Decentering Art of the Former East
Astoria Room, 3rd Floor
Thu, Feb 13, 2014 (12:30 PM - 02:00 PM)
Masha Chlenova, The Museum of Modern Art
Kristin Romberg, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Whether conceptualized in terms of a periphery or a center of an alternative modernity, narratives of Russian and Eastern European art have long been organized around a binary of “East” and “West” shaped by both art history’s disciplinary biases and the politics of the Cold War and Fall of Communism. This panel takes Partha Mitter’s argument of 2008 as a point of departure in order to rethink how art of these regions might be understood in an increasingly global art history. How can we reconsider the default evaluation that western references to the Russian avant-garde are art-historically savvy, while Russian and Eastern European references to internationally known practices are derivative? What is the difference between naïve appropriation and creative misreading, and to what extent are these procedures fundamental to the work of stably central figures of Western European and North American art? Can the widespread opposition between a western artistic “center” and eastern “periphery” be productively undermined not through the lens of nationalism, but through those of global modernism and art history? What do the critical lenses developed in the process of working on Russian and Eastern European topics reveal about “western” art, global art, or art history as a discipline?
Transnational Modernism in Interwar Tokyo: Bedřich Feuerstein and the New Soviet Embassy
Waseda University, Tokyo
This presentation uses transnational and network theories to think through the yet unpublished narrative of stage designer and architect Bedřich Feuerstein. In the early 1920s Feuerstein created the first stage design for Karel Čapek’s play Rossum’s Universal Robots. In 1926 he left for Japan to work with Czech-American architect Antonin Raymond. Among the projects he designed in Raymond’s office was the new Soviet embassy building, realised in 1930. This talk explores Feuerstein and his team’s attempt to materialize a Soviet ethos in modern Tokyo as an example of his contribution to Japanese modernist architecture. Feuerstein’s progressive stage design provides an entryway into an elegant transnational style shaped by his exposure to Czech, French, Japanese, American, and Soviet modernist vocabularies.
Collective Actions’ Theory of Empty Action
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Some of the most sustained late-Soviet meditations on the condition of being decentered were the minimal outdoor actions staged on the edges of the city between 1976 and 1989 by the Moscow Conceptualist performance art group Collective Actions. Drawing on diverse philosophical and artistic sources, the group developed a theory of “empty action” that invited viewers to contemplate their own looking and shifted the object of spectatorship from the immediate event to an expanded field of documentation and discussion. This paper examines Collective Actions’ theory of empty action and its recursive notion of continual engagement and continual deferral as a model of a de-centered art history. Grounded in the specific trajectories of objects and actions, it nonetheless remains receptive to eclectic influences, multiple lines of interpretation, and the potential of re-reading in light of subsequent events.
Performing the “Picture”: Appropriation, Embodiment, and Critique in Eastern Europe
OCAD University, Toronto
In 1977, Douglas Crimp curated Pictures at New York’s Artists Space, an iconic exhibition that featured the work of American artists like Sherrie Levine. This paper explores whether the historically specific postmodernist trope of the “picture” had any meaning in Eastern Europe. Through a discussion of the work of Collective Actions, Milan Kunc, IRWIN, Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid, and Adrian Kovacs, the paper puts pressure on readymade interpretations, destabilizing critical binaries such as East/West, action/image, repetition/difference, presence/absence, engagement/complicity, and melodrama/critique. Critiques of consumer culture and authorship had complicated connotations for artists living under communism. This paper shows how these artists developed more performative approaches to the images they sourced from political, national, and religious contexts. It thus also situates the “picture” in the largely neglected context of performance-based practice.