Category: Book Reviews

Parallel Public: Experimental Art in Late East Germany

Sara Blaylock, Parallel Public: Experimental Art in Late East Germany (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2022), 328 PP.

Artists infiltrated state culture by meting out its excesses. They tested the hard-line intolerance of cultural innovation advertised by cultural bureaucracy. They hedged their bets on the threats of state security forces, and won. They identified with and sought approval from each other, even as they benefited from the advantages of the state culture whose approval they foreswore, but whose financial incentives they enjoyed. In their dedication to creative autonomy, experimental artists exposed a core vulnerability in state power – namely, its reliance Read more

A cover image of the book, featuring the title and a decorative bakground

A Multi-faceted and Global Perspective on Periodicals—in Every Sense

Meghan Forbes, ed., International Perspectives on Publishing Platforms: Image, Object, Text. New York and Oxford: Routledge, 2019, 268 pp.

Periodicals have traditionally been a favorite format of artists when it comes to experimenting on the blank page. There are several reasons for this, one of them being that magazines create communities even if their members are almost invisible to one another, dispersed as they may be over regional, national, and even continental geographies. Moreover, because of their time-limited nature, which is—a priori—ephemeral or, at least, specific to a certain time span, magazines tend to offer greater freedom for … Read more

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Galeria Wschodnia: Dokumenty 1984-2017 / Documents 1984-2017

Daniel Muzyczuk and Tomasz Załuski (eds.), Galeria Wschodnia. Dokumenty 1984-2017 / Documents 1984-2017 (Łódź: Galeria Wschodnia, Fundacja In Search Of, Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi, 2019), 916 pp. 

Looking at politics through the lens of alternative galleries is by now an established method within Polish art history. It has allowed for the emergence of vital comparative perspectives, both in the regional context (as demonstrated by Piotr Piotrowski’s oft-cited article “How to Write a History of Central-East European Art?”) and on a national level (e.g. Marcin Lachowski’s Awangarda wobec instytucji, or Luiza Nader’s Konceptualizm w PRL).(Piotr Piotrowski, “How to Read more

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Subjective Histories: Self-historicization as Artistic Practice in Central-East Europe

Daniel Grúň (ed.), Subjective Histories: Self-historicization as Artistic Practice in Central-East Europe, Bratislava, Veda, 2020, 320 pp.

The image on the cover of the book Subjective histories: Self-historicization as Artistic Practice in Central-East Europe shows an empty escalator. Its constant up and down movement might visualize the quest that all the texts in this book seem to share: to highlight the parallels between different artistic activities before 1989 and their meaning from a present point of view. The cover photograph (by Peter Sit) is from a performance by Slovak artist Matej Gavula, together with APART Collective, called Sunday, … Read more

Dark blue book cover with a black and white photograph of artist duo KwieKulik, a standing woman holding papers over the head of a seated man

Monitored Activities: Eastern European Performance Art through the Prisms of Photography, Film, and Politics

Corinna Kühn, Medialisierte Körper: Performances und Aktionen der Neoavantgarden Ostmitteleuropas in den 1970er Jahren (Vienna: Böhlau, 2020), 324 pp.

Corinna Kühn’s Medialisierte Körper: Performances und Aktionen der Neoavantgarden Ostmitteleuropas in den 1970er Jahren deals with selected performances and actions from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Poland during the 1970s. Her focus lies on the dimension of documentation through photography and video. She is interested in how artists communicated with imaginary or future spectators through the deliberate use of images or even the manipulation of techniques of filming or photographing. The book approaches the topic through detailed analyses of works by Endre

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A Slow Burning Fire: The Rise of the New Art Practice in Yugoslavia

Marko Ilić, A Slow Burning Fire: The Rise of the New Art Practice in Yugoslavia (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2021), 384 PP.

To what extent does the term “institutional critique” adequately describe the work of the New Art Practice, Yugoslavia’s famous generation of conceptual artists? Scholars have taken a range of approaches to this question, from those who reject the term as associated with Western art histories, to those who see the New Art Practice’s dematerialized, socially critical artworks as a form of institutional critique responsive to local conditions. (For example, in her 2007 contribution to the journal Transversal on Read more

Imaging and Mapping Eastern Europe

Katarzyna Murawska-Muthesius, Imaging and Mapping Eastern Europe (New York and Oxford: Routledge, 2021), 252 PP.

Imaging and Mapping Eastern Europe is a broad survey of images, created mainly in Britain, showing maps, people, landscapes, and cartoons of Eastern Europe. The author presents a long-durée analysis that extends from the Renaissance to present times and goes through diverse mediums of representation that have rarely been analyzed together: maps, engravings, photographs, cartoons, and book covers. Murawska-Muthesius makes a convincing statement for the significance of visual culture and specifically for the power of images not only to represent, but also to actively create … Read more

Nonaligned Modernism

BOJANA VIDEKANIĆ, NONALIGNED MODERNISM: SOCIALIST POSTCOLONIAL AESTHETICS IN YUGOSLAVIA 1945-1985 (TORONTO: MCGILL-QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2020), 302 PP.

Bojana Videkanić’s book Nonaligned Modernism: Socialist Postcolonial Aesthetics in Yugoslavia, 1945-1985 represents an important contribution to understanding the entanglements of artistic, cultural, economic and political histories in Yugoslavia. It articulates a body of knowledge on nonaligned cultural politics in the idiosyncratic context of socialist Yugoslavia. Although the country started its post-WWII history as a member of the Soviet pact, it radically changed its political and cultural position when Josip Broz Tito uttered the well-known ‘no’ to Stalin in 1948, thus ending of close … Read more

book cover with a b&w photo of a man taking a photo of a socialist housing block

The Socialist Life of Modern Architecture: Bucharest 1949-1964

Juliana Maxim, The Socialist Life of Modern Architecture: Bucharest 1949-1964 (NY: Routledge, 2019), 188 PP.

Socialist architecture has been the object of a growing subfield of architectural history for more than a decade. The subfield grew at the intersection of anthropology, sociology and political history delving into issues concerning spatiality and everyday life but also conceptions of design, construction and modernity. Socialist architecture’s bad reputation as being non-architectural, which can only be compared to that of Socialist Realist art, has long obstructed scholarly interest in many countries of the former Soviet Bloc. Juliana Maxim’s book is the first monograph in … Read more

Contesting Art: From Highbrow to Nobrow

Max Ryynänen, On the Philosophy of Central European Art: The History of an Institution and Its Global Competitors (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2021), 137 PP.

For some readers, the title of Max Ryynänen’s book On the Philosophy of Central European Art: The History of an Institution and Its Global Competitors, which implies an historical exposition of aesthetic-theoretical ideas in circulation in Central Europe or perhaps conceptual reflections on art emanating from there, may be misleading—particularly for those, such as the readership of ARTMargins, whose specific aesthetic and scholarly interests lie in the region. Ryynänen’s designation “Central European,” for … Read more

Black and white cover of book with line drawing

Circulating Images, Diverted Images, and Bodily Images in Romanian Art since 2010

Adrian Bojenoiu and Cristian Nae, eds., Romanian Contemporary Art 2010-2020: Rethinking the Image of the World: Projects and Sketches (Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2020), 208 pp.

Defining the perpetually shifting trends of art in the present can often lead to contradictory arguments, and thus there are few bold and risky examples of efforts at historicizing artistic phenomena that are still in the course of development. At the same time, however, there seems to be an urgency to facilitating the entrance of very recent art from the countries of the former Eastern bloc into the global consciousness. This is happening not only … Read more

a black book cover with white text

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

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

cover of exhibition catalogue

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

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

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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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

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

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

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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

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

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

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

Haunted Bauhaus cover

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