Blaise Cendrars: Poetry is Everything

May 26 through September 24, 2023

Blaise Cendrars (1887–1961) was a catalyzing force for new expressions in European art in the first part of the twentieth century. An intrepid spirit, he led an itinerant life, leaving behind his native Switzerland for St. Petersburg, New York, São Paulo, and Paris. Cendrars came to prominence in 1913 as the author of La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France—a freewheeling poem self-published as a colossal vertical arrangement of polychrome typography with imagery by Sonia Delaunay-Terk. Cendrars formulated his poetics by adapting Delaunay-Terk’s beliefs and those of other artists in the possibilities of rhythm, motion, and depth in the simultaneous contrast of colors. He came to see not only their application to language but to his identity and life itself—everything from street media and the mechanization of modern life to his interpretation of non-European cultures and experience as a soldier in World War One. This approach Cendrars affirmed in a line of verse: The windows of my poetry are wide open…

Cendrars’s early career as a poet and publisher is the focus of the installation, radiating out from the monumental La Prose du Transsibérien to trace Cendrars’s formative interplay with the visual arts, music, ballet, film, and graphic design, featuring works by Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Cocteau, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Léger, Tarsila do Amaral, Darius Milhaud, Igor Stravinsky, Jean Epstein, and A. M. Cassandre.

Photograph of Blaise Cendrars, ca. 1907, with detail of Blaise Cendrars (1887–1961) and Sonia Delaunay-Terk (1885–1979), La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France (Paris: Éditions des hommes nouveaux, 1913). Gift of Gail Levin, 2021; PML 198726