“I Lived without Seeing These Art Works”: (Albanian) Socialist Realism and/against Contemporary Art
This article looks closely at the inclusion of Albanian Socialist Realism in one of renowned Swiss curator Harald Szeemann’s last exhibitions, Blood & Honey: The Future’s in the Balkans (Essl Museum, Vienna, 2003). In this exhibition, Szeemann installed a group of around 40 busts created during the socialist era in Albania, which he had seen installed at the National Gallery of Arts in Tirana. This installation of sculptures was part of an exhibition entitled Homo Socialisticus, curated by Gëzim Qëndro, and Szeemann deployed it as a generalized foil for “subversive” postsocialist contemporary art included in Blood & Honey. The Homo Socialisticus sculptures occupied a prominent place in the exhibition both spatially and rhetorically, and this article examines how we might read Blood & Honey—and the socialist past in general—through Szeemann’s problematic incorporation of this collection of works in one of the key Balkans-oriented exhibitions staged in the early 2000s. The article argues that understanding how Szeemann misread—and discursively oversimplified—Albanian Socialist Realism can help us see not only the continued provincialization of Albania in the contemporary global art world, but more importantly the fundamental misunderstanding of Socialist Realism as a historical phenomenon and a precursor to contemporary geopolitical cultural configurations.
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