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Confrontations: Sessions in East European Art History

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Setting the Confrontations Agenda

29 April 2019

The first session of Confrontations kicked off with a circle of introductions of this select group of scholars of East European art history, coming together at the beginning of an ambitious programme of collective research. Hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, the first gathering was an opportunity to introduce the agenda of Confrontations over the coming years, with the aim to uncover the contested histories of the art of the first and last decades of the socialist period across the diverse art scenes of Eastern Europe.   Anticipating from the outset the complexity and potential irreconcilability of certain positions in contested art historical evaluations, the participants were invited to confront their views through a symbolic Tug of Art History. The question that saw the group take the most opposing positions indicatively was whether abstract art could be seen as a propaganda tool of the socialist state. Intended as a gesture to establish a safe environment for the expression of discordant points of view, this group exercise was also an indication of the objective of Confrontations to activate the potential of ‘sensuous scholarship’ through an embodied art history in which researchers are immersed in direct experiences, exchanges and encounters with the objects of study in situ.        The first group seminar vividly illustrated the plurality and wealth of approaches in response to the task of proposing their own working definition of East European art history. As we went around the table, it was clear that everyone had interpreted the brief set out in advance by the convenors of Confrontations differently. In that sense, attempts to define our research area ranged from historicising the question of East European art, either relegating it to the pre-1989 state-socialist period or conceiving it as a post-1989 construct, to putting forward theoretical or linguistic distillations of the field. Also voiced was the notion that focusing on Eastern European art could be a strategic choice, in terms of pursuing particular ethical or decolonising agendas with regard to art history.

(MRF)

Pluralising Yugoslav Art

29 April 2019

A constitutive element of the Confrontations sessions are peer seminars at which the members succinctly present their research related to the particular focus of the programme and then respond to questions and comments from the others. The first such seminar was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb and was focused on the uneven terrains of Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav art history, with presentations by Ivana Bago on What is Yugoslav Art?, Asja Mandić on The Centre-Periphery Relations in Socialist Yugoslavia: Multiple Art Histories and Sandra Bradvić on Jugoslovenska dokumenta (Sarajevo, 1984-1989): From ‘off-space’ to ‘big-scale-exhibition’.Much discussion ensued over the relation between Yugoslav art history and that of the individual countries of the former socialist federation, and how to evaluate moves during the post-communist period to assimilate Yugoslav art to a wider East European account. Productive debate was also sparked over how the narrative of Yugoslav art history could be pluralised to include artists and communities who were excluded from the celebrated ‘second line’ traced in canonical accounts from EXAT51 through New Tendencies, Gorgona and the New Art Practice to the post-avant-garde formations of the 1980s.
(MRF)

No SR in the MSU

29 April 2019

In light of our discussions, it was extremely instructive to have a tour of the incomparable MSU collection from curator and co-author of the display Tihomir Milovac. He shared his methodology of developing a ‘collection in motion,’ and the intricacies of approaches to abstraction in the oeuvre of EXAT51 artists and the Gorgona group.


He also sympathetically fielded critical observations on particular curatorial / institutional decisions about how to represent the art of socialist times, such as why there is no Socialist Realism on display. The diplomatic response was that the museum takes 1950 as a cut-off point and that the Gallery of Contemporary Art was founded and began collecting only in 1954, so had no interest in acquiring works in this style.
Curator Jasna Jakšić offered further illumination of the research possibilities of the collection and was of invaluable assistance in organising our time in the museum. Direct encounters with the artworks and their museological presentation created a rigorous setting for discussions and it was refreshing – and paradigm-expanding – to follow an alternative route around the collection that gravitated towards those art historical episodes that preceded and followed the heights of new art practice in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
(MRF)