Category: Book Reviews

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)


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)


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”


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

Edit András (ed.), “Transitland. Video Art from Central and Eastern Europe 1989-2009” (Book Review)

Transitland. Video Art from Central and Eastern Europe 1989-2009, Edit András (ed.), Budapest: Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art / ACAX, 2009

“Video,” writes the editor of the volume, Edit András, “was pretty much the medium of transition (…) it was the first liberal media of the period (…) the strand of visual arts that through its inherent characteristic, kept and reflected recent history to the utmost.”(Transitland. Video Art from Central and Eastern Europe 1989-2009, Edit András (ed.), Budapest: Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art / ACAX, 2009, p. 226.) András’s volume Transitland. Video Art Read more

James Westcott, “When Marina Abramović Dies” (Book Review)

When Marina Abramović Dies : A Biography. James Westcott.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010. 326pp.

James Westcott, an art critic and former assistant to Marina Abramović, released his first book, When Marina Abramović Dies, earlier this year. Subtitled, A Biography, Westcott draws heavily on interviews with the Serbian performance artist and her extensive archives to pen a biography of Abramović, from her childhood to her sixties.  The publisher of the book, the MIT press, a prominent publisher of modernist, art-historical literature, very carefully qualified Westcott’s project by labeling it a biography rather than a monograph.  Interestingly, … Read more

Sheila Skaff, “The Law of the Looking Glass” (Book Review)

The Law of the Looking Glass. Cinema in Poland, 1896–1939. Sheila Skaff. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2008. 245 pp.

The intriguing title of Sheila Skaff’s survey of history of cinema in Poland before World War II is taken from a book written by an eye-witness, the critic and film theoretician Karol Irzykowski: “For only half of the world is ruled by the principle of action; the other half is subject to the laws of reflection.”(Karol Irzykowski, Dziesiąta muza: Zagadnienia estetyczne kina (Warsaw: Filmowa Agencja Wydawnicza, 1957), 51. Skaff, Shelia, trans.) Irzykowski’s understanding of cinema as … Read more

Gender and Transgression in Visual Cultures (Book Review)

Gender i transgressiya v vizualnykh iskusstvakh [Gender and Transgression in VisualCultures]. Almira Ustanova, Editor. Vilnius: European Humanities University, 2007. 217 pp.

This collection of essays, the second in a series entitled Visual and Cultural Explorations (Vizualnye i kulturnye issledovanie), is the product of a conference held at the European Humanities University in Vilnius during April 2003. The forum gathered scholars from Belarus, Lithuania, and England to theorize the terra incognita left uncovered in Russian language scholarly publications on gender representations in visual culture. In particular these authors, according to the introduction by Almira Ousmanova, set out to … Read more

Vladimir Paperny, “Mos-Angeles Two” (Book Review)

Mos-Angeles Two. Vladimir Paperny. Moscow: NLO, 2009. 216 pp.

Vladimir Paperny’s new book Mos-Angeles Two is a retrospective, nostalgic compilation of writings from the author’s recent and distant past. Revealing personal and professional motivations, describing spaces and feelings both imaginary and real, the introspective approach of his book makes for a highly personal project. Paperny was raised and educated in Moscow and then settled in the U.S. with the “third wave.”  A skilled art historian and designer, he emigrated during the political epoch ironically called “the flourishing of the sundown” (rastsvet zakata), with its closed artistic dissident … Read more

Polish Conceptualism: Expanded, Politicized, Contested (Book Review)

Luiza Nader, Konceptualizm W Prl. Warsaw: Foksal Gallery Foundation, University of Warsaw Press, 2009. 429 PP.
?ukasz Ronduda, Polish Art of the 1970s. Jelenia Góra: Polski Western; Warsaw: Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, 2009. 379 PP.

The recent publication of Luiza Nader’s Konceptualizm w PRL and ?ukasz Ronduda’s Polish Art of the 1970s has served to reinvigorate a debate that has been ongoing in Poland since the 1970s. This debate centers around what it meant to be a radical artist in the 1960s and 70s. The cultural policy of the Polish authorities was among the most lenient … Read more

Jeremy Howard, “East European Art 1650-1950” (Book Review)

East European Art 1650-1950. Jeremy Howard. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006., 258 pp.

“The aim here,” states Jeremy Howard in his introduction, “is a redefinition of what may be considered the art of eastern Europe.” Ambitious enough, one might think, but he goes on to proclaim that the book should “at least partially, deconstruct some of the prevailingnotions and myths of what comprises European art per se.”(Jeremy Howard, East European Art 1650-1950, (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 1. Original emphasis retained.) Clearly, the author has set out to write a … Read more

Piotr Piotrowski, “In the Shadow of Yalta” (Book Review)


In the Shadow of Yalta. Art and Avant-Garde in Eastern Europe 1945-1989, the long-awaited English translation of Piotr Piotrowski’s 2004 book, boasts of a well-chosen title not only for its descriptive qualities, but also because it refers to the rather dark and indistinct history of a particular portion of Eastern Europe: the area falling under the Soviet regime following the Yalta Agreement in 1945. Piotrowski begins his story in 1948, the year that Stalin tightened … Read more

Victor Tupitsyn, “The Museological Unconscious. Communal (Post)Modernism in Russia” (Book Review)

Victor Tupitsyn, The Museological Unconscious. Communal (Post)Modernism in Russia, Cambridge/Mass. (MIT Press, 2009), 339 pp.

Victor Tupitsyn’s new book, The Museological Unconscious. Communal (Post)Modernism in Russia, is a sweeping, expert treatment of Russian art from the late 1950s to the present day. Like Dr. Doolittle’s pushmi-pullyu, which Tupitsyn cites in one of his chapter headings, the author himself is a kind of hybrid being who is both inside and outside the Russian art scene he describes. Originally a critic closely involved in the unofficial Russian art scene, he left the Soviet Union shortly after the infamous Bulldozer Exhibition … Read more

Mel Jordan and Malcolm Miles (Eds.), “Art and Theory After Socialism” (Book Review)


The cover image for Art and Theory After Socialism—a ramshackle hammer and sickle inscribed with the Russian word restoran (“restaurant”)—informs prospective readers know that the book’s primary focus will be on Eastern Europe. In fact, the essays it contains do touch on various points in the erstwhile Eastern bloc (East Germany, Serbia, Poland, and Armenia). As the book progresses, however, it becomes evident that the post-socialist landscape under consideration is an ideological rather than a geographical one. It is … Read more