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The Avant-Garde Museum

Agnieszka Pindera and Jarosław Suchan, Eds. The Avant-Garde Museum: Mузеи художественной культуры, Kabinett der Abstrakten, Société Anonyme, grupa a.r. (Łódź: Muzeum Sztuki, 2020), 624 pp.

In the context of the current worldwide pandemic crises that have accelerated the search for a new language and channels of communication with the new museum audience, the anthology The Avant-Garde Museum is a powerful reminder that the idea of a modern art museum—one that serves critical artistic, educational, and social purposes—has been shaped by avant-garde artists. Furthermore, the idea for such a museum was created in the shadow

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“Ostkunst, a Different yet Similar Art”: Some Notes on the Complexity of Tomáš Štrauss’s Thought

Tomáš Štrauss: Beyond the Great Divide – Essays on European avant gardes from East to West, Daniel Grúň, Henry Meyric Hughes, Jean-Marc Poinsot (eds.), (Paris: AICA Press, 2020), 189 pp.

“As in the case of these mysterious correlations, the dividing line that separates various conceptions of art and culture not only runs straight through Europe and other continents but also straight through specific cities (…) At the same time, the radical redivision of Europe and the world in Yalta in 1945 did not necessarily have to have a direct impact on cultural history – the borders between art forms do … Read more

a photograph of a Black soldier in wartime Berlin

Building Up and Breaking Down Walls of Our Own: An Interview with Paul M. Farber

This interview unpacks the making of Paul M. Farber’s book A Wall of Our Own: An American History of the Berlin Wall (University of North Carolina Press, 2020). More than just a Cold War travelogue shadowing the times spent by legendary American cultural figures Leonard Freed, Angela Davis, Shinkichi Tajiri, and Audre Lorde in Berlin during the second half of the twentieth century, the book interweaves history with critical visual analyses to draw comparisons and contrasts across national borders. The Berlin Wall itself becomes a protagonist in the book, which is a thoughtful meditation on physical, often monumental, manifestations of … Read more

The Paintbrush Factory: A Changing Ecosystem of Labor, Fragility, and Community

As I write this piece, numerous narratives are being produced and reproduced in relation to the history of Fabrica de Pensule / The Paintbrush Factory, a collective space devoted to contemporary art and performing arts founded in 2009 in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Known for being the most ambitious independent art space in Romania, the Paintbrush Factory functioned between 2009 and 2019 in a rented industrial building that inspired its name – a former paintbrush factory. In the autumn of 2019, the private owners of the space decided to raise the rent and search for business tenants, following the trends of gentrification … Read more

1 Million Roses for Angela Davis

Albertinum, SKD, Dresden, October 10, 2020 – May 30, 2021

1 Million Roses for Angela Davis opened in early October 2020 at the Albertinum in Dresden, and unfortunately closed almost two weeks later because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the entrance area the visitor finds a video of an interview with Davis (also printed in the catalog) where the activist-philosopher aptly describes the potential of art in the context of historical transformation, emphasizing its epistemological value: “Art can produce knowledge, knowledge of the sort that does not occur with a simple political speech. Art is at the forefront of social … Read more

About Keys that Don’t Open the Doors, or How to Tell Histories of Soviet Women Artists? Interview with Andra Silapētere

The exhibition I Remember, Therefore I Am. Women Artists’ Archives rethinks marginalized practices realized within a dominantly masculine and heteronormative structures of the Soviet era. Showing at the Latvian National Museum of Art, it focuses on seven women artists whose work has been either nearly forgotten or marginalized: Rita Einberga (1921–1979), Laima Eglīte (1945), Maija Eliase (1924–1991), Mudīte Gaiševska (1935), Ruta Kreica (1946), Rasa Kalniņa-Grīnberga (1936) and Olga Neimane-Kateņeva (1908–2001). Based on archival research, it shows their rich heritage in different media displayed alongside contributions by contemporary artists Anni Puolakka, Marta Trektere, Liliana Piskorska, Evita Goze and Rasa Jansone. In … Read more

French Resistance or Russian Revolution? Disseminating Modernist Performance

Irena R. Makaryk, April in Paris: Theatricality, Modernism, and Politics at the 1925 Art Deco Expo (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018), 298 PP.

Working at the intersection between design history, modernist studies, and performance studies is sometimes a lonely place, so I was glad to find out about Irena Makaryk’s new book, April in Paris: Theatricality, Modernism, and Politics at the 1925 Art Deco Expo, on theatricality at the Paris International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts. The exhibition, which took place in 1925, was an influential endeavor that gave rise to the term “art deco” and the … Read more

Party of the Dead: Necroaesthetics and Transformation of Political Performativity in Russia During the Pandemic

The Dead in the Dead City

On April 5, 2020, a few days after the regime of self-isolation had been implemented in Russia,(The mandatory quarantine dates vary by region. In St. Petersburg, a strict regime of self-isolation began on March 31, 2020.)the so-called deadmen — members of the St. Petersburg performance collective Party of the Dead (Kristina Bubentsova, Maria Vonogova, Maria Nelubova, Maxim Evstropov) — gathered in an apartment not far from the city center, where a corpse prop awaited them. The deadmen went out into the empty streets of the city, carrying the fake corpse (wrapped in … Read more

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Beyond the 3 Ts: Promote, Tolerate, Ban – Art and Culture in Cold War Hungary

Cristina Cuevas-Wolf and Isotta Poggi, eds., Promote, Tolerate, Ban: Art and Culture in Cold War Hungary (Getty Publications, 2018), 160 PP. 

The curators of the Getty Research Institute and The Wende Museum of the Cold War undertook a difficult task with an exhibition in Los Angeles, entitled Promote, Tolerate, Ban – Art and Culture in Cold War Hungary,(Eastern European regimes operating before 1989 were not, in fact, communist states. In my view, even the ‘state socialist’ adjective is inappropriate for the Kádár regime, especially since the mid-1960s, but the now increasingly common term ‘state capitalism’ is not yet Read more

The film poster with the title in large letters at the top and a photograph of the filmmaker as a child at the center.

Becoming Black

Ines Johnson-Spain (dir.), Becoming Black (2019), Film.

Becoming Black(Becoming Black, by independent filmmaker Ines Johnson-Spain, is a Kobalt Documentary production that premiered in 2019 at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. Since then, it has been screened at several international film festivals and received the 2020 Best Diaspora Documentary from the Africa Movie Academy.) opens with a picturesque view of waves crashing on the Togolese shore. Off-camera, the first-person narrator recalls being a ten-year-old girl in an East Berlin apartment with her mother, who recounts a story to her as if she is divulging a secret. It … Read more

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Color–blind and Color–coded Racism: Angela Davis, the New Left in Hungary, and “Acting Images”

Race is a social construct based on images of “otherness.” In Eastern Europe, where self–identification relies on “whiteness”(See also: “Historicizing ‘Whiteness’ in Eastern Europe and Russia,” Socialism Goes Global, last modified June 26, 2010, http://socialismgoesglobal.exeter.ac.uk/conferences/.) as a construct, systemic racism along color–codes has been, and still is, experienced as irrelevant, “far away,” and without any actual real impact on society.(Ian Lew, Nikolay Zakharov, “Race and Racism in Eastern Europe: Becoming White, Becoming Western,” in Relating Worlds of Racism. Dehumanisation, Belonging, and the Normativity of European Whiteness, eds. Philomena Essed, Karen Farquharson, Kathryn Pillay, Elisa Joy White, Read more

We Do Not Know Ourselves: How Global South Filmmakers Exposed Racism in Czechoslovakia

The documentary film Black and White (1968) begins with a scene in which a small child marvels at the skin color of an adult African. The child asks: “Are you really so dirty?”, and concludes with the words, “You’re black. What’s your name?” The little girl is curious and in her ignorance she symbolizes the protagonist of the film – Czechoslovak society confronted with the racialized other. The voiceover in the film speaks on behalf of Czechoslovak society. However, the creator of this documentary is not a Czechoslovak citizen, but Krishna Viswanath. Born in Calcutta, Viswanath studied at university in … Read more

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Five Contemporary Polish Artists Engaging with Race

This essay showcases the different strategies of representing race and ethnicity deployed by five Polish artists in relatively recent solo shows. The theme of race was central to some of the shows, while it appeared more marginal in others. Representing race turned out to be complicated by the viewing context, including the location and the medium in which the work was exhibited.

There are two major ways that ethnicity and race play a part in Polish history and in present-day Poland. One is the historically strong Jewish presence, which ended with the Shoah. Additionally, after the war ended, mass emigration … Read more

The Wayland Rudd Collection and the Network of Mutuality: An Interview with Yevgeniy Fiks

In this interview, artist Yevgeniy Fiks speaks with art historian and curator Ksenia Nouril about The Wayland Rudd Collection, the artist’s ongoing project that brings together a wide range of Soviet images depicting Africans and African Americans. Established as a collaborative project that incorporates contemporary interventions, the Rudd Collection nuances what is typically projected as a monolithic Soviet culture while also enhancing our understanding of race in and beyond contemporary Russian society.

Ksenia Nouril: What is The Wayland Rudd Collection?

Yevgeniy Fiks: The Wayland Rudd Collection is a participatory, conceptual art project at the center of which is … Read more

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Special Issue: Art and Race in Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe

Introduction to the Special Issue

This special issue gathers scholars, artists, and critics who examine the relationship between art and race in a region not commonly associated with that issue – Central and Eastern Europe. Most of the investigations presented here are recovery projects, efforts to pay close attention to artistic narratives and works that received little attention in their own time or have been forgotten with the passage of time. These authors ask how contemporary artists have understood racial categories, and how race makes itself visible in artworks and films. The impetus of our special issue was provided by, … Read more

“…of bread, wine, cars, security and peace”

“…of bread, wine, cars, security and peace,” Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier, Vienna, March 3– October 4, 2020

Exhibition titles often say a lot about an exhibition. Curators like to borrow a beguiling fragment of wording from an author or adopt a guiding idea that frames how we read the exhibition. Certainly the two texts that provided the theoretical backbone for the exhibition “…of bread, wine, cars, security and peacerecently on view at the Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier are telling. The first text is a book by Lebanese poet, essayist, journalist, and artist Bilal Khbeiz, Globalization and the Manufacture of Transient Read more

Central and Eastern European Art since 1950

Maja and Reuben Fowkes, Central and Eastern European Art since 1950 (London: Thames and Hudson, 2020), 232 pp.

When Piotr Piotrowski published his now-famous art historical surveys In the Shadow of Yalta. Art and the Avant-Garde in Eastern Europe 1945-1989 and Art and Democracy in Post-Communist Europe, the art of the region was only superficially known to broader audiences. It was mostly presented in group or solo exhibitions, and via several monographic studies, and it never acquired the kind of celebrity that ”non-conformist” art from the former Soviet Union enjoyed.  In line with other theorists focused on post-colonial … Read more

7th International Forum for Doctoral Candidates in East European Art History, May 6-7, 2021

The Institut für Kunst- und Bildgeschichte at Humboldt University  will host the 7th International Forum for Doctoral Candidates in East European Art History on May 6 and 7, 2021. The forum serves as a platform for exchange amongst junior researchers who focus on Eastern European art.

The yearly meetings offer a space for exchange regarding methodological and practical problems surrounding various dissertation projects, as well as an opportunity to network with one’s peer group.

The 2021 Forum will focus on the close interconnection between the Eastern European cultural sphere and the rest of the world, as well as its … Read more

Architecture in Global Socialism: Eastern Europe, West Africa, and the Middle East in the Cold War

Łukasz Stanek, Architecture in Global Socialism: Eastern Europe, West Africa, and the Middle East in the Cold War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020), 358 pp.

An unassuming isometric drawing in the final chapter of Łukasz Stanek’s Architecture in Global Socialism: Eastern Europe, West Africa, and the Middle East in the Cold War diagrams a villa planned for the Emirati city of Al Ain. An assemblage of brick and glass, the villa is distinctly postmodern in character: a pergola, tall radius window, skylights, and multiple deck spaces combine to form a structure which both references and eschews historical precedents. Anca Oţoiu, … Read more

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Central and Eastern European Art: 30 Years After the Fall

Ana Janevski and Roxana Marcoci with Ksenia Nouril (eds.), Art and Theory of Post-1989 Central and Eastern Europe: A Critical Anthology (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2018), 408 pp.

“To give a definition of Eastern Europe is a difficult or almost impossible task” (p. 279). This observation, offered by artist Sanja Iveković in an interview featured within Art and Theory of Post-1989 Central and Eastern Europe, neatly captures the challenge that the volume sets for itself. Elsewhere within this new addition to the Museum of Modern Art’s series of critical anthologies, curator Raluca Voinea evokes the difficulties … Read more

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Special Issue: Creating for the State: The Role of Artists’ Unions in Central and Eastern Europe

Introduction to Special Issue

In recent decades, the history and criticism of Western contemporary art has turned its attention to art institutions and their curatorial and administrative practices. This attention derives, in part, from the rise of institutional critique as an almost ubiquitous artistic strategy, and from the corollary realization that institutions—including museums, galleries, heritage associations, membership organizations, nomadic biennials, funding entities, arts and culture nonprofits—play a key role in establishing the social spheres in which diverse audiences encounter contemporary art. If we consider Eastern Europe during the Cold War era, there is one type of institution that played a … Read more

The Role of the Romanian Artists’ Union in the Production of State Socialist Art

During the establishment of the new socialist regime in Romania, “in order for visual artists to be it was felt necessary to create a new form of organization, a new organism that [would] become an active factor in the work of culturalization of the masses, and for the development of creation.”(“Introductory remarks for the future Country Conference of the Romanian Artists’ Union (UAP) of the Romanian Popular Republic (RPR),” File 1/1950, Fund UAP, The Central National Archives of Romania (ANIC), f. 1.) This article is an adaptation of part of a forthcoming book about the role of the … Read more

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“Criticism Should Open Up Horizons for the Future”: The Albanian Union of Writers and Artists and the Status of Art Criticism in the People’s Republic of Albania

This article presents part of the history of the Union of Writers and Artists—the official organ devoted to literature and the fine arts in the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania—and examines (in an incomplete way, of course) the contours of art criticism produced in accordance with official doctrine in Albania, especially in the 1970s decade. Like much Socialist Realist criticism, the output of the Union of Writers and Artists was frequently formulaic, but it also offered a field for artists working beyond the visual (and the union’s critics were almost invariably also practicing artists) to navigate Albanian art’s place vis-à-vis … Read more

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Forms of Involvement: The Czechoslovakian Artists’ Union and Its 1964 Congress

During the past decade, contemporary artists in Central and Eastern Europe have renewed their interest in Artists’ Unions, and have begun to self-organize.(This article is based on a study by Johana Lomová and Karel Šima, “Sjezd Svazu československých výtvarných umělců v roce 1964. Poznámky k úspěšnosti performance,” (The Conference of the SČSVU in 1964. Notes on the Success of One Performance) in Umění a revoluce (Art and Revolution), ed. Johana Lomová and Jindřich Vybíral (Praha: UMPRUM 2017), 512–545.) After years of what scholar Piotr Piotrowski termed “anti-communism,”(Piotr Piotrowski, Art and Democracy in Post-Communist Europe (London: Read more

Whose Land, Their Art? Debates over the Tendencies Exhibition Series (1980–81)

Money and Morals Then and Now

While at first glance the Artists’ Unions seem to be fossils of Eastern Europe’s state-socialist past, in fact they are still living with us, in several ways. First of all, they persist in the dream of a political utopia: after the short belle époque of welfare states, the current precarization of the cultural sector—especially affected by the COVID-19 crisis—provokes debates on the possibility of cultural workers’ unionization even in Eastern Europe. Secondly, while new institutions emerged after the political transition of 1989, the Artists’ Unions did not completely lose their importance as integrators of … Read more

Artists from the Former Eastern Europe in Berlin: Gábor Altorjay

This conversation is part of a series of interviews with artists from Eastern Europe who live and work in Berlin. The city has attracted artists from Russia and Eastern Europe for a long time: especially during the Cold War and into the 1990s, its peculiar geo-political situation provided Berlin with a unique flair that attracted artists from all over the world, but especially from the Central and Eastern parts of the continent. How do these artists experience the city today? How do they look back on the hopes and expectations with which they once arrived? Have they settled for good, Read more

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Everywhere and Nowhere: Understanding Russian Constructivism through Aleksei Gan

Kristin Romberg, Gan’s Constructivism: Aesthetic Theory for an Embedded Modernism (Oakland: University of California Press, 2018), x + 297 pp.

With Gan’s Constructivism, Kristin Romberg demonstrates how to write about a figure who is at once central and marginal, everywhere and nowhere. Aleksei Gan’s contradictions, the stark contrasts between his ambitions and his absences, are manifold. He co-founded the First Working Group of Constructivists in 1921 and published Constructivism, the movement’s first theoretical treatise, in 1922, yet remains unmentioned in most histories. He commissioned Aleksandr Rodchenko to design costumes for a play that he never wrote. He directed … Read more

One on One: Stefanos Tsivopoulos and Chrisoula Lionis, Artists for Artists

The “One on One” series presents timely encounters between ARTMargins Online editors and contemporary artists, usually focused on one recent work. In this installment, Uroš Čvoro talks with interdisciplinary artist, filmmaker, and educator Stefanos Tsivopoulos and curator and cultural producer Chrisoula Lionis about Artists for Artists (AfA), an online pedagogical platform that connects leading artists with early career artists from around the world.

Uroš Čvoro: Artists for Artists (AfA) is based on three principles: artists for artists, peer-to-peer, and radical care. Can you provide a brief overview of the project, and how these ideas inform it?

Stefanos Tsivopoulos: … Read more

Explodity: Sound, Image, and Word in Russian Futurist Book Art

Nancy Perloff, Explodity: Sound, Image, and Word in Russian Futurist Book Art (Los Angeles, CA: Getty Publications, 2016), 208 pp.

In 1910, artists and writers in Russia gathered around the painter David Burliuk and the poets Velimir Khlebnikov and Vasily Kamensky to form the literary group Hylaea, one of the earliest iterations of Russian Futurism. Resistant to tradition and to ideological compromise, the Russian Futurists questioned the aesthetic focus on Western Europe and advocated a movement built on distinctly Russian sources. The group embraced chance, intuition, the irrational, and the unexpected, exploring an anarchic-revolutionary mode that celebrated art without rules. … Read more

Second World Postmodernisms: Architecture and Society Under Late Socialism

Vladimir Kulić, ed., Second World Postmodernisms: Architecture and Society Under Late Socialism (London: Bloomsbury, 2019). 260 pp.

Scholarship on architectural postmodernism perennially grapples with definitions. Postmodernism itself implies a departure from the epoch-defining decades of modern architecture: a move away from technocentric, functionalist design freighted with the promise of utopia. Certainly the reemergence of ornament and historical references, coupled with a renewed interest in context and occasional attempts at irony, constitutes an architectural movement, one contemporaneous with the onset of neoliberalism and globalization. But beyond these sketchy attributes, historians and theorists have struggled to taxonomize postmodern architecture.

Both informed and … Read more