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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

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 fundamental role in … 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 gave it a unique ambience that attracted artists from all over the world, but especially from the East. 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, or are they considering moving elsewhere? Do 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

Art and Race in Contemporary Eastern and Central Europe: Call for Contributions

ARTMargins Online is currently seeking submissions for a special issue on the intersection of art and race in contemporary Eastern and Central Europe. The issue will bring together artists, critics, and scholars whose work significantly engages with power structures and aesthetic paradigms that shape and are shaped by discourses on race, with an emphasis on postwar and contemporary practices. As right-wing populism and xenophobic policies rise across Europe and the globe, it is becoming all the more urgent to understand how artists working in the 20th and 21st centuries have approached race and its representation, racialized patterns of … 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, he will be a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Cultural Anthropology and Art Studies (IAKSA) in Tirana. He received his PhD in 2019 from the University of Maryland, College Park, where his 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

“A Kind of Perverse Novel”: Performance Art and the Secret Services

Kata Krasznahorkai and Sylvia Sasse (eds.), Artists & Agents. Performance Art and the Secret Services (Leipzig: Spector Books, 2019), 686 pp.

What do performance artists and secret agents have in common? The editors of Artists and Agents. Performance Art and Secret Services, Kata Krasznahorkai and Sylvia Sasse, investigate the question what happens when both sides meet, taking a closer look at different aspects of the collisions that can occur during this encounter. The volume, which can be used for browsing or as a reference work, offers 600 pages worth of different perspectives on the issue, including the workings of … Read more

One on One: The Didactic Wall (2019) by Mladen Miljanović

The “One on One” series presents timely encounters between ARTMargins Online editors and contemporary artists, usually focused on one recent work.

Sven Spieker: Your Didactic Wall (2019) focuses on the issue of migrants, refugees, and displaced persons. The location of the project in Bihać, Bosnia and Hercegovina, is crucial because Bihać is very close to Slovenia. When Croatia closed its borders, thousands of migrants who were hoping to reach Slovenia and, from there, Northern Europe, got stuck. Why did you decide to create an installation in the form of a stone wall?

Mladen Miljanović: There are two … Read more

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Three Years: Retrieval of the Lost Generation of the Romanian Neo-Avant-Garde

24 Arguments: Early Encounters in Romanian Neo-Avant-Garde 1969–1971, The National Museum of Art of Romania, November 7, 2019February 2, 2020

While writing this article on an exhibition tracing cross-cultural relations between Romania and the United Kingdom, free movement and transnational and translocal exchanges have become, during the current pandemic, luxuries of a past epoch. The exhibition under review, 24 Arguments: Early Encounters in Romanian Neo-Avant-Garde 1969–1971, recounts the cultural exchanges that took place during the three short years identified, which now loom in historical distance.  In these far away times, just a few years after Ceaușescu came into … Read more

In View: Romans Suta’s Inuit Motif. Inuit Knowledge and Eastern European Art

“In View” is a new series of short essays focused on important artworks from the modern history of East-Central Europe that have been overlooked by prevailing art historical narratives. Each author in the series selects a single work that has been ignored in broader histories of global modernism or regional cultural histories, and offers a rich and close reading of that work, highlighting its nuance and import. Texts in the new series will vary widely in their geographic and chronological purview, but they all develop an argument for a specific work’s significance through a detailed examination of its genesis, context, … Read more

Art and Politics in Black and White: A Comparative Study of Chile and Romania

Caterina Preda, Art and Politics under Modern Dictatorships: A Comparison of Chile and Romania (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 323 pp.

Caterina Preda’s Art and Politics Under Modern Dictatorships: A Comparison of Chile and Romania proposes an in-depth study the author has been pursuing for many years, guided by an interpretive model that situates art as a reflection of political ideology. While acknowledging the methodological risks, Preda is determined to “untangle the relationship that develops between political power and artistic expression in dictatorial settings and which cuts across the left / right and the authoritarian / totalitarian categories,” (p. … Read more

Open Call for Units of a Dispersed Monument in the Future

One on One: Sera Boeno, Open Call for the Units of a Dispersed Monument in the Future (2020)

Our ​new “One on One” series presents timely encounters between  ARTMargins Online editors and contemporary artists, focused on one specific recent work. In this (first) installment, Raino Isto talks with sculptor and installation artist Sera Boeno about her work Open Call for the Units of a Dispersed Monument in the Future (2020). The work is currently part of the online exhibition not (yet) futura free, organized by STABLE Arts in Washington, DC, curated by Nathalie von Veh.

Raino Isto: How did monuments become such a principal aspect of your practice?

Sera Boeno: I was born and raised in Istanbul, an … Read more

Art in Action: Lajos Kassák’s Avant-Garde Journals

Art in Action: Lajos Kassák’s Avant-Garde Journals from A Tett to Dokumentum (1915-1927). Edited by Eszter Balázs, Edit Sasvári and Merse Pál Szeredi (Budapest: Petőfi Literary Museum-Kassák Museum Kassák Foundation, 2017)

A series of photographs that appear halfway through Art in Action: Lajos Kassák’s Avant-Garde Journals from A Tett to Dokumentum (1915-1927) show the artist, poet, and editor Lajos Kassák — a central figure of the early twentieth century Hungarian avant-garde — and his partner and collaborator Jolán Simon in their small flat in Vienna in the 1920s. Forced to flee Budapest in 1919 with the fall of a short-lived … Read more

“Communism Never Happened”? Transformations of Art in East-Central Europe since 1989

Andrzej Szczerski, Transformation: Art in East-Central Europe since 1989. Translated by Sabina Potaczek-Jasionowicz (Kraków: Jagiellonian University Press, 2018).

The title of one of the chapters of Andrzej Szczerski’s Transformation: Art in East-Central Europe since 1989 can, curiously, summarize the entire premise of the book. The chapter in question is titled “Communism Never Happened.” This sounds paradoxical, of course. Yet the title is fitting: not because Communism is being ignored in this two-hundred-page-long, ambitious overview of art made after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, but because, for all that, it has virtually no impact on the identity of the … Read more

The Art of Self-Reflection: Artpool 40 Conference in Budapest

Artpool 40 – Active Archives and Art Networks, Conference at the Artpool Art Research Center, Central European Research Institute of Art History/Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, February 20–21, 2020.

On February 20, 2020 (an elegant date), a community of artists, scholars, and art enthusiasts gathered at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Artpool Art Research Center.(Éva Forgács, “György Galántai and Júlia Klaniczay, Eds., ‘Artpool: The Experimental Art Archive of East-Central Europe’ (Book Review),” ARTMargins, June 2, 2014, https://artmargins.com/gyorgy-galantai-julia-klaniczay-artpool/.) Artpool was established in 1979 by György Galántai and Júlia Klaniczay … Read more

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Ghosts in the Machine: Exposing the Margins of the Bauhaus

Elizabeth Otto, Haunted Bauhaus: Occult Spirituality, Gender Fluidity, Queer Identities, and Radical Politics (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019), 280 pp.

Whilst attempts to decenter art history have frequently focused on bringing to the fore marginal movements or places, an equally useful approach is reassessing those practices symbolically located in the center. As any historian of modern design knows, it is impossible to ignore the specter of the Bauhaus hovering unnervingly over any other design institution of the interwar period, especially those belonging to the peripheries. In her new book, Elizabeth Otto turns the tables and haunts the Bauhaus itself, unravelling … Read more