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The Friends of Cobra and What
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Internationale Situationniste #2 (December 1958)
Translated by Reuben Keehan

IN 1958, something of a conspiracy launched a new avant-garde movement
that had the peculiar trait of having been defunct for seven years. Though
never presented in clear terms, allusions are made to the continuing
existence of none other than Cobra. In some cases an origin is fixed,
implying its permanence. Thus, on 18 September, France-Observateur
wrote on the painter Corneille: "At this time (1950), he participated in the
founding of the artistic group Reflex, which was slowly integrated into the
avant-garde movement Cobra." In other cases, given the fact that Cobra is
hardly ever mentioned, the illusion is created that its constitution is more
recent, as in Le Monde of 31 October: "With his combination of abstract
lyricism and African aesthetic influences, Holland's Rooskens is part of the
avant-garde movements Reflex and Cobra..."
What is the reality? Between 1948 and 1951, there was an Experimental
Artists International more often known as the Cobra movement, after the
name of its journal (its title, short for Copenhagen - Brussels - Amsterdam,
expressed its almost exclusively Northern European composition). The
journal Reflex, which was the organ of the Dutch Experimental Group
before international contact and the publication of Cobra, ran to only two
numbers in 1948. The groups that made up the Cobra movement were
united in the proclamation of experimental cultural research. But this
positive aspect was paralyzed by an ideological confusion maintained by
the strong participation of neo-surrealists. The only effective experiment
that Cobra could carry out was that of a new style of painting. In 1951, the
Experimental Artists International put an end to its own existence. The
representatives of its advanced tendency pursued their research in different
forms. On the other hand, a number of artists abandoned their
preoccupation with experimental activity, putting their talent to use in
making this particular pictorial style, which was the sole tangible result of
the Cobra endeavor, and highly fashionable (for example [Karel] Appel in
the UNESCO building).
It is the commercial success of old members of the Cobra movement that
has recently led to other more mediocre artists, who were of very little
importance to Cobra and its afterlife, to plot to various ends the
mystification of an uninterrupted, eternally young Cobra movement,
classically experimental in the style of 1948, where their wretched
commodities can be marketed under the same prestigious label as those of

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and the ideological failure of their entire life (the taste. once upon a time the site of a scandalous exhibition by the movement. The despicable character of this attempt at a new beginning is familiar to anyone who knows the program adopted by Cobra ten years ago. An individualist culture is therefore constituted and is 2 of 3 8/21/14 3:38 PM . as is demonstrated by the Manifesto of the Dutch Experimental Group. whose foreseeable extent must entail their practical disappearance from the posts they hold. And the individuals who control the judgment and sale of the decomposed repetitions of modern art have a vested interest in making people believe the objects in question are expressions of a truly innovative movement. It is most likely. At the beginning of 1958. by trying to please everyone. however. Indeed. They therefore struggle against real changes. written by Constant and published in Reflex #1: The historical influence of the upper classes has pushed art into more and more of a position of dependence. that no matter how favorable conditions may be.cddc. the reactionary effort now being deployed under the Cobra flag will not last. the artists linked to this scheme. but is discretely beginning to manifest itself even in regard to some lettrist recordings. in spite of the near complete opposition that they met at the time of lettrism and the difficulty of exploiting that movement). and that they would be limited to opposing as unimportant any sort of attempt to present Cobra as contemporary research. whose strongest example remains that of the surrealists. It goes without saying that this is behind the present campaign to resurrect Cobra. and the dominant cultural elite of ebbing movements. In the face of our opposition the Stedelijk Museum withdrew its agreement. Neo-Cobra was assured of a show at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The situationists. who found themselves implicated in this little affair because two of them had played important roles in Cobra. attach a supposed "theoretical" value to their works by declaring themselves an organized movement. the practical consideration.vt. made it known that they would only accept this exhibition in a rigorously historical form. Neo-Cobra intended to organize a highly eclectic major exhibition designed to travel to other capitals. capable only of pulling off a little formalist freedom. and above all to make an impression on the American market. Cobra's old editor-in-chief [Christian] Dotremont is responsible for this charade. And it is doubtful that this campaign can expect any worthwhile success if its promoters cannot find considerable enough support to allow the them to show the assembled bits and pieces of their whose appraisal would be undertaken by a delegate chosen by them. whether or not they participated in the brief experiment of 1948-1951.Situationist International Online http://www.html Corneille and Appel. and whose extremely overrated reputation in Paris should be attributed to a few hack journalist friends of the warmed up Cobra as much as the old cultural world of museums. accessible only to exceptionally gifted spirits.

What characterizes popular art is a vital. its conventions no longer offering any possibility of imagination or desire. as the people do not participate in artistic creation but in historically imposed formalisms..vt. This is to say that the experience of a period of unlimited freedom must allow us to find the laws of a new creativity.cddc. and it is about to be succeeded by an experimental phase. With this development the professional artist will lose his privileged position: this explains the current resistance in the arts. Related Correspondence 3 of 3 8/21/14 3:38 PM .. Any prolonging of this culture appears impossible. a popular art cannot correspond to the conceptions of the people. even preventing vital human expression.. Naturally. even to the point of bringing a prefabricated popular art to the masses. while at the same time announcing a new culture. whose psychological effect would have a growing importance. It is necessary first of all to rid ourselves of old cultural shreds which instead of permitting us an artistic expression prevent us from finding one.html condemned alongside the society that produced it.Situationist International Online http://www. direct and collective At this stage. The bourgeois spirit still dominates all of life.. In the transitional period creative art found itself in permanent conflict with existing culture. A new freedom will come that allows humans to satisfy their creative desires. art played a revolutionary role in society. With this double aspect. The problematic phase in the history of modern art is over. those who marched in line with such a program can today be found among the ranks of the Situationist International. The cultural void has never been more obvious than in the post-war era. and therefore the task of artists cannot be constructive in the framework of such a culture.