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.
The ideological bedrock of the postsocialist contemporary
developed during late socialism – in its “reticence as dissidence” (to quote from the subtitle of Klara Kemp-Welch's book on antipolitics, discussed later in the chapter)
– but that it must also be regarded as the most significant ideological base for the construction of the postsocialistcontemporary after 1989. It was antipolitics, as practiced in Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia – and also earlier, and under very different conditions, in Moscow, in the context of post-Stalinist cultural and political wars (which
This chapter is intended as a conclusion to a book that attempts to historicize the dominant institutional paradigm in post-1989 Eastern European art. Here the postsocialistcontemporary will pass through three prisms. The first one considers the overall impact of the Soros art centers. But the book refuses to remain fixated on a “story of art” – that is, on protonarratives of this particular network and anecdotes about its players – aspiring instead to catch a glimpse of the Narrative of history, in the age of global networks of capital and
The PostsocialistContemporary intervenes, from the perspective of Eastern Europe, in a wider conversation about contemporary art. It departs from, and revolves around, a concrete historical case in which a program specifically dedicated to “contemporary art” was quickly 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, which – as this book argues – has played an
important new features of contemporary art, standing for “Post-Communist, Politically Correct and, to some extent, a Personal Computer artculture”
(and we can add a few more: “Postnational Condition,” “PostsocialistContemporary,” and “Post-Colonialism”). “Post-Communism” is certainly the most important PC here, acting as a “quilting signifier” in the new process of postsocialist signification, in relation for example to nostalgia (or ostalgie ) – that is, the aesthetic longing for things and images of the communist
(and in this respect alone the latter was certainly the very opposite of the prescriptive nature of socialist realism).
The main goal of this chapter is to sketch the outlines of the ideologemes that compose the aesthetic ideology that perhaps operated in the background of the postsocialistcontemporary. I use the term “ideologeme” in Fredric Jameson's terms, as “the smallest intelligible unit of the essentially antagonistic collective discourses of social classes.” It is a building block of collective beliefs, protonarratives, and other
How Eastern Europe got the idea of contemporary art
as an institutional infrastructure of the “open society.”
A second way by which the postsocialistcontemporary emerged east and south of Budapest could be described as a kind of immaculate conception. In some postsocialist cultural capitals (and here I draw primarily on the case of SCCA-Chişinău, with which I am most familiar, but whose conditions I encountered in other artistic scenes),
contemporary art was born as if by