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The institutionalization of artistic practice in Eastern Europe after 1989
Author: Octavian Esanu

The postsocialist contemporary intervenes, from the historical perspective of Eastern Europe, in a wider conversation about “contemporary art.” It departs from, and revolves around, a concrete case in which a program called “for contemporary art” was assembled on the debris of the Berlin Wall by the Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros. The Soros Centers for Contemporary Art (SCCA) was a network of twenty art centers active during the 1990s in Eastern Europe. The book argues that this program played an important role in the actualization of the paradigm of contemporary art in the former bloc. The main goal of this study, however, is not to recreate the narrative but to take this Soros-funded art infrastructure as a critical point of inquiry in order to engage with key permutations occurring in art during the transition to capitalism. The book argues that with the implementation of Western art institutional models and norms by Soros, and other players after 1989, a radical departure takes place in the art of this region: a departure from an art that (officially at least) provided symbolic empowerment to the masses, toward an art that affirms the interests, needs, desires, and “freedom” of the private individual acting within the boundaries of the bourgeois civil society and the market. The book considers the “postsocialist contemporary” in a broader context of late twentieth-century political, economic, and cultural processes of (neo) liberalization, promoting and encouraging more critical historical materialist examinations of “contemporary art” – the dominant aesthetic paradigm of late-capitalist market democracy.

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How Eastern Europe got the idea of contemporary art
Octavian Esanu

institutional context and history of the SCCA network. And even though the chapter does not aim at building a historical reconstruction of the Soros contemporary – given its diverse complexity – a general outline of the narrative is still necessary in order to proceed (in the next chapters) to examine the structural transformations linked to this phenomenon. The chapter is divided into four parts, starting with a general overview of the network's values, objectives, and achievements; a concise discussion of the Soros Fine Art Documentation Center that served as a blueprint

in The postsocialist contemporary
The aesthetics of problem-solving
Octavian Esanu

woven in the OSI offices of New York and Budapest, with help from leading American museum curators and/or academics researching Eastern European modernisms, and from expat art journalists reporting for Western magazines about art in Eastern Europe. The postsocialist or Soros contemporary had a clear managerial agenda, and a set of well-defined, normative instructions (as in the SCCA Procedures Manual), but it lacked an aesthetic, critical, or artistic program; there was no explicit aesthetic philosophy or any manifesto proclaiming the principles of contemporary art

in The postsocialist contemporary
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Octavian Esanu

conceived as a contribution to the recent debates on “what is [or ‘was’] contemporary art” offered from the perspective of postsocialism. The actual subject of study is what I call the “postsocialist contemporary,” which I also occasionally refer to as the “Soros contemporary” or “Sorosart” (the latter is a term widely used inside and outside the SCCA network in the 1990s). 1 For the book title, however, I opted for the “postsocialist contemporary” only because, as will soon be

in The postsocialist contemporary
The introduction of the curatorial function
Octavian Esanu

well-guarded category of “the nation.” Only a few years before, some of the major projects within Soros's contemporary art network had been drawn precisely along national lines, as witnessed in such mid- to late 1990s SCCA annual exhibitions as Estonia as a Sign (SCCA-Tallinn, 1996); Monument and State (SCCA-Riga, 1994, 1995); Mesaje de la Tzara (SCCA-Chișinău, 1997); Ars ex Natio: Made in BG (SCA-Sofia, 1997), to mention a few. During the 1990s, the Soros contemporary – and this is especially the case for those SCCAs operating within the post

in The postsocialist contemporary
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The ideological bedrock of the postsocialist contemporary
Octavian Esanu

though its main focus is art and politics in the days of the Soros contemporary, I also seek to understand antipolitics as part of the longer durée of really-existing socialism. The first section examines “antipolitics” in more general terms, showing how this concept is understood and applied today in the political and social sciences and in twenty-first-century debates on contemporary art. Then, the next section – “SCCAs – As Antipolitics Machines: Polyphony , 1993” – returns to the main protagonist, the “SCCA network,” in order to discuss concrete instances of the

in The postsocialist contemporary
Octavian Esanu

Soros group. To speak of democracy and pluralism is nonsense.”  26 The question of the relation between democracy and contemporary art is certainly one other major thread in the discourse of the postsocialist contemporary. This thread is especially prominent when contemporary art is posited as the art of the open society (or of liberal democracy). This equation has served as the ideological foundation of the Soros contemporary. Some critics even saw in the

in The postsocialist contemporary