, the journal had a socialist spirit, printing articles critical of the political regime and its reserved attitudetowards modernism and creativity. Later it adopted a more radical approach.[5] In its first issue, it also spoke out against anti-Semitism and in praise of minorities. Janco made every effort to position the periodical at the center of international modernism. Although his official title was artistic director, he was also Contimporanul’s chief theorist, promoting the abstract as the essence of the avant garde, an attitude reflected in his illustrations. His contributions to the magazine included 38 articles, 34 lithographs and linocuts, 34 portraits, 29 drawings, 18 photographs of buildings he had designed, 10 architectural plans, and 9 sketches of theater sets.[6] He also played a major role in defining Contimporanul’s international character through his connections with world artists such as Braque, Brancusi, and Breton. Janco’s interviews with these figures were accompanied by his portraits of them.
October 1924 saw the publication of 75HP], the most radical journal in Romania at the time,[7] whose single issue included a drawing by Janco. He was also involved in Punct (Point), another magazine founded in the same year. In addition, from 1924-1926, Janco contributed a number of caricatures to Cuvantul Liber (The Free Word), an anti-establishment political-cultural weekly edited at the time by Eugen Filotti. Conveying a message of social criticism, the caricatures dealt with issues such as unemployment, political corruption, and absence of law and order. Drawings of a corpse with a knife in its back and a raven lurking nearby illustrated articles on the corruption and immorality of politicians.[8] Another version of this illustration appeared in Contimporanul on 6 January, 1923.
In April 1925, Puntea de Fildes (Ivory Bridge), a Jewish cultural magazine containing poetry, short essays, and illustrations, was founded to recruit funds for the construction of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The first issue included an article by Janco entitled “The Rebuilding of Palestine,” in which he advocated abandoning orientalism in favor of modern architectural principles. In the second issue, which appeared in May, 1926, he provided an example of this style of architecture in a plan for a villa in Palestine he designed together with his brother, Jules.[9] The year 1928 marked the start of a second wave of Romanian avant garde, which gravitated around the journal UNU, to which Janco also contributed illustrations.
Janco’s essays dealt with a wide range of topics, and warrant close analysis in their own right.[10] In them, he presented his ideas on art, architecture, and his artist friends. In reference to the abstract, for example, he wrote: “The abstract ignores the model and the look of nature, which are the old excuse for painting… It starts with line and color as an absolute value in the same way that music combines sounds to achieve harmony. The abstract painting uses colors to achieve a similar harmonious effect” (Contimporanul, no. 4, 1922, p. 13). And of color he stated: “The world of color is more expressive and more mysterious than the world of sound and much richer…There is no clear distinction in the world of color. Sometimes red looks quite blue and green quite yellow” (Contimporanul, no. 73, 1927, p. 7).
Books 1929-1947
In 1916, when Marcel Janco was active in the Dada group in Zurich, he created seven linocuts for Tristan Tzara’s La Première Aventure Céleste de Monsieur Antipyrine. Back in Romania in the 1920s and 1930s, he collaborated with other authors. Nine Romanian books with his drawings and linocuts, most of them portraits, are displayed in the exhibition. Some contain a single depiction of the author, while in others the text is accompanied by a large number of portraits. ForMarturia Uneii Generatii (A Generation’s Testimony), 1929, an anthology of conversations with authors written by the Jewish writer, poet, and playwright Felix Aderca, Jancoproduced dozens of portraits ranging from faces, through torsos, to full-body drawings. From 1926-1928 he created some 70 illustrations for the two volumes of Antologia Poetilor de Azi (Anthology of Contemporary Poetry) edited by the Romanian poets Ion Pillat and Perpessicius. Jacques G. Costin’s Exercitii Pentru Mana Dreapta (Exercises for the Right Hand) contains Janco’s portrait of the author, as well as depictions of several other figures, including Archimedes and Don Quixote, all drawn in thin, delicate, angular, and flowing contour lines with almost no shading. For Ion Vinea’s Paradisul Suspinelor (Paradise of Sighs), 1930, a prose anthology, he produced a portrait of the author and four linocuts. Janco’s portraits of the author also appear in several other books, including N.D. Cocea’s short novel Vinul de Viata Lunga (The Wine of Long Life) from 1931; the collection of essays Oceanografie by Mircea Eliade, from 1935; and Dinu Stegarescu’s book on twentieth century art movements, Introducere in Modernism, which was published in Romania in 1947, when Janco was already in Palestine.
Janco’s illustrations can therefore be divided into four major categories:
  1. Political caricatures
  2. Abstract compositions
  3.  Figurative compositions
  4. Portraits
Political Caricatures
Illustrations in this category reflect Janco’s protest against political events in Romania at the time. Without a doubt, Contimporanul was making a very bold statement by printing on the cover of its January 1923 issue his depiction of a shackled figure being beaten by men in uniform. Janco’s caricatures, rapid sketches drawn with an animated, tempestuous, and expressive line, also display black humor. They portray struggling figures (a giant battling dwarfs, a writer buckling under a pile of books) ; violent scenes (a man stabbed, a woman kicking a man) ; desperate individuals (a figure raising its hands or falling backwards) ; and scenes of death.[11]
Abstract Compositions
In late 1916 and early 1917, Janco began to adopt abstract means of expression.[12] Many of the illustrations that appeared in periodicals in the 1920s and 1930s show a clear link to the abstract oils he produced in those years. He created geometric compositions with arrows, triangles, circles, and angular lines bursting out from the center like explosive energy. The illustrations are characterized by a rhythmic conjunction of various materials in black and white, with the shadowy memory of an urban landscape hovering over the abstract composition.[13]
Figurative compositions
Sasa Pana’s book Cuvantul Talisman (The Word Talisman) from 1933, contains an illustration of Robinson Crusoe alongside a poem about solitude.[14] The woodcuts in Ion Vinea’s Paradisul Suspinelor (Paradise of Sighs) from 1931, illustrate scenes in the narrative by means of geometric compositions. The first page of Contimporanul no. 34, from March 1923, shows a woodcut depicting a dog sniffing another dog’s rear[15], with an urban landscape in the background incorporated into the face of a monster. The articles on the same page are titled “In Memory of the Red Messiah” (in honor of the 40th anniversary of the death of Karl Marx) and “Dictatorial Constitution” (criticism of the regime’s habit of bending the constitution to its needs). An illustration on the following page, alongside a text dealing with the literary values of prominent authors, depicts another cityscape with geometric elements reminiscent of Janco’s abstract compositions. A further article on that page, titled “The Road to Nirvana” (a sharply ironic critique of an unnamed dignitary’s decision to withdraw from public life and social responsibility of which he claimed to have grown weary), is accompanied by the drawing of an ass. And on the next page, beside a review of cultural events titled “For Contemporary People,” is another woodcut bearing the caption “Modern Choreography” and showing dancing forms that may or may not be human figures. Working in woodcuts, Janco was able to adopt an architectural perspective of the scene, in contrast to the free flowing hand he used in his drawings.
The many portraits Janco created for books and periodicals, both woodcuts and pen and ink drawings, represent a fascinating panorama of members of the Romanian cultural and avant garde world in the 1920s and 1930s. The cover ofContimporanul, no. 33, March, 1923, bears a woodcut showing the scowling face of the pianist Clara Haskil. The aggressive angular lines carved into the wood to depict the contours of the face construct an abstract portrayal of the expression, hair, eyes, nose, and mouth.[17] The portrait of Ion Vinea at the front of Paradisul Suspinelor is also a woodcut, but here the background is carved into the block so that the figure is in relief.
At times, the pen Janco used for his pen and ink drawings produced an effect similar to the carving knife in his woodcuts. The portrait of Urmuz in Aderca’s compilation is a prime example, with sharp black and white areas and ink-filled lines. Describing his technique in Contimporanul, Janco stated: “Today in painting, the line highlights the drawing, creates the arabesque, grounds the composition, situates the form. Often it provokes the color into an unplanned adventure, tempers the sensitivity, and even more than that, emphasizes the abstract nature of the composition in particular” (Contimporanul, no. 102, 1932, p. 5). Janco concentrated primarily on the head and personal hallmarks of his subject, seeking to accentuate the character of the individual. He was not in the habit of flattering people, and indeed, tended to be harsh in his portrayals of them. In the words of the Romanian poet Camil Baltazar, “Janco was gifted with X-rays that penetrated into the person he was drawing; he captured the psychological essence of the subject”.[18]
Raya Zommer-Tal
Exhibition Curator

[1] Ion Pop, “Moments in the Romanian Literary Avant-Garde,” in: Bucharest in the 1920s-1940s: Between Avant-Garde and Modernism, Romania, 1994, p. 22.
[2] The journal, still published in Romania, recently celebrated its one hundredth anniversary. We are grateful to Mr. Zvi Noam for the loan of his copy of the journal for the exhibition.
[3] Tom Sandqvist, Dada East – The Romanians of Cabaret Voltaire, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2006, pp. 72-73.
[4] Hence the name of this exhibition.
[5] S.A. Mansbach, Modern Art in Eastern Europe, Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 249-250; Sandqvist, p. 345.
[6] Harry Seiwert, Marcel Janco: Dadaist-Zeitgenosse – wohltemperierter morgenlandischer Kunstruktivist, Frankfurt am Main, 1993, pp. 188-194.
[7] Radu Stern, From Dada to Surrealism, Jewish Avant-Garde Artists from Romania 1910-1938, Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, 2011, p. 38.
[8] Geo Serban, “Marcel Janco – Rank and Scope,” in: Marcel Iancu Centenary 1895-1995, Simetria Publishing House, Romania, 1996, p. 24.
[9] Radu Stern, p. 47; it is interesting to note that when he actually came to Palestine, Janco the modernist was deeply impressed by the Mediterranean architecture he encountered, and his style became much more local. See also: Raya Zommer-Tal, “Marcel Janco’s Genius Loci,” in: Marcel Iancu Bureau of Modern Studies, Simetria Publishing House, 2008, pp. 93-101.
[10] A collection of his essays was recently published in Romania; see: Geo Serban, Intalniri cu Marcel Iancu, Editura Hasefer a FCER, Bucharest, 2011.
[11] Contimporanul, II, no. 27, January, 1923. See also: S.A. Mansbach, “The ‘Foreignness’ of Classical Modern Art in Romania,” The Art Bulletin, vol. 80, no. 3, September, 1998, pp. 537-538.
[12] Harry Seiwert, p. 275.
[13] In this context, it is worth noting Janco’s design of a “Formal Alphabet” inPunct, no. 11, 1925.
[14] The illustration previously appears in UNU, 23/3, 1930.
[15] This motif is repeated in Janco’s later work in Ein Hod. See: Raya Zommer-Tal, ”Wall Paintings in Marcel Janco’s Studio and Murals for Purim Parties,” in:Marcel Janco 1895-1984 – The New Exhibition, Janco-Dada Museum, 2011, pp. 26-27, (in Hebrew).
[16] An extensive exhibition of Janco’s portraits produced in Romania and mainly in Israel was mounted at the Janco-Dada Museum in 1986; see: Yehudit Shen-Dar, Marcel Janco – Portraits, Janco-Dada Museum, 1986.
[17] “Marcel Janco’s Graphic Art and the Metamorphoses of the Avant-Garde Language in Fine Arts,” in: Marcel Iancu Centenary 1895-1995, Simetria Publishing House, Romania, 1996, pp. 179-180.
[18] A.B. Yaffe, Marcel Janco, Ramat Gan, Israel, Masada, 1982, p. 46, (in Hebrew).