To create a work appropriate to the dynamism of modern life, Delaunay-Terk transformed the traditional book into an object that unfolds accordion style, to be seen all at once. Her collaborator Cendrars’s poem narrates an epic, mostly imaginary journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway with a young French prostitute, “little Jehanne” (a name invoking Joan of Arc, patron saint of France). They travel from Moscow to Siberia, China, the North Pole, and Paris, suggested by the Eiffel Tower, a symbol of early modernity, at bottom left. When the work is folded up, it tucks into a parchment cover hand-painted by Delaunay-Terk.
Gallery label from 2019
Delaunay-Terk and her collaborator Blaise Cendrars, a modernist poet, called this “the first simultaneous book.” This reference to Simultanism, a new movement that the artist and her husband Robert Delaunay were pioneering in Paris, connected the work’s visual impact to the thrilling simultaneity of modern life—the fast-paced, consciousness-altering dynamism brought about by innovations in transportation and communication. Delaunay-Terk and Cendrars transformed the traditional book format from a handheld volume that is read sequentially from page to page into an object that unfolds accordion-style—a dazzlingly colorful, nearly seven-foot-long sheet on which text and illustration can be apprehended all at once. While Cendrars’s poem appears on the right, in various typefaces and colors, Delaunay-Terk’s geometries cascade down the left, and the blank spaces around the text have been stenciled with color as well.
Using flashbacks and flash-forwards that upend conventional notions of time and space, Cendrars’s poem narrates an epic, mostly imaginary journey on the Trans-Siberian Railroad that he takes with a young French prostitute, the “little Joan” of the title. Their train travels from Moscow to Siberia, China, the North Pole, and, finally, Paris, which is suggested by the motif of the Eiffel Tower—itself a famous symbol of modernity at the time—at bottom left. When the work is folded up, like a map, it tucks into a small parchment cover hand-painted by Delaunay-Terk.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)