The postsocialist contemporary

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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