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Confrontations: Sessions in East European Art History

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Breaking the Rope

MajaFowkes5 November 2019

Picking up the threads of the conversations about East European art history from the first session of Confrontations, the focus of the initial seminar at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague was on attempts to locate East European art within global art history. This entailed discussing the legacy for East European art of the tripartite division of the Cold War, the relation of East European art to other global non-Western art regions and collectively analysing methodologies and curatorial approaches to reframing East European artistic identity three decades after the fall of communism.

Taking sides on the issues of whether belonging to the Second World during the Cold War was a privileged position for East European art, is East European art closer to the Euro-American axis or to the art histories of the global South, and how relevant is the decolonial project for the region, again saw the engagement of participants in a symbolic Tug of Art History. The impassioned position-taking on art historical dilemmas this time ended up breaking the rope.

Discussions that arose confronted the theorisation of decoloniality with the actual situation on the ground of East European art history. There were calls to pluralise decolonialisms, warnings about the dangers that the decolonial project could turn into nationalism and a desire expressed for political, ethical and microhistorical approaches that would allow for other narratives to emerge.

(Maja & Reuben Fowkes)

Speculative Futures

MajaFowkes5 November 2019

An open seminar at the Academy of Fine Arts set out to bring together feminist, post-socialist and decolonial perspectives on post-war national art collections, with a particular focus on the case of the National Gallery in Prague. Participants in the panel included Daniela Kramerová, who had been involved in preparing a far advanced proposal for rehanging the modern and contemporary collection of the gallery that was eventually cancelled. She used the opportunity to present her working version in public and disclose the curatorial processes behind such a task, as well as the pressure exerted by the museum management. Julia Bailey, as a representative of the National Gallery, shared her delicate perspective as a non-native curator working on the Czech national collection, as well as attempts to bring in international experience of diversifying arts funding. Karina Kottová represented the views of the collectively founded Feminist Art Institution, encouraging the audience to imagine what a feminist approach would mean in terms of the praxis of the National Gallery, while also extending solidarity to unrepresented groups within the national canon, such as Roma artists. Finally Jan Skřivánek also contributed to the discussion of how to incorporate diverse art practise into museum collections and offer new interpretations of Czech art history through non-traditional exhibition displays.

(Maja & Reuben Fowkes)

The panel discussion ‘Questioning the National Collection’ demonstrated the difficulties and to some extent the failure to establish a discourse or narration of the post war period. It became obvious that the shadows of the present are overlapping with the past and vice versa. Once again, this panel discussion revealed the process of constructing history and history as a construction. It also showed that the construction of history reflects much more the present and its actual debates. Therefore, it draws much more a picture of the present than of the past.

(Constanze Fritzsch)