Category: Book Reviews

Boris Groys, “Art Power” (Book Review)


“The notion of art,” Boris Groys writes near the start of Art Power, “is today almost synonymous with the notion of the art market.”(Boris Groys, Art Power (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008), 4.) In less dexterous hands, this argument could swiftly slip into hollow polemic. But Groys continues with something surprising: “to perceive the critique of commodification as the main or even unique goal of contemporary art is just to reaffirm the total power of the art market – even if this reaffirmation takes a form of … Read more

Behind the Obscurity of the Central-European Avant-Gardes (Book Review)

Timothy O. Benson (ed.), Central-European Avant-Gardes. Exchange and Transformation (1910-1930), (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002). Timothy O. Benson, Éva Forgács (eds.): Between Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes (1910 – 1930), (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002).

The project of Timothy O. Benson and his team, entitled Central-European Avant-Gardes, is great in two aspects: it is enormous in its content and utopian in its nature. The multi-dimensional volume is divided into two books. The first one includes articles, manifestos, essays, program considerations, and textual sources about the subject. The second volume is structured as a catalog of an exhibition, divided according to … Read more

The Manifesta Decade (Book Review)

Barbara Vanderlinden and Elena Filipovic, (eds.): The Manifesta Decade: Debates on Contemporary Art Exhibitions and Biennials in Post-Wall Europe. MIT Press, 2006. 340 pp.

In every corner of the world, on a yearly, monthly, or by now almost weekly basis, new biennials are shooting up out of the ground like mushrooms. While the radius of their impact was at first limited to Europe and North America, the magnitude of global successor events should not be underestimated. In fact, it is precisely these events that simultaneously generate a local and international discursive climate. In the course of time it has … Read more

New Art and New Questions from the “New Europe” (Book Review)

ARRIVALS > ART FROM THE NEW EUROPE. Suzanne Cotter, Andrew Nairne and Victoria Pomery (eds.) Oxford: Modern Art Oxford, Turner Contemporary, 2007.

This beautifully designed book contains the records of ten exhibitions organized over a period of two years by Modern Art Oxford, an established public gallery, and Turner Contemporary, a new cultural institution at Margate. Works by artists from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, as well as Malta and Cyprus, have been selected for exhibition as part of the exploration of the post-Wall “New Europe” segment of the European Union. With the appearance … Read more

Soviet Power and the Media

Hans Günther and Sabine Hänsgen (eds.): Sovietskaia vlast i media. Sankt Peterburg: Akademicheskii proekt, 2006. 620 pp.

Sovietskaia vlast i media (Soviet Power and Media), a collection of articles edited by Hans Günther and Sabine Hänsgen, was published by Akademicheskii proekt in St. Petersburg in 2006. The publication was an outcome of an international conference of the same name, held within the framework of a research project on “The Political as a Space of Communication in History,” at Bielefeld University. The conference, as well as the subsequent publication, aimed at tracing the transformations of “the political” in … Read more

Heterotopias: Terrains vagues at the 1st Biennale of Thessaloniki, Greece

Heterotopias: Terrains Vagues at the 1st Biennale of Thessaloniki, Greece

“Are you guys here for the Costakis collection?” This question was addressed to a group of the Russian artists gathered for the opening events of the First Biennale of Thessaloniki, Greece, which ran from May until September of 2007. Coming from the countries of the ex-Soviet Union, these largely unknown young artists were invited to participate in the Biennale by Maria Tsantsanoglou, artistic director and curator of the event. Her curatorial selection entitled Heterotopias: Beholders of Other Places presented an assortment of 33 Greek, Russian and other artists from diverse … Read more

Dada East

Tom Sandqvist. Dada East: The Romanians of Cabaret Voltaire. MIT Press, 2006.

Tom Sandqvist’s book, Dada East: the Romanians of Cabaret Voltaire, is an example of the growing Western interest in the Central and Eastern European avant-garde. This interest has at least two precedents worthy of notice: Steven Mansbach’s book, Modern Art in Eastern Europe: From the Baltic to the Balkans ca. 1890-1939Stephen Mansbach, Modern Art in Eastern Europe: From the Baltic to the Balkans ca. 1890-1939, (Cambridge University Press, 1997).  and an important exhibition organized by Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Central European Avant-gardes: 1910-1930Read more

The Topography of Central European Art

Marina Grzinic, Guenther Heeg, Veronika Darian (eds.), Mind the Map! History Is Not Given! A Critical Anthology Based on the Symposium. Leipzig: Institute of Theater Studies, 2006.

Central Europe: What is it? The whole collection of the small nations between two powers, Russia and Germany. The eastern-most edge of the West…Is it true that the borders of Central Europe are impossible to trace in any exact, lasting way? It is indeed! Those nations have never been masters of either their own destinies or their borders. They have rarely been the subjects of history, almost always its objects. Their unity Read more

Romanian Modernism

Luminita Machedon and Ernie Scoffham (eds). Romanian Modernism: The Architecture of Bucharest, 1920-1940. MIT Press, 1999.

Currently a reprint from MIT Press, Romanian Modernism/The Architecture of Bucharest, 1920-1940 made its first appearance in 1999. Although the book was welcomed by the cultural press and received a positive review from the Times Literary Supplement, it went completely unnoticed in Romania. This is not the book’s fault; it is rather a symptom of a larger malaise; for example, none of the major recent histories of modern architecture (Curtis, Frampton, Jencks) ever mention the architecture of Central and Eastern Europe, … Read more

EAST ART MAP: Contemporary Art and Eastern Europe

IRWIN (eds). EAST ART MAP: Contemporary Art and Eastern Europe. An Afterall Book: Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London, 2006. – 527 p., with an appended map.

EAST ART MAP is an edition that sums up IRWIN’s more than 15-year-long experience in networking, institutional activity, curating, and artistic research in the problems of contemporary art and how this latter’s agendas are received, reproduced, interpreted, and revised in the vast post-socialist territory that for lack of a better name one refers to as Eastern Europe.

Contemporary art elsewhere discovered Eastern Europe after the … Read more

A Past without a Present: Utopia and the Post-Communist-Hype

Boris Groys and Michael Hagemeister (Eds.), The New Humankind. Biopolitical Utopias in Russia at the Beginning of the 20th Century. Suhrkamp Verlag, 2005.

Boris Groys and Michael Hagemeister (Eds.), At Zero Point. Positions of the Russian Avantgarde. Suhrkamp Verlag, 2005.

Boris Groys, Anne von der Heiden and Peter Weibel. (Eds), Back from the Future. Eastern European Cultures in the Age of Post-Communism. Suhrkamp Verlag, 2005.

These three books – two anthologies of poetical, philosophical and aesthetic-political texts written in Russia between 1906 and 1935, and the proceedings of a phenomenal conference held in Berlin (The Post-Communist Read more

The SocialEast Seminars: (Re-)Locating Eastern European Art

SocialEast Seminars. Manchester (Art and Ideology) and Budapest (Art and Documentary).

Recently the theoretical debate around art and visual culture in Eastern Europe has gained a new platform of discussion. Initiated by MYRIAD Manchester Metropolitan University, the SocialEast Forum focuses on regional art practices between the end of the Second World War and the fall of Communism in 1989-1991. The forum launched its program with a series of seminars during which scholars, curators, and artists from all over Europe contributed to a new understanding of art and culture in Eastern Europe. This review concerns two of the seminars that took … Read more

Towards a New Archaeology of Russian Cinema

Nikolai Izvolov, Fenomen kino: istoriia i teoriia 320 pp. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo EGSI, 2001. Second edition: 164 pp. Moscow: Materik, 2005.

Since its initial publication in 2001, Nikolai Izvolov’s The Phenomenon of Cinema: History and TheoryNikolai Izvolov, Fenomen kino: istoriia i teoriia. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo EGSI, 2001. 320. has remained a rarity among contemporary Russian publications in the field of cinema studies. While these publications range from well-researched, often revelatory collections of documents to exercises in political revisionism or metaphysical essayism, they tend to disregard the possibility of a more balanced approach to the problems of cinema. In this idiosyncratic … Read more

Modernist Architecture in Serbia

Ljiljana Blagojevic, Modernism in Serbia: The Elusive Margins of Belgrade Architecture, 1919-1941. MIT Press in association with Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 2003.

When young Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, who under the name of Le Corbusier became the most influential architect of the twentieth century, arrived in Belgrade in 1911 during his travels across Europe, he did not hide his disappointment with “ridiculous capital, worse even: a dishonest city, dirty, and disorganized .” On a map of his travels he was marking places he visited with an I (industry), a C (culture), or an F (folklore). And while all the … Read more

Requiem for Communism

Charity Scribner, Requiem for Communism. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 2003. 245 pages.

In 1996 Jutta Scherrer, the eminent Russia scholar at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, published a collection of essays titled Requiem for Red October (Requiem für den roten Oktober, Leipzig: Universitätsverlag).

These essays, written over the course of the decade from 1986-96, describe the changes affecting the Russian intelligentsia during a time period when, at least initially, the notion of a perestroika of the Soviet system still had the potential of a remodel rather than the tear-down it became in the … Read more

“Postmodernism and the Postsocialist Condition: Politicized Art under Late Socialism”

Ales Erjavec, Ed. Postmodernism and the Postsocialist Condition: Politicized Art under Late Socialism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.(Contributions by Boris Groys,Misko Suvakovic, Ales Erjavec, Peter Gyorgy, Gerardo Mosquero, Gao Mingli and a foreword by Martin Jay.)

There is a world of difference between a collection of
articles, loosely associated by some common themes, or, more frequently, the common interests of contributors, and a volume, in which every article is written as a chapter in accordance to a pre-conceived plan.

The former may include some brilliant pieces; the best articles may be xeroxed, quoted, distributed to … Read more

What do Architecture and Anthroposophy Have in Common?

Anna Sokolina, Ed. Arkhitektura i antroposofiia. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo KMK, 2001. 268 pages, 348 illustrations.

In her introduction to this pioneering Russian volume, Anna Sokolina notes that the anthroposophical movement, established by Rudolf Steiner, arose on the basis of dissatisfaction with an increasingly rationalistic, technological bias in approaches to society and culture at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Seeking to return modern culture to a holistic attitude toward human creativity and the environment, Steiner was particularly interested in the challenge of architecture–at once the shaper of the physical context and one of the preeminent forms of artistic endeavor.

Indeed, … Read more

The Century of the Avant-Garde

Ekaterina Dyogot: Russkoe Iskusstvo XX Veka (Russia 20th-Century Art). Moscow. Trilistnik, 2000 

Let me start with a warning: This is not a textbook. Anyone who turns to this book should have at least some idea of 20th-century Russian art and its major protagonists. Also, the title is suggestive: The book purports to write the history of art, not of artists. You won’t find biographical detail here or even an overview over the output of one artist at a time.

The book is not even a history in the sense that it tells a linear story of … Read more

Computing in Russia

Georg Trogemann et al. History of Computer Devices in Russia. Braunschweig: Vieweg, 2001 

2001 was the great moment of a space odyssey and a computer called “HAL.” For everyone who likes facts as much as fiction, the year also offered the book Computing in Russia.

Its proper subtitle could read: “Who is afraid of minicomputers that could easily fill your apartment?” Books that claim to grapple with computers while addressing a wide range of readers are not that uncommon. Soon most of them may even deserve the attribute “very sexy.”

Writing about the development of computers implies today … Read more

The Double Life of Art in Eastern Europe

Laura Hoptman – Tomáš Pospiszyl (eds.), Primary Documents: A Sourcebook for Eastern and Central European Art since the 1950s. New York, Museum of Modern Art, 2002

For a long time, art in East Central Europe has been placed on the periphery of interest of most academics in the West. The situation got even worse due to the political division of the world during the Cold War era.

Whereas postcolonial discourse crucially undermined the dominance of Western culture and changed the premises of both presentation and interpretation of visual art, Eastern European art and culture seems to lack exoticism and … Read more

Polish Conceptual Art

Pawel Polit, Piotr Wozniakiewicz (eds), Refleksja konceptualna w sztuce polskiej. Doswiadczenia dyskursu: 1965-1975/ Conceptual Reflection in Polish Art: Experiences of Discourse: 1965-1975. Essays by Alicja Kepinska, Andrzej Kostolowski, Pawel Polit; interviews with Andrzej Turowski and Jerzy Ludwinski. Centrum Sztuki Wspólczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski, Warszawa 2000/ Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw 2000. 280 pp., 162 black and white ills, bibliography; biographical entries; index of names. Text in Polish and English.

This bilingual publication, which in the words of its editor Pawel Polit, aims to “provide a synthetic overview of Polish conceptual art” twenty-five years after the period of its … Read more

Balkan as Metaphor

Balkan as Metaphor. Cambridge/Mass: MIT Press, 2003, 382pp. $29.95

Balkan as Metaphor introduces new theoretical and conceptual tools for theorizing and understanding the Balkans. The essays continue the intellectual tradition of deconstructing and problematizing the region, by foregrounding when and how the West became complicit in the discourse on the Balkans.

While the common leitmotiv of these essays is that the Balkan is an intellectual construct, loaded with multivalent ideological meanings, the main aim of this volume is twofold: To disappoint and impress the Western gaze. This is accomplished through dense, theoretical discussions that often, implicitly or explicitly use … Read more

East of Art: Transformations in Eastern Europe. Lectures.


Introductory remarks by Glenn Lowry, Director of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)

Laura Hoptman

Tomas Pospyszl

Roger L. Conover

The recently published book, Primary Documents, A Sourcebook for Eastern and Central European Art Since the 1950s, took several years to complete. The original idea came from Laura Hoptman, at that time a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Primary Documents became the first title in a series of books prepared by MoMA´s International Program. The main intention of this and forthcoming anthologies is to provide English speaking audiences with translations of seminal texts … Read more

The Other Europe

Dragan Kujundzic ed.: The Other Europe and the Translation of National Identity. Social Identities. vol. 7 No. 4 (December 2001)

The name of that alterity is “Europe”. Why is Europe a cargo? And what is exactly so precious about Europe? Why does writing a critique of Europe – a project of translating national identities – amount to protection and betrayal, not protection or betrayal?

The Other Europe as the writers in the collection invoke it is tinted both by a Benjaminian melancholy and by a spirit of experimentation. On the one hand, modern and contemporary European histories are rediscovered, and … Read more

Concrete Utopias

Angel Angelov. Konkretni utopii. Proektite na Kristo (Concrete Utopias. The Projections of Christo). 119 pages, Sofia (Bulgaria): Open Society 1997.  

As evident from the title, in his book Angel Angelov argues that many of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s projects, along with the events surrounding them, constitute concrete utopias. The aesthetic discourse defining such utopias is intended not to criticize and reject the existing social reality, but to affirm it in alternative ways. In this way the aesthetic fulfills its utopian function of being an alternative of the social status quo. Not the artists alone, but whole segments of … Read more

These Three Authors…

Küpper, Stephan. Autorstrategien im Moskauer Konzeptualismus. Il’ja Kabakov, Lev Rubinshtejn, Dmitrij A. Prigov (Berliner Slawistische Arbeiten 11). Frankfurt a.M. e.a., 207 p. 

Stephan Küpper (Berlin) examines the problems of authorship using the examples of three contemporary Moscow concept artists: the image and text artist Kabakov, and the two text artists Rubinshtein and Prigov.

As befits a work on authorship, the book itself is a reflection on the mechanisms of one’s own dominance of a presented text. Thus, the problems of authorship are reflected on one hand formally: the table of contents does without numeration and thus hierarchization of the parts … Read more

Metonymical Mov(i)es

Lev Manovich: The Language of New Media. MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts / London, England 2001. $34.95, 7×9, 354 pages, ISBN 0-262-13374-1

Upon reading Lautréamonts Chants de Maldoror (1869) surrealist king pin André Breton took over the author’s famous words “beautiful as the unexpected meeting, on a dissection table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella”, thus coining the Surrealist aesthetic of jarring juxtapositions.

Almost as beautiful as Breton’s observation was another unexpected meeting taking place some years later, namely, the use of punched 35mm movie film in order to control computer programs in the world’s first working digital computer … Read more

And the Winner Is…

Mikhail Berg, Literaturokratiia: Problema prisvoeniia I pereraspredeleniia vlasti v literature (Literaturocracy: Problems of Appropriation and Redistribution of Power in Literature). Moscow: NLO, 2000. 352 pages.

A colleague of mine once confronted me with a strange question: In terms of success and posterity, who did I think was the winner: Bakhtin or Academician Viktor Vinogradov?

In spite of the question’s absurdity, both of us seemed to understand perfectly well what it was about. In this imaginary literary race, my friend was betting on Bakhtin, whose speech genre theory gave him a life after death in worldwide recognition.

Purely out … Read more

Boris Groys’ “Under Suspicion”

Boris Groys: Unter Verdacht. Eine Phänomenologie der Medien. Munich: Hanser 2000, 232 pp.

“Nothing is itself”, declares Rilke in the fourth Duino Elegy. For Rilke, this sentence is less an ontological stocktaking than an incentive to seek a poetical form to be able to express the “authentic”.

If this sentence were to be the header for Boris Groys’ new book Unter Verdacht (Under Suspicion), it would serve more as an expression of an irrefutable hunch that something else is concealed behind everything than as a description of a state. Groys calls this hunch “suspicion”.

Everything that presents itself as a … Read more

Out Looking In

Jan Cavanaugh, Out Looking In: Early Modern Polish Art, 1890 – 1918, University of California Press: Berkeley 2000.

Having read Jan Cavanaugh’s Out Looking In, two different opinions are called to mind. In defense of the impressionists, whose works had been widely attacked, Emile Zola claimed in 1877, “The artists ought to find poetry in the stations as their fathers found it in the forest and fields.”

Promoting modern French art in Poland, painter and art critic Stanislaw Witkiewicz argued in 1884 that it is quite insignificant whether a work depicts Jan Zamoyski’s victory over Prince Maximilian or … Read more