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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

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Some Thoughts for Siah: An Obituary for Siah Armajani

Siavash (Siah) Armajani (1939–2020), a conceptual artist best known for his civic-minded public sculptures commissioned for sites across Europe and the U.S., passed away on Thursday, August 27, 2020 from complications related to heart disease. Armajani was born to a wealthy merchant family in Tehran. He was active in political opposition circles throughout high school and college, and was forced to leave Iran in 1960 while still a student at the University of Tehran. He subsequently emigrated to the U.S. and enrolled at Macalester College in St. Paul where he continued his studies in Continental philosophy and American literature. In … Read more

Comradely Objects: Design and Material Culture in Soviet Russia, 1960s-1980s

Yulia Karpova, Comradely Objects: Design and Material Culture in Soviet Russia, 1960s-1980s (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020), 248 PP.

Yulia Karpova’s Comradely Objects: Design and Material Culture in Soviet Russia, 1960s-1980s presents new research on the landmark institutions, projects, debates, and societal and political tensions that constituted Soviet decorative design during late socialism. With this book, Karpova, a design historian and archivist at Central European University (Budapest, Hungary), makes a substantive contribution to the history of Soviet visual culture.  The strength of Karpova’s study is the diversity of materials analyzed: Soviet design institution histories, critical discourses in leading publications, state-sponsored … Read more

Everything is Relevant: Ken Lum’s Writings on Art and Life 1991-2018

Ken Lum, Everything is Relevant: Writings on Art and Life 1991-2018 (Montreal: Concordia University Press, 2020), 320 pp.

Ken Lum’s collection of writings Everything is Relevant offers an insightful inquiry into the complexities of the contemporary art world from the perspective of an artist, curator, and educator who refuses to be confined by aesthetic, cultural, or professional categories. Primarily known as a conceptual artist, Lum creates works that interrogate how we assign meanings to images, texts, and objects based on cultural, racial, and social cues. Whether puzzling the beholder through incongruous visual signs or evoking overlooked historical narratives, his practice … Read more

Slow Life: Radical Practices of the Everyday

Slow Life: Radical Practices of the Everyday / Lassú Élet: Radikális Hétköznapok, Ludwig Museum, Budapest, April 9 – August 23, 2020

In the late 1930s, over a period of six years, Marcel Duchamp created twenty slightly varying miniaturized and portable galleries of sixty-nine of his pre-1935 works, enclosed in a suitcase and arranged to stand up like the displays of a travelling salesman. His Boîte-en-valise (1935-41) evoked the preparation of a man ready to be on the move at short notice; it anticipated, figuratively, the artist’s flight from occupied France to New York in 1942. Confronting the current pandemic crisis, … Read more

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Globalizing East European Art Histories: Past and Present

Globalizing East European Art Histories: Past and Present. Edited by Beáta Hock and Anu Allas (New York and London: Routledge, 2018), 220 pp.

It is an interesting time to be reviewing a book that calls for “globalizing” art history, when everywhere there are calls for art history to decolonize. Is there a thread between the desire to globalize the study of East European art and the demands for a broader decolonization of the discipline of art history and its institutions?(For a variety of approaches to decolonizing art history, see the questionnaire, edited by Catherine Grant and Dorothy Price, Read more

ARTMargins Online’s New Editor-in-Chief

We are very pleased to announce that AMO has a new editor-in-chief, Raino Isto. Raino is interim Arts-in-Education Director at Umpqua Valley Arts Association in Oregon. In the fall of 2020, they will be a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Cultural Anthropology and Art Studies (IAKSA) in Tirana. Raino received their PhD in 2019 from the University of Maryland, College Park, where their dissertation focused on the political valences of monumental sculpture in socialist and post socialist Southeastern Europe. Raino’s research has been published in Third Text, the Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Science Fiction Studies, and … Read more

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One on One: Pleurad Xhafa, 200 Million Euro (2020)

The “One on One” series presents timely encounters between ARTMargins Online editors and contemporary artists, usually focused on one recent work. Recently, artist Pleurad Xhafa was among the protesters occupying the National Theater in Tirana in May of this year. Along with the other occupiers, Xhafa was arrested by police, and although he was subsequently released, he is currently facing charges including resisting arrest and illegal gathering.

Raino Isto: 200 Million Euro was originally installed on the stage of the National Theater of Tirana earlier this year, but it was destroyed—physically—together with that building in the early hours of … Read more

Introduction to Bulgarian Contemporary Art (1982– 2015)

Vasela Nozharova, Introduction to Bulgarian Contemporary Art (1982– 2015) (Plovdiv: Janet 45 Publishing and the Open Arts Foundation, 2018), 301 pp.

Introduction to Bulgarian Contemporary Art (1982–2015), written by the Bulgarian curator and art critic Vesela Nozharova, is a monograph that is likely to become the first comprehensive history of Bulgarian art of the last decades. The book offers an interpretation of the artistic processes, social actors, and institutions in the visual arts, and examines their historical developments and contributions to the Bulgarian contemporary art scene. This pioneering endeavor presents definitions and hierarchies of what constitutes contemporary Bulgarian art … Read more