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Non-Conformist Art in Communist Eastern Europe

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In the 1960s and 1970s many artists in the U.S. complained about the 'tyranny' of depoliticized abstract art that allowed little space for using art in the fight for human rights. At the same time, in a large part of Eastern Europe, abstract art could be understood as a form of cultural opposition to a system that radically restricted human and civil rights. After Stalinist policy that propagated the exclusivity of socialist realism, Post-Stalinist regimes with more diverse cultural political profiles emerged with varying degrees of tolerance towards modernism and the neo-avantgarde greatly. The aim of this module is to compare the art scenes of Eastern Europe under Communism, with a special focus on the divergent manifestations of non-conformist art. Students will discover how and why certain artistic practices were labelled undesirable and harmful in one country and under what conditions the same practices were allowed to be followed in another.





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In-class or short-term assignments
1) Find an example of an artwork that was banned or censored in socialist-era Eastern Europe because of its form, and not its content. What artistic movements were most likely to run into political controversy, and why?

2) Looking through the featured items in the registry, find at least 3 examples of artistic performances or "happenings" from the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s. Did these take place in public or private space? What evidence do we have that they took place?

3) Think about the role of cultural institutions like museums, galleries, and art collectors in the production, reproduction, curation, and preservation of artwork. How did nonconformist artists and those in their circles recreate these institutions underground? When did they make use of state-sponsored institutions?
Offsite, longer-term assignments
Research project: visit a local GLAM (gallery, library, archive, or museum) institution with an established presence in your community. It is important that it has been around for at least a few decades. See if you can discover any incident where an artwork or exhibition led to a political or cultural controversy. What was the nature of this controversy? Was it based on the content of the artwork, or the biography of the artist? What was the institution's reaction? What longer-term impact did the controversy have on the artwork, exhibition, institution, or artist? Think about the nature of non-conformism in the history of art, and how it affects our interpretation of artistic movements today.


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