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Confrontations: Sessions in East European Art History



Introducing Syzygia

By confrontations, on 5 November 2019

We were joined by two members of the Syzygia group, Rudolf Sikora and Gabriel Hošovský, for a working dinner to reflect on the intergenerational and cooperative spirit of the Bratislava art scene at the end of the 1980s. Founded in 1986 by four younger artists and Sikora, the name Syzýgia derived from the astronomical term for contradictory phenomena, which stood here for the local conflict between modernist and postmodernist outlooks. Standing up against ideological control, their shows, originally held in the older artists’ studios, offered a neo-conceptualist riposte to the neo-expressionist trend in painting. Although the group stopped exhibiting together shortly after the revolution of 1989, their collaborative achievements are documented in a bilingual catalogue, which the editor Lýdia Pribišová introduced to the Confrontations participants.


Slovak Lessons in Late Socialism

By confrontations, on 5 November 2019

Guest lectures by Slovak art historian Ján Kralovič and curator Mira Keratová gave the group the opportunity to become immersed in the specificities of the art histories of the late 1970s and 1980s in Bratislava and the life and work of artists whose careers traversed the period from Normalisation to the Velvet Revolution.

Mira Keratová focused in her presentation on Ján Budaj, an artist whose attempts to cross closed international borders brought him into contact with the secret police, religious groups and alternative communities in Slovakia and abroad. She also shed light on his influential role in the Velvet Revolution as a leading figure in the environmental and civic protest movements of the 1980s, including as a producer of samizdat publications and initiator of the group Temporary Society of Intense Experience.

Ján Kralovič took the group on a virtual journey from the 1970s to the 1980s in the alternative scene of Bratislava, sharing with us rare images of the ephemeral exhibition spaces set up in the homes of artists. The questions raised by the Confrontations participants included how official attitudes to rebellious artist collectives and non-official spaces changed between the 1970s and 1980s, with Kralovič pointing to 1986 as the threshold year, after which there was no longer a compulsion for experimental artists to take shelter from the authorities in under-the-radar apartment galleries.