The Zeniths of Our Premonitions
He wouldn’t leave alone puritans and upstarts, the great philistines. He persecuted conformists, war and antiwar profiteers. The thought it is better to wander away than to sink into staleness. He believed Europe will be cured with new art, commenced from the free and clean Balkan mountains. He cooperated with Malevich and Kandinsky, Blok and Ehrenburg, Marinetti and Vasari, Tolkien and Vinaver, Crnjanski and Krakov… Enemies were fewer, but more dangerous

By: Petar Milatović

When ”Zenit” magazine first appeared in Zagreb, in February 1921, with the subtitle ”monthly international magazine for art and culture”, not many people anticipated that the story about it and its founder would, despite everything, live until the present days. Our world, or at least the one that doesn’t consider art and culture as a redundant burden compared to irreplaceable reality shows splashing us from morning till dawn, was happy to see an unusual exhibition in the old building of the Museum of Yugoslav History, entitled Russian Avant-garde in Belgrade. Especially due to the fact that an important part of it belonged to us, our National Museum in Belgrade, which added eleven works from its collections to the temporary exhibition. All this was part of Ljubomir Micić’ legacy, the man credited for making – besides expressionism, futurism, cubism, Dadaism, surrealism (…) – one of our ”isms” part of the artistic and cultural heritage of Europe.
The ”Man and Art” manifesto, published in the first issue of Zenit (emphasizing a clear stand against war, unsparing criticism of the society and political circumstances, and announcing a ruthless fight against religious bourgeois and philistine values) also writes:
”The ghost of the red fury of war dug out a graveyard with its criminal claws for all of us – for millions of people. One dead per two soldiers. We must never forget that 13 million people were killed in the previous decade, ten million died from poverty and 150 million weakened. And we, who remained as the last patrol, carry a common pain in our heart, a common soul of desperation, a common protest: Never again war! Never! Never!... Man – created to be God – was killed like livestock in butcheries!”
Europe, believed Micić, could be initiated only by the brotherhood of artists, but those with fresh blood, coming from the Balkans. That ”Barbarogenius” – he wrote – comes from the clean mountains and areas of the Balkans, he has got something new to say and he will confront the old, exhausted European civilization that initiated World War I.
”Echoes and reactions” followed immediately. So, for example, the literary magazine Kritika from Zagreb calls Ljubomir Micić Ludomir (Serbian ”lud” – ”crazy”). He was also criticized because his magazine was ”colorful and boastful like a poster. His founder and editor in chief Mr. Ljubomir Micić, unknown to public while he was writing Orthodox Christian poems… suddenly became a hero of our time”.
Who was exactly Ljubomir Micić and what can be said in a single magazine article, without failing to state important things about his life and deeds?


He was born in 1895, in the village of Sošice near Jastrebarsko, then Austro-Hungary, present Croatia, in a family of a royal forester, originally from Banija. Preserved biographies say that he finished elementary school in Glina, where he first saw the cinema, circus and traveling theater, and that those first impressions of his childhood, almost phantasmagoric, directed him towards his later creative work.
Curiosity and searching for his own self made him, high school student at the time, one of the founders of the Serbian Middle School Society in Zagreb (1913-14) and accompanying theater, staging works of Serbian playwrights. He, Micić, was the manager, dramaturge, director, production designer and actor. He was a freshman at the Faculty of Philosophy when World War I began. He was mobilized and, after a brief nursing course, sent to the Galician front. Traveling to the first lines of combat, he saw the sights of war horrors. There is a story that he entertained his comrades with acting, and that he saved himself from further army service, even execution, by faking madness. He ended up imprisoned in a military hospital (previous convent) in Samobor.
An important moment, crucial in some aspects, happened in the spring of 1918, during his participation in the big historical meeting of Slavic nations in Prague, where he accepted, with great enthusiasm, a common conviction about a ”new and better Europe”. As a ”graduated student” of the University of Zagreb, he began publishing his verses in magazines, as well as reviews about theater, literature and fine arts. His first book of poems Ritmi moje slutnje (Rhythms of my Premonition) was published in 1919, and caught the attention of Miloš Crnjanski, especially because of the new free verse and reduced poetic form. The following spring, the book Spas duše (Salvation of the Soul) was published, and Micić’s verses soon found their place in the anthologies of modern Croatian, Southern-Slavic (in German) and Yugoslav lyrics.
The rest of Ljubomir Micić’s life and work was determined by his magazine Zenit, herald of the Zenitism art movement. In many ways and in many directions.


February 1921 and publishing of the first issue of Zenit was a turning point in the life and creative work of Ljubomir Micić, but also, we may as well say, something completely new in Europe of that time. From its form, highly unusual, and very liberal graphic design for that time, to a multitude of collaborators, already known and acknowledged artists, whose contributions were printed in their mother tongues (French, German, English, Russian, Dutch, Czech, Esperanto, Hungarian and, of course, Serbian and Croatian), as well as those whose ”otherness”, avant-garde, was already seriously doubtful in terms of art.
Already from that first issue (of a total of 43 published), the pages were filled with literary and fine arts works of European artists, as well as texts about literature, art, theater, film… Their list is too long for a magazine article, but we will mention names such as: Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, Alexander Blok, Alexander Archipenko, Lazar El Lissitzki, Ilya Ehrenburg, Lunacharsky, Yesenin, Mayakovski, Tommaso Marinetti, Ruggero Vasari, Delaunay, Lajos Kassak… There were also, of course, artists from the country, then Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians or Yugoslavia: Boško Tokin, Stanislav Vinaver, Miloš Crnjanski, Rastko Petrović, Dušan Matić, Dragan Aleksić, Stanislav Krakov…
Serbian modernists, however, did not cooperate long with Ljubomir Micić. They wanted to write about their poetics on the pages of Zenit, but this couldn’t pass. The June 1921 issue published the ”Manifesto of Zenitism”, and they did not want to take part in the new art movement. They wanted to remain independent.
The days of Zenit and Ljubomir Micić in Zagreb ended with a text published in 1923. The then authorities and Micić’s (intellectual) opponents did not like the caption stating that Zenitists will resolutely defend themselves from the ”cooperation of mediocrities and despicable intruders and Central-European droppings”.


Another February, this time in 1924, meant a new beginning of Zenit. This time at its Belgrade address. In this issue, Micić tells: ”Humanity can be united only by common work, on a common deed – for a common cause. Behold: we are united by new art”.
He didn’t find more understanding for ”new art” in Belgrade either. Micić replies in his own manner: ”It is true that we are dangerous for a state of cultural philistines, painting dilettantes and plagiarist poets, of all empty pumpkins and hollow heads, braking at stinky paragraphs.”
The resistance Micić was confronted with in the capital of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians was, perhaps, most obvious in April that year, when he organized the First International Exhibition of New Art. He responded the only way he could, with a text in Zenit:
”Officially cultural Belgrade was, unsurprisingly, absent. There were 12 countries with 110 originals – who in Belgrade would be interested in it, especially since it’s Zenit’s exhibition. Besides Kandinsky, Archipenko, Zadkine, Delaunay, Gleizes, Lissitzky, Lozovik, Biller, Peters, Paladini and many others, the audience could also see the first Zenitist painters Petrov and Josif Klek… Perhaps everything would be different if Micić was hanging in the middle of the exhibition hall, people would come in masses. But…”
It’s worth to say that the exhibited works, belonging to ”Zenit’s Gallery”, were actually an intersection of the avant-garde scene of the 1920s and, why not, the first encounter of Belgrade with modern art. They were collected since 1922 and Micić’s trip to Berlin, as well as with the help of his associates from Paris, Prague, Vienna and Berlin. He announced this gallery already in the double issue of Zenit 17-18, thus we know that he also possessed works of artists, mainly his associates, from Russia (most of them were exhibited recently in the already mentioned exhibition Russian Avant-Garde in Belgrade in the Museum of Yugoslav History), France, Yugoslavia, Denmark, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Germany, USA.
The conflict and (mutual) misunderstanding between Micić and his environment, not only in Belgrade, did not cease. On the contrary. Micić did not hesitate to indicate everything that was, in his opinion, bad in the culture of the newly founded state. He even directly named the ”guilty ones”, from painter Mirko Rački to writers such as Isidora Sekulić and Miroslav Krleža, and literary critics Jovan Skerlić and Bogdan Popović. He ragingly claimed that art is ”absolute creation”, not ”reproduction of nature”. Together with his brother Branko Ve Poljanski and a small group of supporters, he organized protests against the visit of the Indian poet, Nobel Prize winner, Rabindranath Tagore, to Belgrade. During his lecture at the Kolarac University, they threw paper airplanes and managed to drop an open letter, which no one wanted to publish, into a peasant shoe meant to be given to the poet as a gift by the hosts.


Zenit experienced its dusk with number 43, published in 1926, specifically with the text ”Zenitism through the Prism of Marxism”, signed by a pseudonym (?) M. Rasinov. The almighty Law on State Protection banned the magazine, because of its ”communist propaganda”. It was its last issue and, even though Ljubomir Micić claimed he was not the author of the controversial text, a warrant for his arrest was issued. Then follows his exciting escape over Rijeka to France, in which capital city he lived and worked for the following ten years, making his living by translating and writing in French, further developing his Zenitist ideas and the image of ”Barbarogenius”, the main bearer of those ideas. He tried to open an art gallery several times, and was friends with many reputable artists, writers and magazine editors.
He returned to Belgrade in 1936 and four years later published the ”Manifesto of Serbiandom” in his new literary-political magazine Serbiandom, oriented, among other things, towards questioning the previous relations of Serbs and Croats, ardently fighting for the rights of Serbian people and cherishing the Cyrillic alphabet. Only one issue was published.
He spent the years of Nazi occupation of Belgrade fighting for survival, selling different (valuable) things from his home, together with his wife Anuška, his faithful companion ever since his days of youth in Zagreb, coming from a rich Jewish family, which renounced her after she got married and took over Orthodox Christian faith.
New state, old troubles. His criticism of institutions and authorities was not suitable for the newly established order at all. As before, he was again considered an inconvenient, undesirable, harmful, even dangerous person. Life, however, must go on. Anuška and Ljubomir survived by collecting and selling scrap paper, and occasionally packs of then very popular chewing gum, delivered to him from the Orthodox Christian Church Community in Trieste. He was later thrown out of his apartment in Njegoševa 69 and moved to a narrow space on the last floor in Prote Mateje 18. Then came the greatest blow, Anuška’s death. One of the rare people who remained friends with him, Branislav Skrobonja, told that Ljubomir went to the Novo Groblje cemetery every single day, to visit Anuška’s grave, as long as he was able to walk. He then confided to him that a reputable daily newspaper refused to publish an obituary for Anuška. Makes you shudder…


Micić died in the hallway of a nursing home in Kačarevo near Pančevo in 1971, from ”pneumonia, as well as from exhaustion, malnutrition and an accumulated feeling of disappointment because of permanently failed battles”. (However, with the help of two of his young friends, he was buried next to his Anuška.) The probate proceeding lasted for ten years. Since it was determined that he had no heirs, his entire legacy became ownership of the National Museum in Belgrade.
Books, documents, magazines and artworks on paper were packed in twelve metal cases. The thirteenth, discovered by accident in one of the Museum’s offices, included neatly arranged works of famous avant-garde artists: Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, El Lissitzky… The list of Micić’s legacy, as ascertained by art historian Irina Subotić, who was his friend and enlisted his entire inheritance, is under number 1772…
The Serbian public was introduced to the rich Micić’s legacy for the first time at the big exhibition ”Zenit” and Avant-Garde of the 1920s, organized by the National Museum in Belgrade in 1983, prepared by Irina Subotić and Vidosava Golubović. The reprint of all 43 issues of Zenit was published a quarter of a century later, with a voluminous (deserved) study of the life and work of Ljubomir Micić, prepared by the two mentioned authors.
Did Ljubomir Micić finally catch the rhythm of his premonitions?


Branko Ve Poljanski
Ljubomir Micić’s two years younger brother appears in literature under pseudonyms Virgil, Valerij and Vij Poljanski. His name first appeared when he was expelled from all schools in Croatia and Slavonia in 1915, because of publicly mocking their anthem by paraphrasing it ”Our beautiful land full of bottles”. He was first mentioned in literature when he signed his name as editor in chief and only collaborator in ”Svetokret. Magazine for transporting the human spirit to the North Pole”, published in Ljubljana in January 1921. He later published a novel ”77 Suicides” and a book of poems ”Panic under the Sun”, both presented at the Exhibition of Revolutionary Art of the West, in 1926 in Moscow, within Yugoslav Zenitism, whose participation was organized by Ljubomir Micić.
In Paris, Branko presented his brother’s art movement in reputable magazines. He established good relations with the Russian avant-garde as well. He fiercely confronted the poetics of futurists, especially Alfred Kerr, author of pogrom verses ”Serbia must die”, so convincingly that Kerr had to leave Paris the next day.


Sad and Uncertain Ending
The beginning of painting of Branko Ve Poljanski, Ljubomir’s younger brother, is related to Paris. He had two exhibitions, in 1926 and 1930, after which he disappeared. The last document about him is from 1932, a letter of great French writer Henry Barby sent to Ljubomir Micić, telling him that his brother is tortured in the Parisian prefecture and that he will try to help him, with the support of ”Le Monde”.
There is no reliable information about what happened with him later. It is known that he ended up as a bum under the bridges of the Seine, probably before the beginning of World War II, but no one knows what kind of breakdown he had when he left poetry and painting ”just like that” and departed with his brother, whose most faithful follower, comrade and fellow sufferer he had been ever since the appearance of ”Zenit”.


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