Category: Book Reviews

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

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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

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Valdis Āboliņš. The Avant-garde, Mailart, the New Left, and Cultural Relations during the Cold War

Ieva Astahovska and Antra Priede-Krievkalne, eds., Valdis Āboliņš. The Avant-garde, Mailart, the New Left, and Cultural Relations during the Cold War (Riga: Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, 2019), 662 pp.

Few publications deal with Latvian artists in exile who settled in various Western countries after they (or their parents) fled the approaching Soviet army at the end of the Second World War.(For a useful introduction to this topic, see the catalogue: Dace Lamberga, ed., Latviešu māksla trimdā – Latvian Art in Exile (Riga: LNMM & Neputns, 2013).) Costly and time-consuming research abroad is often necessary to tell the … Read more

Entitlements and Entanglements

Sarah Dornhof, Nanne Buurman, Birgit Hopfener, and Barbara Lutz( eds.), Situating Global Art: Topologies, Temporalities, Trajectories, (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2018), 333 pages, b&w and color illustrations. 

Situating Global Art is a richly conceived contribution to contemporary global art studies with an extensive bibliography, useful summaries of the main issues and events, and case studies by curators, art historians, and artists. It developed out of an international conference by the same name organized in 2015 by the International Research Training Group, Interart Studies, at the Freie Universität, Berlin. The volume aims to continue the work of the conference by presenting … Read more

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Notes on Contemporary Art in Kosovo

Katharina Schendl, ed., Notes on Contemporary Art in Kosovo (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2018), 128pp.

Notes on Contemporary Art in Kosovo is a slim volume collecting eight short essays and two interviews focused on Kosovo’s art scene. Published as part of the tranzit.at (the Vienna-based branch of the transnational contemporary art network tranzit.org) Glossary series, the book’s stated goal is to provide the grounds for understanding how the contemporary art scene in Kosovo shaped itself beginning in the ‘90s decade. The texts included in the volume span the last twenty years,(In a few cases, it is unclear precisely when and Read more

Being Together Precedes Being: A Textbook for The Kids Who Want Communism

Joshua Simon, ed. Being Together Precedes Being: A Textbook for The Kids Who Want Communism (Archive Books, 2019), 392 pp.

Being Together Precedes Being: A Textbook for The Kids Want Communism is the culmination of a series of exhibitions, symposia, seminars, screenings, interviews, and publications co-organized by iLiana Kokianaki, Vladimir Vidmar, Oleksiy Radynski, Vit Havranek, Patrice Sharkey, Kuba Szreder, and Joshua Simon throughout 2016 and 2017 in response to the 99th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The year-long series of events – hosted by the Museums of Bat Yam (MoBY), Bat Yam, Israel; the Visual Culture Research Center, Kyiv; … Read more

The Art of Contestation: Performance Art in Slovakia

Andrea Bátorová, The Art of Contestation: Performative Practices in the 1960s and 1970s in Slovakia (Bratislava: Comenius University, 2019), 219pp. 

The Art of Contestation: Performative Practices in the 1960s and 1970s in Slovakia is the long-awaited English-language monograph by Andrea Bátorová, the result of her extensive research and writing on performance art.(Bátorová’s PhD dissertation was published in German as Aktionskunst in der Slowakei in den 1960er Jahren : Aktionen von Alex Mlynkárčik (Berlin, Münster, Germany: LIT Verlag, 2009).) In it, she covers the work of key artists from Slovakia’s performance scene, during the heyday of its activity: … Read more

Networking the Bloc: Experimental Art in Eastern Europe 1965-1981

Klara Kemp-Welch, Networking the Bloc: Experimental Art in Eastern Europe 1965-1981 (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2019), 480PP.

Authoritative, yet written in a colloquial tone in keeping with the human connections it delves into, Klara Kemp-Welch’s long-awaited book Networking the Bloc: Experimental Art in Eastern Europe 1965-1981 offers an insightful account of experimental art in Eastern Europe during the Cold War period. Its main intention is to “challenge the idea that experimental artists in the Soviet bloc operated in isolation,” by examining how people, objects, and ideas connected and circulated across the countries behind the Iron Curtain. The evidence gathered … Read more

Sisters Alike. Female Identities in the Post-Utopian (Book Review)

Lene Markusen, Sisters Alike. Female Identities in the Post-Utopian (Leipzig: Spector Books, 2019), 184PP.

It may seem a curious and difficult project to try to translate the unique poetics of moving images into book form. Danish filmmaker Lene Markusen has taken up the onerous task in her recently published book Sisters Alike. Female Identities in the Post-Utopian. What emerges feels like a wholly individual composition, marked by an unparalleled interpictorial approach that weaves her sketches and photographic impressions of Russia—in particular, its female protagonists—with archival materials and stills from two of her films, GRAD (2004) and Sankt—Female Read more

Art in Hungary, 1956-1980: Doublespeak and Beyond (Book Review)

Art in Hungary, 1956-1980: Doublespeak and Beyond. Eds. Edit Sasvári, Sándor Hornyik, and Hedvig Turai, London: Thames & Hudson, 2018, 384pp.

This collectively authored volume on Hungarian art under the state socialist regime of János Kádár offers readers a fresh, richly informative, and multifaceted picture of this critical period in Hungary’s post-war artistic culture. More than just an edited collection of individual contributions, it integrates texts by experts on different aspects of Kádár-period (1956-1988) art—specific temporal periods, policy phases, media, artistic modes, institutional spaces, and identities—within an orchestrated design. Following the introduction, seventeen chapters are grouped under four topical … Read more

Border Thinking (Book Review)

Marina Gržinić, ed., Border Thinking: Disassembling Histories of Racialized Violence, Publication Series of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Vol. 21 (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2018), 308 pp.

Border Thinking originated in 2015 as part of Post-Conceptual Art Practices, a studio art practice led by Marina Gržinić, Professor and Head of the Conceptual Art study programat the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, as an attempt to tell the story of the refugee protest camp in Vienna, which formed in 2012 and lasted for several years. At that time, the Austrian government suppressed the protests, creating an urgency to not only write … Read more

Performance Art in the Second Public Sphere

Katalin Cseh-Varga and Adam Czirak, Performance Art in the Second Public Sphere: Event-Based Art in Late Socialist Europe (New York: Routledge, 2018), 264 pp.

The compilation of sixteen case studies of performance art in Performance Art in the Second Public Sphere: Event-Based Art in Late Socialist Europe presents a panorama of performative strategies in the context of East, Central, and Southeast Europe. This “site-specific” approach reveals the diverse conditions under which performance art was produced in the region. The editors, Katalin Cseh-Varga and Adam Czirak, avoid suggesting a comparative terminology for East and West; instead of defining their collective volume … Read more

Emilia Terracciano, Art and Emergency: Modernism in Twentieth-Century India

Emilia Terracciano, Art and Emergency: Modernism in Twentieth-Century India (London: I.B. Tauris, 2018), 281 pp.

Emilia Terracciano begins her book, Art and Emergency, by invoking Walter Benjamin’s “angel of history,” that emblematic, though still extremely enigmatic, motif that lays bare the fiction of history as progress. Where we perceive the past as “a chain of events,” wrote Benjamin famously, the angel, which he derived from a watercolor by Paul Klee, “sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet.”(Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in Hannah Arendt Read more

Neoliberalism in Mexican Cultural Theory: Reading Irmgard Emmelhainz and Sayak Valencia (ARTMargins Print 7.3)

Irmgard Emmelhainz. La tiranía del sentido común. Mexico City: Paradiso, 2016, 260 pp.

Sayak Valencia. Capitalismo Gore. Barcelona: Melusina, 2010, 238 pp. Translation: Sayak Valencia. Gore Capitalism. Trans. John Pluecker (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2018), 330 pp.

Cultural theory in Mexico is one of the most vibrant and innovative intellectual scenes in Latin America. This in itself is remarkable if one considers that Mexico remains a country where the borders of academic disciplines are tightly enforced, and where most public intellectuals are self-identified liberals who resist both the languages and the ideologies of left-leaning theory. Against the grain … Read more

Hungarian Art: Confrontation and Revival in the Modern Movement (Book Review)

Éva Forgács, Hungarian Art: Confrontation and Revival in the Modern Movement (Los Angeles, CA: Doppelhouse Press, 2016), 303 pp.

Hungarian art historian and modernist scholar Éva Forgács has been teaching at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, since 1994. A former curator at the Hungarian Museum of Decorative Arts and visiting professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, she has also been active as a curator and art critic. She has published several books in her native Hungarian and in English, including The Bauhaus Idea and Bauhaus Politics (Central European University Press 1995; Jelenkor 2010), and … Read more

Socially Engaged Art After Socialism: Art and Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe (Book Review)

Izabel Galliera, Socially Engaged Art After Socialism: Art and Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe (London, New York: I.B. Tauris, 2017), 304 pp.

Socially engaged art practices emerging in former communist Europe represent a very under-researched field of study, and Galliera’s Socially Engaged Art After Socialism is the first scholarly treatment of socially engaged art (SEA) projects in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).(On the other hand, socially engaged art and collaboration in art in the West has been the research interest of a number of art historians, art critics, and curators since the 1990s. Among them are: Suzanne Read more

Workshop for the Restoration of Unfelt Feelings (Book Review)

Workshop for the Restoration of Unfelt Feelings. Juris Boiko and Hardijs Lediņš Nebijušu Sajūtu Restaurēšanas Darbnīca. Juris Boiko and Hardijs Lediņš. Ieva Astahovska, Mara Žeikare, eds. Riga (Latvia: Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, 2016), 480 pp.

For quite some time, all that was available to the researcher of contemporary art related to the Latvian experimental music group Workshop for the Restoration of Unfelt Feelings/Nebijušu Sajūtu Restaurēšanas Darbnīca (NSRD), were a few lines here and there, scattered across catalogues, essays and random texts. Mysterious references to Binocular Dances and Walks to Bolderāja captivated those who wanted to know more. For these … Read more

Performing the East: Performance Art in Russia, Latvia and Poland since 1980 (Book Review)

Amy Bryzgel, Performing the East: Performance Art in Russia, Latvia and Poland since 1980 (London and New York: I.B. Tauris. 2013), xiii + 303 pp.

Amy Bryzgel’s Performing the East addresses the specificities of “Eastern” performance art in relation to the socio-political transformations accompanying the protracted “transition” to post-socialism. Given its ambitious geopolitical range (the USSR, a Baltic republic, and a Central European Soviet satellite) the selection of case studies is surprisingly coherent. Bryzgel’s protagonists all explore the precarity of identity – national, cultural, sexual – in the post-socialist public sphere. Their work is at once playful and hard-hitting. Bryzgel’s … Read more

Socialist Realist Graphic Art in Albania (Book Review)

Maks Velo, Grafika e Realizmit Socialist në Shqipëri / Socialist Realist Graphic Art in Albania, Tirana: Emal, 2014, 305 pp.

One of the great questions confronted by any history of art in the twentieth century, and particularly of the art of Eastern Europe, is that of the artistic significance of Socialist Realism and the issues surrounding its legacy. This is especially true in Albania, one of the countries where Socialist Realism persisted as the dominant style for more than forty years—especially during the period (1944-1985) whenthe country was led by socialist dictator Enver Hoxha. In Albania, the question of Socialist … Read more

Zsófia Bán and Hedvig Turai, eds., “Exposed Memories: Family Pictures in Private and Collective Memory” (Book Review)

EXPOSED MEMORIES: FAMILY PICTURES IN PRIVATE AND COLLECTIVE MEMORY. ZSÓFIA BÁN AND HEDVIG TURAI, EDS. BUDAPEST: INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF ART CRITICS, HUNGARIAN SECTION, 2010, 193 PP.

Roland Barthes’s first reflections in Camera Lucida are propelled by the pleasure of viewing the photographic image. At the end of his survey of a wide photographic landscape, Barthes comes to realize his failing as an “imperfect mediator” whose investigation of photography led only to a clearer understanding of his own desire, and not “the nature (the eidos) of Photography” (Barthes, 60).Roland Barthes. Camera Lucida (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982). Perhaps … Read more

György Galántai and Júlia Klaniczay, eds., “Artpool: The Experimental Art Archive of East-Central Europe” (Book Review)

ARTPOOL THE EXPERIMENTAL ART ARCHIVE OF EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE, GYÖRGY GALÁNTAI AND JÚLIA KLANICZAY, EDS., BUDAPEST: ARTPOOL, 2013, 536 PP.(The PDF version of the publication can be downloaded free from: http://www.artpool.hu/2013/Artpool_book_en.html.)

The importance of this long overdue autobiographical volume by Artpool, the Budapest “Experimental Art Archive of East-Central Europe” is hard to overestimate. Archivists György Galántai and Júlia Klaniczay, who double as the book’s authors and editors, account for both a Hungarian and widely international presence in and around Artpool’s orbit. Art historian Kristine Stiles strikes a personal and professional chord in her pithy and … Read more

Djurdja Bartlett, “Fashion East: The Spectre that Haunted Socialism”

DJURDJA BARTLETT, FASHION EAST: THE SPECTRE THAT HAUNTED SOCIALISM, CAMBRIDGE, MASS.: THE MIT PRESS, 2010, 344 PP.

Impressive in its scope, beautifully illustrated, and admirable for its depth and breadth of archival research, Djurdja Bartlett’s sumptuous book Fashion East: The Spectre that Haunted Socialism does not in any way disappoint the reader looking for a survey of sartorial history in the Soviet Communist bloc. Bartlett does a magisterial job in traversing the cultural space of Soviet fashion from the 1920s “avant-garde” to the late Soviet era. Extraordinary also is Bartlett’s deftness at integrating the post-WWII fashion histories and discourses from … Read more

Birgit Beumers and Nancy Condee (eds.), “The Cinema of Alexander Sokurov”

The Cinema of Alexander Sokurov, Birgit Beumers and Nancy Condee (Eds.), London: I.B. Tauris, 2011, 262 PP.

Alexander Sokurov is, by any standards, a highly original filmmaker, but one whose work is dark, disjointed, and often frustrating to view. The reasons for this are rooted only partially in the norms of auteur cinema that place a premium on making the medium itself difficult. In the case of Sokurov, this difficulty is intensified by a kind of anxiety of influence vis-à-vis his mentor Andrei Tarkovsky, whose vibrant, spiritualized cinematography would have been hard, if not impossible, to top. Sokurov reacted … Read more

Tomáš Glanc, “The Russian Archipelago: Icons of Post-Soviet Culture”

Tomáš Glanc, The Russian Archipelago: Icons of Post-Soviet Culture, Prague: Revolver Revue, 2011, 353 PP.

Published in Prague some twenty years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Tomáš Glanc’s The Russian Archipelago: Icons of Post-Soviet Culture is an idiosyncratic but highly readable and far-reaching survey of Russian cultural space from 1990 to 2010. The book proceeds from a 45-page contextualizing introduction and a brief explanation of (and apologia for) its unconventional format to a series of seventeen portraits of individual artists who have “distinctively influenced” Russian culture of the past two decades. Remarkably, the author’s collection of seventeen … Read more

The Roses Wilted and Smell: The Letters of Alina Szapocznikow and Ryszard Stanisławski

Agata Jakubowska, Katarzyna Szotkowska-Beylin, eds., Lovely, human, true, heartfelt: the letters of Alina Szapocznikow and Ryszard Stanis?awski, 1948–1971 [“Museum Under Construction” series, no. 6], transl. Jennifer Croft, Warsaw: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, 2012, 380 PP.

Following the exhibitions Awkward Objects (Warsaw, 2009) and Alina Szapocznikow: Sculpture Undone, 1955-1972 (Brussels, Los Angeles, New York, 2011-2012) the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw published the meticulously compiled Lovely, Human, True, Heartfelt: The Letters of Alina Szapocznikow and Ryszard Stanis?awski 1948-1971. The volume comprises letters, postcards and telegrams, accompanied by drawings and photographs of Szapocznikow. Only a few letters of … Read more

Cristina Vatulescu, “Police Aesthetics: Literature, Film, and the Secret Police in Soviet Times.”

Cristina Vatulescu, Police Aesthetics: Literature, Film, and the Secret Police in Soviet Times. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2010, 262 PP.

Cristina Vatulescu’s book, Police Aesthetics: Literature, Film, and the Secret Police in Soviet Times, deals with the aestheticization of politics and the intersection between Soviet secret police practices and artistic production. The book takes its impetus from the archival turn following the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. Attempting to unearth the secrets of the communist years people in Eastern Europe have turned to archives in search for truth about the past, betraying “an enduring belief in … Read more

Queering Yerevan (eds.) “Queered: What’s to be done with Xcentric art?”

Queering Yerevan (eds.) Queered: What’s to be done with Xcentric art? Queering Yerevan Collective, 2011, Yerevan (Armenia), 336 pp.

The notion of identity, being it ethnic, religious, politic or sexual, marks a key feature of the public reality of post-communist transition in Central and Eastern Europe. Queer theory brings a radical political discourse that disrupts the comfortable public arena, employing the means of contemporary art and performativity throughout their actions. Queering Yerevan is a group of female artists, writers, performers, critics and translators active in Yerevan and in the Armenian diaspora. Their recently published book, Queered: What’s to be done Read more

Magdalena Ziółkowska (ed.), “Notes from the Future of Art: Selected Writings by Jerzy Ludwiński” (Book Review)

Notes from the Future of Art: Selected Writings by Jerzy Ludwiński, ed. Magdalena Ziółkowska, Eindhoven Rotterdam: Van Abbemuseum, Veenman Publishers, 2007, 240 pp.

After the great success of comprehensive translational enterprises, such as Between Worlds (2002) and Primary Documents (2002)See Between Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes 1910-1939, ed. T. O. Bensen É. Forgács (Cambridge: The MIT Press 2002); Primary Documents: A Sourcebook for Eastern and Central European Art since the 1950s, eds. L. Hoptman, T. Pospiszyl (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2002)., the volume Notes from the Future of Art: Selected Writings Read more

The Hidden Decade: Polish Video Art 1985-1995 (Book Review)

Ukryta dekada. Polska sztuka wideo 1985-1995 / The Hidden Decade: Polish Video Art 1985-1995, eds. Piotr Krajewski, Violetta Kutlubasis-Krajewska, WRO Art Center, Wroclaw 2010, 336 p.

Given the contributions of feminism or New Historicism, the statement that there is no such thing as complete and cohesive ‘”great narrative” appears to be a cliché. When writing a history, especially the first historical outline of an art field, one will inevitably get involved in the politics of inclusion and exclusion (the canon), and one will have to answer questions such as: who is speaking? and from where? Such questions evidently beset … Read more