Category: ARTMargins Online: Book Reviews

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

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