Category: Book Reviews

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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 Certainly the reemergence of ornament and historical references, coupled with a renewed interest in context and occasional attempts at irony, constitutes an architectural movement, one contemporaneous with the onset of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

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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