Category: Online Articles

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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

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

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

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

The Takeover: Karol Sienkiewicz on Recent Changes at Warsaw’s Center for Contemporary Art, and Beyond

In Autumn of 2015, when the right wing Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) scored a landslide victory in parliamentary elections in Poland, the Polish artworld braced for the worst. Cultural producers expected that the “good chane”—as the PiS leaders advertised their plans—would quickly permeate all the cultural institutions and sweep most of the directors within weeks, or, in most optimistic scenario, months.

Fortunately this did not happen. Unlike public television, which soon became the tube of the governing party and where the pro-government propaganda overshadowed even communist-era TV and reached the level of absurdity and Internet memes, … Read more

Hungary Turns Its Back on Europe: Dismantling Culture, Education, Science and the Media Under Orbán

Hungary Turns Its Back on Europe: Dismantling Culture, Education, Science and the Media in Hungary 2010-2019 is the result of voluntary work by more than 30 Hungarian intellectuals, academics, researchers, and journalists. The booklet, which we here make available to a larger audience, is the first comprehensive report on what has happened in Hungary since 2010, when Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party won the elections (which they did again in 2014 and in 2018). The focus of the report is on the areas of culture, education, science, and the media. The project was coordinated by OHA (Network of Academics), … Read more

Roman Stańczak, Allegories of Flight. Polish Pavilion at the 58th International Art Exhibition—la Biennale di Venezia, 2019

Roman Stańczak’s installation Flight for the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale at once invites and defies final interpretations. The massive sculpture occupying the entire pavilion was created by violently splitting in half a private aircraft, and then sewing it back together inside out. What at first glance could be regarded as a direct reference to the Smoleńsk airplane catastrophe in 2010—dramatically polarizing Polish society, and eventually leading to the victory of the nationalistic, right-wing party Law and Justice—proves to encompass more complex meanings and references. In fact, the work can be perhaps best described as an allegory in the … Read more

Masters on Masters: When the Biennale Goes Meta (Russian Pavilion; Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli)

There is nothing unusual about famous gallerists curating national pavilions at the Venice Biennale, but it is another thing to have Mikhail Piotrovsky (the director of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg) curate his country’s pavilion by inviting artists to engage with the history of the museum and its collection, thus turning the Biennale pavilion into a commentary on the Hermitage.  Piotrovsky has orchestrated a complex metacommentary on the relation of the national pavilion to Russia’s “national treasure” that houses the works of many of the world’s Renaissance and Baroque masters—French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and Flemish.

The Russian Pavilion … Read more

Heart, Hands, and a Shovel: Danica Dakić’s Zenica Trilogy (Pavilion of Bosnia and Herzegovina; Uroš Čvoro)

Reflecting on the national pavilion of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in the context of a Venice Biennale titled “May You Live In Interesting Times”, it is impossible to not think of a BiH joke-curse from the 1990s: “May you see your house on CNN.” This joke captures the paradox of global visibility that accompanies regions that have been subject to conflict and crisis.(On art that uses humour to respond to crisis, see Uroš Čvoro and Chrisoula Lionis, “When the Periphery Laughs: Humor and Locality in Contemporary Art from Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Cultural Politics15:2 (2019), 223-243. ) … Read more

Igor Grubić, Traces of Disappearing (In Three Acts) (Croatian Pavilion; Sven Spieker)

Igor Grubić, Traces of Disappearing (In Three Acts), Croatian Pavilion, 58th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia, May 11-November 24, 2019.

Igor Grubić’s long-term photographic project Traces of Disappearing (In Three Actsis a few steps down from the stately abode on the Canale Grande that is home to the Prada Foundation, where a sprawling show of the work of Jannis Kounellis is on view at the same time. The contrast between the two venues, and the works exhibited inside, could not be more striking: from the Venetian palazzo to the rough, workshop-like space with a low ceiling … Read more

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Seaberry Juice in Extractivist Ruins: The Cosmopolitical Art of Diana Lelonek

Decades of open-pit mining has left the landscape of the Konin region in western Poland deserted, with the soil dry and hostile to plants. The coal producers, who are legally obliged to recultivate the post-mine landscape face a difficult task, but fortunately for them there are few plants whose needs meet the harsh reality of this barren land. For the seaberry plant (Hippophae), this sandy post-coal environment is just fine to grow, and the plant develops abundantly over the transformed land that was once exploited by the mining corporations. This essay explores the Hippophae of Diana Lelonek’s artistic … Read more

Miao Ying’s LAN Love Poem and iPhone Garbage: Online supplement to Ros Holmes’ “Meanwhile in China… Miao Ying and the Rise of Chinternet Ugly” (ARTMargins Print 7.1, pp. 31-57)

Contextualizing the digital collages by Miao Ying ?? in relation to China’s online culture and media spheres, my ARTMargins Print article situates the contemporary art world’s engagement with Internet art in relation to anti-aesthetics and the rise of what has been termed “Internet ugly.” Demonstrating a distinctly self-conscious celebration of what has often disparagingly been labeled The Chinternet, my article argues that Miao Ying’s LAN Love Poem and iPhone Garbage can be seen to emerge out of the broader contradictions of Internet art practices that parody the relationships between the “Chinternet” and the World Wide Web; global capitalism and … Read more

Special Issue: Artistic Reenactments in East European Performance Art, 1960–present

The reenactment of artistic performances and actions has garnered much curatorial attention in recent years. Life, Once More: Forms of Reenactment in Contemporary Art, at Rotterdam’s Witte de With in 2005 was an exhibition that explored the reenactment of historical events, while Marina Abramović’s series of performances, Seven Easy Pieces, which took place that same year at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, involved Abramović reenacting artistic performances both by herself and other well-known and established performance artists, such as Joseph Beuys, VALIE EXPORT, Gina Pane, and Vito Acconci. Other, perhaps less well-known explorations of performance reenactment include: Czech … Read more

Performing Oneself into History: Two Versions of Trio for Piano (Tallinn, 1969/1990)

During the late 1980s and early 1990s everything changed in the Estonian art world, as it did in the art worlds of other Baltic states and the entire Soviet Union. Not only was art itself – its techniques, media, strategies, contents, and purposes – rethought and the functional and financial system of the art scene reorganized, but also the self-perception of artists, their understanding of their activities and their relation to world culture, both contemporary and historical.

Many artists, critics, and art historians have described the situation during this period as a time of total confusion. Much of what they … Read more

Performativity of the Private: The ambiguity of reenactment in Karol Radziszewski’s Kisieland

In his 1995 text Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, Jacques Derrida notes that “[e]ffective democratization can always be measured by this essential criterion: the participation in and access to the archive, its constitution, and its interpretation.”(Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, translated by Eric Prenowitz (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 11.) The narratives of a communist country inevitably challenge this statement since its archive, whether understood literally or in a figurative sense as the Foucauldian “system of discursivity,” is heavily censored and inaccessible to most. In the context of now-democratic Poland, how … Read more

Reenactment, Repetition, Return. Ion Grigorescu’s Two Dialogues with Ceausescu

In 1978 the Romanian artist Ion Grigorescu shot an 8mm film of a performance entitled Dialogue with Ceausescu, which he conducted alone in the privacy of his studio. The period following Nicolae Ceausescu’s accession to power after he succeeded Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej in 1965 seemed to correspond with a softening of the communist regime. Censorship of the arts abated somewhat, with exposure to the art of Western Europe and the United States authorized, in particular by means of exhibitions.(See Magda Carneci, Art et pouvoir en Roumanie 1945-1989 (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2007) pp. 121, 129, and 133.) However it wasn’t … Read more

Was Australian art ever provincial? A RESPONSE TO TERRY SMITH’S “THE PROVINCIALISM PROBLEM: THEN AND NOW” (ARTmargins 6, no. 1, February 2017, pp. 6-32)

The historical discourse is never ‘born’. It keeps starting anew. And art history also keeps starting anew. This always seems to happen when its purpose is deemed dead–while experiencing a rebirth at the same time.
–Georges Didi-Huberman(Georges Didi-Huberman, L’image survivante: Histoire de l’artet temps des fantômes selon Aby Warburg, originally published in French in 2002. It was translated into English in 2016 as The Surviving Image; Phantoms of Time and Time of Phantoms: Aby Warburg’s History of Art. Our quote is from the German Das Nachleben der Bilder: Kunstgeschicte und Phantomzeit nach Aby Warburg (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2010), Read more

The Idea of the Global Museum

The global museum has been debated over a decade within the framework of critical museology and in the context of contemporary global art. The recent conference The Idea of the Global Museum (December 2-3, 2016), organized by the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum of Modern Art in Berlin as a part of its project Global Resonances and coordinated by the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, offered a retrospective look at a variety of museum practices that critically embrace the notion of the global.

The discourse on the global museum has been part of a broader postcolonial investigation into the possibility of a global … Read more

Art Periodicals and Contemporary Art Worlds, Part 2: Critical Publicity in a Global Context

Editors note: The following essay by Gwen Allen is Part 2 of a two-part essay devoted to critical art periodicals past and present. Part 1 appears in ARTMargins Print (#5.3, 2016), our Special Issue Art Periodicals Today, Historically Considered that extends across both ARTMargins platforms. Future articles will unfold in the coming weeks and include: “Have a Look: A Short History of Art Periodicals in Yugoslavia” by Darko Šimi?i? and “Art Periodicals in Eastern Europe: A Critical Survey.”

In “Art Periodicals and Contemporary Art Worlds, Part 1: An Historical Exploration” (published issue #5.3, 2016 of ARTMargins Print), I examine … Read more

Manifesto for a Slow Archive

We no longer think of archives as destinations for practices, or as media to be parsed and separated; we think of them as practice itself. Studying (in) the archive today no longer means the uncovering of the various archaeological layers that invisibly define the present, dividing it from itself. And in contemporary art, too, the archive does not equal knowledge understood as a destination. Rather, it is the name we give to a practice that takes as its departure point the combination, concatenation, reformatting, or rescaling of information that is archival to the extent that everything is.

What I call … Read more

In Memoriam – Piotr Piotrowski (June 14, 1952 – May 3, 2015)

It was with great shock and sadness that we learned of the passing of our dear friend, colleague, and collaborator Piotr Piotrowski. His groundbreaking contributions to the study of art from Eastern Europe, boundless energy, willingness to challenge entrenched views, desire to provoke discussion (no matter how uncomfortable), and his commitment to democracy and social justice distinguished him among his peers within the region and beyond. Piotr belonged to a post-war generation of Eastern European intellectuals who experienced life under communism first-hand and who later observed and participated in the often painful and unsteady transition to capitalism and democracy. His … Read more

Special Issue: Art and the Environment in East-Central Europe Introduction

Art and the Environment in East-Central Europe is an editorial project born from interviews and other forms of interaction with artists and cultural producers concerned, in one way or another, with the idea and the material reality of what goes by the name of the “natural environment.” In the different pieces collected within this project, the term “environment” unfolds into a broad variety of concepts and artistic practices that do not, and should not, become homogenized. A survey rather than a deep investigation, Art and the Environment in East-Central Europe covers a wide range of art and ideas connected to … Read more

Silesian Beskids Landscape Park: A Photographic Essay by Kasia Worpus-Wrońska

The Silesian Beskids Landscape Park lies in the Beskids Mountains, a part of the Outer Western Carpathians in Southern Silesia. The park, together with adjoining lands, has been incorporated into the Eastern Carpathians International Biosphere Reserve, which overlaps the convergent borders of Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. The area’s biodiversity includes meadows with a number of rare Eastern Carpathian plants, bear, wolf, red deer, lynx and over 150 species of birds. The native beech trees were logged in the nineteenth century, followed by the logging of spruce, which grew much faster and, thus, became preferred by the lumber industry. … Read more

Jana Želibská: Betrothal of Spring

An important figure in contemporary Czech and Slovak Art, Jana Želibská has been creating art since the mid-1960s. Working in printmaking, drawing, painting, assembelage, installation, video and performance, Želibská is a significant representative of action art in Central Europe. Her primary themes are the exploration of female identity, the connection of feminity to nature, and humanity’s relationship to earth, including references to ecology. In 2012, a major retrospective of Želibská’s work was held at the Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava.

While many female Central European artists working in the latter half of the twentieth century were creating self-reflective or autobiographical work, … Read more

ArtMill: Global Change Inspired from a Seed Planted in the Czech Countryside

In 2004, Barbara Benish founded the NGO Art Dialogue, which, among other things, supports programs and a farm at ArtMill, a renovated flourmill and granary from the 17th century located in the forested countryside bordering Šumava National Park (one of the largest remaining greenbelts in Europe). Positioned on a lake, ArtMill has become an international destination for artists, scientists, environmentalists, writers and students of all ages to study, collaborate and create. The rural property consists of living quarters, renovated studio structures, barns, outdoor workspaces and organic gardens. This text is adapted from conversations between Benish and Janeil Engelstad between 2012 … Read more

Budapest Farmer’s Hack: How to Integrate Digital Monitoring Systems in Community Gardens

Budapest Farmer’s Hack is a project developed in 2013 by Attila Nemes and Péter Eszes for OS Kantine, a media lab that focuses on open systems, open knowledge and the effort to build sustainable, community based models, while supporting other groups engaged in the same work. The trial project included the reclaiming of unused community gardens where plant needs, water, light, and nutrients were monitored by sensors that fed information into a digital network, which made the labor spent on taking care of the garden more productive. The text below is adapted from a conversation with Attila Nemes.

Through Budapest … Read more