The Obscure Object of Desire

Is there any place for Eastern Europe on the Map of World Art or Global Art (History)?

Dedicated to the memory of Romanian art historian Ada Hajdu a committed advocate of regional art history writing.

Société Realiste, MA: Culture States: Greater Europe, 2008
Courtesy of the artists, acb Gallery Budapest and Galerie Galerie Jérôme Poggi, Paris

Naming matters

The name of the region that is located  on the margins of Europe has been constantly described by ever-changing adjectives to distinguish it from the “real Europe,” despite their physical closeness (especially on a global scale) This geo-political area is caught between dominant political powers (and ideologies), and is labelled with slightly different meanings: Eastern Europe, East(ern) Bloc, Central Europe, Central/and Eastern Europe and most recently as East-Central Europe, or “New Europe” in relation to the European Union. As for the geographical extent of the region, it contains “countries that run from Baltic Sea down to the Adriatic and Black Sea, between the much larger, historically imperial Russia and Turkey in the east, and Prussian and Austrian Germany in the west. These small countries constitute East Central Europe…”[1]

Naming matters; definitely in this part of the world. The implicit assessment of formation, position, and status on the global playground of world politics and culture comes with naming. Indeed, naming has always been a major concern for the inhabitants of a territory, who developed a sensitivity towards nuances inscribed into actual and used names. The borders of the geopolitical unit I focus on here have also been constantly redrawn along states that, at various points in history, were incorporated or excluded from the amoeba-like conglomerate. As for the chronopolitics, the division within Europe is not that self-evident either. Not only the time of center and its periphery—mostly understood as West and East— differs significantly from each other, but also the East-East time is dissimilar: with the end of one historical-political formation, new successor states emerged in the very place of the collapsed one.

The subtitle of John Connelly’s recent publication From Peoples into Nations is “A History of Eastern Europe.” The renowned author is seemingly unfazed by the naming differentials, as he simultaneously uses different names (“Eastern Europe,” “East Central Europe,” “Central Europe,” “Central and Eastern Europe,” the “East European states”) in the introduction. Only on Page 25 is Connelly compelled to give some explanation; “This book uses ‘Eastern Europe’ interchangeably with ‘East Central Europe’ to cut down verbiage, but also because both terms are understood to refer to a band of countries that were Soviet satellites not in control of their own destinies. It denotes not so much a space on the map as shared experience, such that people from opposite ends of the region, despite all cultural and linguistic differences, employ a common narrative about the past.”[2] The Soviet Union, or Russia, is absent from this typology. One can infer that besides stylistic necessities, the author’s decision to interchange one adjective for the other may reflect the decisive aim of the book; to detach itself from the negative stereotypes and connotations stuck to labels, particularly to Eastern Europe. However, it is very much telling that in a footnote in his text, referring to the varied usage of naming to denote the nations of the former Soviet Bloc in synthetic literature, native or emigrant scholars tend to avoid the term “Eastern Europe” due to its uneasy associations (it is mostly applied by natives to the Soviet Union and Russia). They try to differentiate this region within the larger context, preferring to use the terms “East Central Europe” or “Eastern and Central Europe.”[3] This counter position is in line with the reception of the publication at Connelly’s book launch in February 2020 at the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary.[4] The author firmly advocated for the recognition of eastern parts of Europe as a region with an “unusual sensitivity to history,” where “more history is produced and more intensely” than in any other places, despite the accusation levelled by native residents who claim that the regional narrative is just a creation of outsiders.

Indeed, an investigation of historical discourses of the area reveal nuanced geopolitical issues determining the nuanced naming used. In the Soviet era, the names “Central Europe” or “Central Eastern Europe” were used as a means of distinguishing the grey zone behind the Iron Curtain, and in order to be differentiated from the Soviets. In contrast, at Connelly’s book launch, the comments of the audience claimed, “we are all Europeans”; declaring that the nation is not drawn by borders but by language and culture.[5] The polarized usage and understanding of this region’s name demonstrates the extent of contested meaning, interpretations with temporal fluctuations and which matter as questions of identity for the inhabitants of this territory.

What is the most intriguing and convincing account in Connelly’s regional perspective is that he avoids engaging in a hierarchical, value-laden structure. He successfully detaches himself from the Western imagination that attributes too much and unique suffering into this region, particularly the name “Eastern Europe”. Connelly rather insists that it is the dramatic and unsettling history that unites these nation states; that the region’s uniqueness comes from the space “where more of the twentieth century happened—for good and for bad—than anywhere else on the planet.”[6]

Société Réaliste, UN Camouflage (2012-13), Installation view at the exhibition Private Nationalism at the Kiscell Museum – Municipal Gallery, Budapest 2015. Photo: Gábor Varga
Using a pattern software, Société Réaliste has systematically converted national flags of the United Nations member states into camouflage patterns, while respecting the original color tones and proportions. The result is a collection of 193 camoufl age flags.
Courtesy of the artists, acb Gallery Budapest and Galerie Galerie Jérôme Poggi, Paris

How to Write Art History: National, Regional or Global?

If history writing is bound to the shifting designation of the territory it encompasses, the question is whether art history writing could rise above and escape these conditions.  To put it differently, the question is also of scale: what framework to apply—national, regional or global—, and to understand why these frameworks alternate over time. Does the choice of framework change parallel with history or with the flow of the discipline (and if so, is the move voluntary or coerced)? Or, is art history better off adhering to the hypothesis that geo-political framing is indifferent to the discipline? 

In 2007, just months before the economic crisis and downturn, the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA) conference in Budapest addressed the issue of How to Write Art History -–National, Regional ,or Global?[7] Only a few participants reflected on the disciplinary (theoretical, methodological or strategical) aspects of this theme, and most of them—business as usual—spoke about their own specific research or case-studies within frameworks aligned with their specializations, using the terminology in quite a different sense. For some, “region” was conceived as a larger territory within an empire or country,[8] while in others, the regional context was completely denied as valid. In others, “regional” and “global” were used almost as synonyms, simply in opposition to the delineated “national” or nation state.[9] 

Art historian Éva Forgács tackles the topic of the CIHA conference seriously and insightfully in her 2008 paper.[10] When addressing the emerging global perspective, Forgács offers an illuminating metaphor

the ‘global eye’ is positioned high above; it scans that which is visible from a    great distance, but cannot fathom the reality on the ground including the deeper layers even the areas of high visibility. In other words, the global viewpoint ignores history, as the temporal dimension is not visible from above. The reality on the ground, no matter how informed of the global, is local: with specific details, history, inner dynamic, and personal relationships that often materialize in conceptual differences or conflicts of artistic, philosophical and political views.[11]

For the enquiry “whose gaze is the ‘global gaze’?” she delivers a compelling, bold and clear reply: the “eye of the West.”[12] One cannot agree with her more on this account, even though there are different explanations available for this imbalance. As for the reason for the invisibility of “reality on the ground,” Forgács indicts local art history, accusing the discipline of lacking a strong and valid local narrative.[13] The criticism is justified, for example the terminology applied to Hungarian modern art “has been credited to, and interpreted in the terms of the Western narrative.”[14] Certainly, when artists or art did not fit the sterile Western constructs, “composite terms were coined in order to squeeze Hungarian art into the master narrative of Western art, rather than describing it in a vocabulary that befits the works.”[15] That this constraint was raised at the 2007 CIHA conference does indicate a desire to find a new verbal vocabulary; one different from the consensual Western one. This task, however, is not that easily completed, so the problem still exists. After all, eloquent descriptions of local artists and artworks which omit consensual terminology (clear or hybrid), do not really do the job. One cannot help but question whether the existence of a specific, local vocabulary would be able to correct at all the imbalance. Why would the “high above,” global perspective be different when observing the local art scenes or local art history narratives even with distinct terminology? Is it not, rather, the same ignorance and effort to maintain dominance despite or beside globalization, that operates the system? I am pondering if it has anything to do with Eastern Europe’s native scholars’ consistent efforts to define the gap which aim to shed light on the “similar yet not the same,” on the “almost but not quite” nature of the art[16] of the “close other,”[17] or whether the case is something else and we have to reverse our perspective.

Who Writes Art History and What Kind?

After the collapse of the Socialist system and the end of the Cold War, the former division of the global political order disintegrated. In the midst of rapidly accelerated cultural change, globalization, and a technological and digital revolution, the revision of the Europe-centric canon of art could not be more urgent. The fervent wave critiquing the Western canon and narrative—for imposition and framing of other parts of the world—coincided with the competitive opportunity to attain a central place (or better position) in the newly formed canon, in the new narratives of revised art histories. This process has been repeated on a smaller scale across the world, as dominant local art history narratives are challenged by new forces that fail to fit in the previous constraints. For example, behind the former Iron Curtain, ex-Soviet satellite countries eagerly embarked on rewriting their local (art) histories beyond the Soviet doctrines. Power struggles are inherent to canon formation on both a global and a local level. In promoting new ideas sufficient to the new world order, hidden world-mapping aspirations are conceptualized. Thus, contemporaneity (and the existence of multiple temporalities) has become a collateral theory of globalization,[18] growing out of the frustration over the discrepancy that if the space extended, it could not be the West alone where time mattered. However, such concept of contemporaneity proved to be unable to offer tools to approach the past. And even in the present characterized by biennials all over the world and the network of globe-trotting artists and curators operating outside borders, contemporaneity cannot satisfy local cultures, as the concept advocates non-time; flattened and obliterated specificities of different cultures and that registers difference neither in time nor culture.[19] The accelerating, feverish movement to formulate new conceptual frames for art and art history led to the phenomenon of global art (history) or world art (history).[20] This historiographical approach gave rise to encyclopedic compilations and impositions of Western values on the art of faraway regions. It came at the price of overlooking local languages and artefacts that fell behind the terrain perceptible to English value systems, the present lingua franca reframing all art for Western consumption and understanding.[21] With a new balance of power, museums also fought the hustle to maintain their leading voices and positioning, adamant that they should remain important institutions in the new formation of the art history canon and narrative.

Société Realiste, MA: Culture States: Superimposition of political frontiers at the turn of each century between year 0 and year 2000 on the European peninsula and its surroundings  digital print, 200 x 120 cm, 2009.
Courtesy of the artists, acb Gallery Budapest and Galerie Galerie Jérôme Poggi, Paris

Are We Already in the Promised Land of Counter-Geography and an Inclusive Canon?

What follows is a reflection on some aspects of a recent academic essay by Cultural Studies scholars Miriam Oesterreich and Kristian Handberg, investigating the issue of altering the canon, the rewriting of art histories in regions primarily considered peripheral in the modernist paradigm through exhibitions and curatorial practices.[22]  The reflection attempts to tackle questions of eliminated and/or existing divisions and hierarchies between East-West and South. In this paper I examine the repeated patterns, misreadings, blind-spots, and hidden biases that are inherent in Western art history writing (in curating exhibitions and in academic writings) even if handled with the best intentions and with a strong assertion about inclusivity and revision of canonized art history.

One of the exhibitions analyzed by Oesterreich and Handberg, is Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960–1980 at MoMA in 2015–16. The authors compare the exhibition to Ostalgia, shown at the New Museum in New York in 2011. Oesterreich and Handberg use this comparison to inquire how current art historical canons are defined, questioning who has the power to do so, and how rethinking of traditionally-understood centers and peripheries is conveyed by museum exhibitions. The authors use the MoMA exhibition to highlight a significant revision in the roles traditionally attributed to Latin America and Eastern Europe; suggesting that Latin America was relegated to a non-canonical status in modernist discourses — characterized by belatedness, exoticism, figurative and non-intellectual communications.  In comparison to the Abstract Expressionism of the postwar era it was considered over-politicized.[23] Eastern Europe emerges better off in this comparison, as the authors claim that as a “close other,” its art was “relatively smoothly accepted into art institutions and international history of abstraction up until the Cold War.”[24] From a local perspective, this claim holds true, though at its best for émigré artists—whose origins could be connected to the ”Eastern” part of Europe but whose art was advanced in other parts of the world.[25] In the postwar era, as narrated, the East-West dichotomy was built up around the notions of state-doctrines of the figurative Socialist Realism, while the abstract Western art embodied individuality and autonomy. The concluding argument made by Oesterreich and Handberg suggests “the East-West dichotomy and the notion of periphery is resilient in Western exhibitions,” to the account of which the infamous Ostalgia exhibition is offered as an extreme example.[26] I argue that this exhibition was not about center-periphery relations, but rather reaffirmed Cold War stereotypes about the region, regardless of the fact that in this case it was done not through official but unofficial art.[27] Particularly telling is the fact that the analysis of the exhibition—shown almost a decade ago—in Oesterreich and Handberg’s essay, uses exclusively Western European sources, or, to be more precise, reviews published in canonical, authoritative periodicals and books.[28] At the same time, analytical reviews published in well-established journals covering the region or later published in books focusing on the region (written in English) and on its theoretical and curatorial practices were altogether overlooked in this comprehensive essay.[29] Most probably these writings could reach the threshold of stimuli only after being republished in highly visible authoritative sources— such as MoMA’s publications—which justify the writings’ claims and as such are available for considerations.[30] 

The Ostalgia exhibition served as a “bad guy” in Oesterreich and Handberg’s comparison against the MoMA exhibition Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960–1980. The revisionist and truly decent curatorial aim of the latter exhibition, openly “challenging established art historical narratives in the West and frameworks created by the Cold War” was taken for granted in the essay of Oesterreich and Handberg and was praised accordingly.[31] Therefore, it is the MoMA show which is celebrated for staging counter-geographies and canonical alternatives; enlarging and making the canon with greater inclusivity. The authors even coined the name “alter-canon” to label the outcome of the exhibition, which “goes beyond the established art historiography.”[32] 

However, the question arises as to what degree did MoMA’s Transmissions really alter the canon? And if it did, how and to what end? It is safe to say that the dichotomy of center-periphery discourse is truly resilient—not just in exhibitions but in art history writings as well. Ultimately, the dichotomy is recognized again and again through manifest focus, attention, and critical appraisal for those located in the center; who are immediately embraced as having universal significance. The barriers to entry for this established, critically recognized canon are high.[33] If we consider the local affairs of the ex-center (the West) and the rivalry for cutting edge position and domination within, we get a different scenario. The reformulation of power relations in the New York art scene in the 2000s saw the Ostalgia exhibition at the New Museum criticized for its stereotyped clichés and dramatized presentation. By comparison, its local rival MoMA was reluctantly forced to fall into the other extreme.  The response sparked by Transmission was the total opposite of Ostalgia, where the politics were completely sucked out of the artwork and their environment. Presented pieces were cleansed, purified by removing their contexts, and local meanings, emptied by the neglect of the region’s disturbing histories under Ceausescu and Latin American military dictatorships. The display was very sterile, abstract, and evoked a sense of déjà vu—the classic modernist museological cleansing method of which MoMA once was the leading bastion.

MoMA’s C-maps Project, from which the need for altering the canon grew out after twenty years since its foundation in 2009, is a double-edged and contradictory enterprise.[34] On the one hand, C-Map truly offers a possibility for the margins to become visible. On the other, the price paid for visibility is the takeover of the interpretation into its own hands. Art museums continue to engage in a cultural repositioning, reformulating of institutional identity within the new framework of ‘world art and global art, striving to uphold their previously dominant positions. Consequently, leading art museums (the same ones as of the modernist era) continue to dominate the writing of art history. In particular, the art history (along with the revised canon) of the ex-periphery—through exhibitions, publications, and acquisitions—where local sources, history, and complexity of the art scene are disregarded by the ‘bird’s eye view’ global framework.[35] 

One cannot agree more with Oesterreich and Handberg’s statement that

competing canons in modernist contexts—which reclaim modernity for regions that in the context of political power struggles and colonial history, had been excluded from modernity so as to ensure and safeguard the ‘legitimation’ of  western interpretational sovereignty—need to be named…in order to deconstruct and render visible hierarchical structure…”[36] 

As the argumentation follows, “it should to be noted that the exhibitions…are major institutional undertakings consciously promoted to set the scene and make their curators and institutions central players in the global art world.”[37] However, this argument could be extended — the validity of the claim is not exclusively confined to the practice in the past, but could easily be applied to the present. It is precisely the enduring legitimization of “Western interpretational sovereignty” that is ensured by Oesterreich and Handberg’s analysis through its blind spots and inherent affirmation of these very patterns. Taking the curatorial aim at face value does not unveil the hidden agenda of the leading museum’s exhibitions that strive to set the scene and make their curators and institutions central players in the global art world. MoMA in New York is no exception.

Who is Afraid of Regional Art History?

The hierarchical structure of the art history discipline has remained constant despite fervent criticism, as many scholars have experienced and observed. Different ideas have emerged to carve out a place for ex-peripheries in the new world order. Anna Brzyski claims that Western canon occupies a privileged position in regulating the cultural field.[38] She argues that it functions as a mechanism of oppression, a guardian of privilege, and a vehicle of exclusion; thus questions should no longer investigate how the canon expresses power, but instead focus on how it does so in specific situations and under particular conditions.[39] Brzyski argues for ”partisan canons,” the existence of multiple, historically situated canonical formations, in different geographic locations..

Art Historian Piotr Piotrowski has further challenged the central position of the Westerncanon, but theorized art history writing differently. He juxtaposes the diverse art histories of the centers and their margins by elevating all geographies to the same level and erasing subordination in his theory, named “horizontal art history.”[40] Piotrowski posits that in the modern, globalized world the previous “second world” (regarded as “close-other” in art history) is paralyzed by the fear of losing its former significance; despite the still privileged secondary position. Piotrowski launched his influential theory well after the end of the Cold War, at a time when the seductiveness of the “semi-other” began to evaporate. In the extended world, more competitors demanded recognition: the formerly known “Third World,” the Global South, that is, the “post-colonial others.” Thus, Piotrowski aimed not just to eliminate the hierarchical structure of the canon and art history, but also to ensure a stable and distinguishable position for the region. His theory was fueled by the fear and anxiety that the region might easily lose the distinctness it had during the Cold War by simply dissolving into the universal category of European art history. Piotrowski promoted a new perspective in order to gain access to the global discourse, but on equal footing. He vigorously advocated the need for self-empowerment, emphasizing the value of the marginal position, its peculiarity, its diverse historical experiences, and its constant alertness.[41] He was well aware that in a globalized world it would be imprudent to argue for localism in terms of national art history, so he came up with the solution of transnational, regional art history narratives to negotiate values and concepts along lines other than the opposition between national and international.[42] It should be noted, however, that the distinctiveness and specificity of various regions are not to be understood as some sort of essential, predetermined features, nor as a collective regional identity, let alone a coherent one.[43] Rather, art historical accounts that argue for a regional relevance of Eastern Europe deploy similar approaches as John Connelly proposes in his 2020 publication: as a terrain that, due to its historically and politically diverse context, produced different art in terms of function and meaning than the ones produced in the Western part of Europe.[44] 

At the aforementioned CIHA conference in Budapest, art historian Kristina Huneault, driven by the fear of losing the object (woman) of her research in the constant change of favored trajectories of art history writing, proposed “strategic essentialism” and chose the framework of national art history, as her best option to make visible those women who could not be interpreted in larger scale frameworks. This is a perspective she regards as functional.[45] The other approach Huneault proposed is genealogical:  instead of registering a set of shared qualities that defines what a woman is, Huneault scrutinized the historical positioning of women, which is shared despite the dissimilarities among them.[46] It is safe to adopt this attitude to regional art history and to say that it could also function strategically in order not to lose “the obscure object of desire” the (not coherent, still existing) Eastern European region of diverse small countries. The distinct art and culture of Eastern Europe cannot be separated from the turbulent history and “regional syndrome” (to use Connelly’s term), from the fear of disappearance.[47] Connelly explains, “[e]ven in regions of mixed ethnicity where space has been hotly contested for generations, national identity is far from an everyday concern … nationalism remains a ‘crisis frame’ of reference that politicians can appeal to… [T]his crisis frame is not something one finds in Western European or Russian nationalism.”[48] 

This brings us to the present, where nationalism and populism rage across the region and the “crisis frame” is constantly flagged, thoroughly used and abused for political ends while anything other than a national framework is obliterated. Hungary takes the lead in this course, centralizing and nationalizing all assets of life and culture within the country.[49] In terms of art and art history, the current Hungarian government’s vassals advocate “Universal Hungarian Art.”[50] The title of a recently organized conference, Years of Hope, refers to the 1960s in socialist Hungary, when [unofficial] art was colorful, as opposed to the grey tone of state-socialist doctrines. As further declared,

today we live in the ‘Years of Hope’ as well and we claim the need for restructuring the canons. We have to get back the colorfulness of the rainbow. There are serious problems in the canonizations…The time is over for the one-sided, arrogant declaration that considers the Westerns canon as an absolute standard and fetishizes the trends. A canon which was once progressive, but today is rather ‘postcolonial’ [it most probably supposed to be neocolonial – EA] and does not have sensibility for local values, is unacceptable…We are thinking in the category of Universal Hungarian Art against ‘lagging behind complex’.[51]

On the surface this argument coincides with the critique of the canon exerted from the margins. However, it differs significantly in that this construction of the national canon is backed by political will and enormous financial support from the state all of which is fueled by nationalistic ideas. It also resonates with the Hungarian government’s hostile propaganda towards the European Union and its recent opening to “East,” to countries such as Russia or Turkey. But the main difference between the 1960s underground art and today’s situation is that today a state represented conservative dogma is to be canonized.

Nowadays, at the time of roaring nationalisms and populisms all around the Eastern European region, the discipline of art history—in line with history and other fields of culture and science—risks losing its professional autonomy, as it is put in service of national cultural agendas.[52] It should be noted that acknowledging rising “ethnic nationalisms and cultural regionalism or particularism” on the same page, and merging these categories as counterforces to universalistic norms, the expert literature on nationalism and populism avoids the specificities of different regions. Opposing “global modernity and regional revolt of losers” simply misses the point about East-Central Europe.[53] In many of the hostile relationships between neighboring countries, any transnational or regional (even if strategic) cooperation could effectively counterbalance both the dominating tendencies of homogenizing global capitalism and the segregate divisive ethnic nationalisms. In the Eastern European segment of the world, one is persuaded by the account that “against the idea of a single central order … any stable order needed to be built on regionalist, multilateral foundations.” The paradox associated with globalization is—as the account follows—that “it tended to undermine national democracy rather than strengthen is, and helped create the conditions for the populist backlash against globalization and the global elite who promoted it.”[54] The critique of the intolerant expansion of the Western type neo-liberal world order in the 1990s, and its aggressive attempt to reformulate the world after its own image, argued for a multipolar, multilateral new world order; having, among others, the European Union in mind as a regional political formation. However, the new millennium soon demonstrated that a hostile subregion had formed in the territory of the newcomers. The shared past and the shared histories are not considered in this multiethnic, multicultural zone; instead they are cast in opposition to one another.[55] In place of effective regional cooperation as a means of warding off the effects of hyper-globalisation, the fragile post-socialist democracies are on their way to being transformed into a group of “illiberal” democracies. Under the pressure of twofold forces—threatened to be dissolved by globalization and to be ghettoized by intense nationalization— “strategic regionalism”,[56] based on the major postcolonial concept of “strategic essentialism”[57] could cut through the Gordian knot, if we consider the ominously changed conditions for art and art history writing.

[1] John Connelly, From Peoples into Nations: A History of Eastern Europe (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2020), 3.

[2] Connelly, 25.

[3] Connelly., 815. Note 30; Ivan T Berend, Decades of Crisis: Central and Eastern Europe before World War II (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); Andrew C. Janos, East Central Europe in the Modern World: The Politics of the Borderlands from Pre-to Post-Communism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000); Irina Livezeanu and Árpád von Klimó, The Routledge History of East Central Europe since 1700 (London: Taylor & Francis, 2017).

[4] From September 2020, CEU is located in Vienna.

[5] The comment of Géza Jeszenszky, a renowned historian and ex-politician of the defunct center-right party MDF. His argument was twofold; on one hand it emphasized the Europeannes without any distinction, on the other hand it referred to the concept of the cultural nation that includes minority Hungarians beyond the borders of the mother-state, in the neighboring countries.

[6] Connelly, From Peoples into Nations, 3.

[7] How to Write Art History – National, Regional or Global? International Conference of the History of Art, Budapest, November 21-25, 2007

[8] Béla Zsolt Szakács, “County to Country: Regional Aspects in the Research of Romanesque Arty in Hungary,” Acta Historiae Artium49 (2008): 55–62. Stephen Bann, “Global, National and Regional Factors in French Nineteenth-Century Painting,” Acta Historiae Artium 49 (2008): 119–124.

[9] Kristina Hainault, “Beyond National or International: Art and Identity in Formerly Colonial Countries,”Acta Historiae Artium 49 (2008): 98–102.

[10] Éva Forgács, “The Necessity of Writing Local Art History in the Global Context,” Acta Historiae Artium. 49. (2008): 103–108.

[11] Forgács, 104-105.

[12] Forgács,105.

[13] Forgács,104.

[14] Forgács,106.

[15] Forgács,106.

[16] Edit András, “Out of Private Public Opinion into Shared Personal Opinion: The Public, the Private and the Political,” in Art in Hungary 1956-1980: Doublespeak and Beyond, eds. Sándor Hornyik, Edit Sasvári, Hedvig Turai (London: Thames & Hudson, 2018), 229–249; Tomáš Pospiszyl, An Associative Art History: Comparative Studies of Neo-Avant-Gardes in a Bipolar World (Zürich: JRP Ringier, 2017). Sándor Hornyik, Pathos-management. Public discussion series. 2019–2020,,; Karolina Majewska-Guede, “If You Want to Say Something—Speak in the Language of the Language. Ewa Partum’s Model of Conceptual Art” (manuscript, to be published).

[17] Piotr Piotrowski, “Toward a Horizontal History of the European Avant-Garde,” in European Avant-Garde and Modernism Studies eds. Sascha Bru, Peter Nicholls (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2009), 49–58.

[18] Terry Smith, “Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity,” Critical Inquiry 32, no. 4 (2006): 681–707.; Antinomies of Art and Culture: Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity, eds. Terry Smith, Okwui Enwezor , Nancy Condee(Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2008).

[19] Keith Moxey, Visual Time: The Image in History (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2013).

[20] John Onians, “World Art: Ways Forward, and a Way to Escape the ‘Autonomy of Culture’delusion,” World Art 1, no. 1 (2011): 125–134; James Elkins, Is Art History Global? (London: Taylor & Francis, 2007).

[21] Partha Mitter, “Decentering Modernism: Art History and Avant-Garde Art from the Periphery,” The Art Bulletin 90, no. 4 (2008): 531–548

[22] Miriam Oesterreich and Kristian Handberg: “Alter-Canons and Alter-Gardes—Formations and Re-formations of Art Historical Canons in Contemporary Exhibitions: The Case of Latin American and Eastern European art”, Journal of Art Historiography, No 19, Dec. 2018 (Special issue: The Canonization of Modernism. Exhibition Strategies in the 20th and 21st Century. Guest edited by Gregor Langfeld and Tessel M. Bauduin): 1–20.

[23] Oesterreich and Handberg, 1.

[24] Oesterreich and Handberg ., 4.

[25] Victor Vasarely, László Moholy Nagy, Constantin Brâncuși, Marcell Breuer, Robert Capa, etc.

[26] Oesterreich and Handberg,, Notes15, 16.

[27] Edit András, “Whose Nostalgia Is Ostalgia? An Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Republics Survey Exhibition in the New Musem, New York,” springerin, no. 4 (2011).

[28] Oesterreich and Handberg, 7.

[29] The review of the author of this essay was published right after the opening in the prestigious quarterly, springerin, See note No. 27, republished: In Curating ‘Eastern Europe’ and Beyond: Art Histories through  the Exhibition, ed. by Maria Orišková (Frankfurt am Main : Pater Lang International Academic Publishers ; Bratislava : VEDA, SAS Publishing House, 2013),; An extended version embedded in theoretical framing and complemented with a with the exhibition of Sanja Ivekovic in MoMA, was published in IDEA, a bilingual art journal covering the region: Edit András, “The (ex)Eastern Bloc’s Position in the New Critical Theories and in the Recent Curatorial Practice,” IDEA 40 (2012). This extended essay wasrepublished in the reader Exhibiting the “Former East”: Identity Politics and Curatorial Practices after 1989. A Critical Reader, eds. Cătălin Gheorghe, Cristian Nae (aşi? Vector > Critical Research in Context, Universitatea de Arte “George Enescu”, 2013), 43‒52..

[30]Art and Theory of Post-1989 Central and Eastern Europe: A Critical Anthology, eds. Ana Janevski, Roxana Marcoci, and Ksenia Nouril (New York:Museum of Modern Art, 2018). (In this volume excerpts of the IDEA version were republished).

[31] Oesterreich and Handberg, 8-9.

[32] Oesterreich and Handberg, 8-9.

[33] ARTMargins ‘stwo special issue focusing on the two marginal art scenes, Latin America and Eastern Europe in the 1960s and 1970s, addressing the cultural exchanges between them and networking were not considered. ARTMargins (print version) June-October, 2012, volume 1. Issue 2-3. There is again the sneaking suspicion that the pioneering work on comparing the two art scenes might escape the attention of the authors due to its non-canonical publication forum regardless its high prestige in the area studies.


[35] For example, “… the official museums across Eastern Europe where the period of 1945-89 is usually hushed over, now [2018] seem to have started to investigate these years as well.” Oesterreich and Handberg, 7. Having a closer look at the process indicates an inverse setting which is not being started but rather is about to be finished under the pressure of the efforts to promote a new national canon. Thus, the period was not hushed over at all. Some Hungarian examples are: Variációk a pop-artra – Fejezetek a magyar képzőművészetből [Variations of Pop Art – Chapters from the Hungarian Art] Ernst Múzeum, Budapest, 1993,; Hatvanas évek. Új törekvések a magyar képzőművészetben [Sixties. New tendencies in Hungarian Art]. Hungarian National Museum, 1991; Szocreál – Festészet a Rákosi-korban [ Soc-real – Painting in the Rákosi era] Modem, Debrecen, 2008.

[36] Oesterreich and Handberg, 18.

[37] Oesterreich and Handberg, 19.

[38] Partisan Canons, ed. Anna Brzyski (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2007).

[39] Brzyski, Partisan Canons

[40] Piotr Piotrowski“On the Spatial Turn, or Horizontal Art History.” Umeni/Art 56, no. 5 (2008): 378-383; Piotr Piotrowski. “Towards horizontal art history,” Crossing Cultures. Conflict, Migration, and Convergence. The Proceedings cj e 32nd International Congress in the History of Art, ed. Jaynie Anderson (Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press, 2009): 82–85.

[41] “Provincializing the West: Interview with Piotr Piotrowski by Edit András.” ARTMargins, 10/09/2012,

[42] Piotr Piotrowski, “Art Criticism in Defense of Regionalization in post-1989 Eastern Europe,” AICA conference, 2004.

[43] Forgács, 105

[44] Piotr Piotrowski, Art Criticism in Defense of Regionalization in post-1989 Eastern Europe.

[45] Huneault, 100.

[46] Huneault, 100.

[47] Connelly22

[48] Connelly, 23-24.

[49] András Bozóki Iván Bajomi, Judit Csáki, Zsolt Enyedi, et al., Hungary Turns Its Back on Europe: Dismantling Culture, Education, Science and the Media in Hungary 2010–2019 (Budapest: Oktatói Hálózat & Hungarian Network of Academics, 2020).

[50] Conference info The Years of Hope Hungarian National Gallery, Dec. 5-6, 2019.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Eva S. Balogh, “Strange ways of Hungarian Nationalism”, Hungarian Spectrum, June 21, 2020,

[53] Mario Telò, “Multiple Modernities in a Multipolar and Multiregional World,” in Cultures, Nationalism and Populism: New Challenges to Multilateralism, eds. José Luís de Sales Marques, Thomas Meyer, Mario Telò (London: Routledge, 2019),117.

[54] Andrew Gamble, “The Crisis of the Western Liberal Order and the Rise of the New Populism,” eds. José Luís de Sales Marques, Thomas Meyer, Mario Telò (London: Routledge, 2019), 135.

[55] Connelly, From Peoples into Nations.

[56] Horizontal Art History: Endangered Species. (Poznan: Piotr Piotrowski Center for Research on East-Central European Art (Forthcoming).

[57] Formulated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

Edit András is an art historian and art critic. She holds a PhD in art history from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. She is a senior member of Institute of Art History of HAS Research Centre for the Humanties, Budapest and visiting professor at History Department of CEU (Central European University, Budapest, Vienna). Her main interest concerns East-Central European contemporary art, gender issues, socially engaged and public art, critical theories, post-socialist condition and nationalism in the region. She was member of the Advisory Board and researcher of Hungary of the exhibition Gender Check: Femininity and Masculinity in the Art of Eastern Europe, MUMOK, Vienna, 2008-09. She was core member of the seminar series Writing Art History in Eastern-Central Europe, organized by The Research and Academic Program at the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, USA, 2010-11. She curated the exhibition Imagined communities, Personal imaginations / Private Nationalism Budapest, Municipal Gallery, Kiscelli Museum, Budapest Gallery, 2015 and organized the international conference Visualising the Nation, Budapest, 2015. She co-curated the exhibition Universal Hospitality at the City Festival of Wiener Festwochen, Vienna, 2016, at MeetFactory and FUTURA in Prague, 2017. She has participated in several international conferencences and workshops as invited speaker and published numerous essays in collected volumes, catalogues and professional journals, including Artmargins, e-flux, Idea, Third text, springerin. She edited Transitland. Video Art from Central and Eastern Europe 1989-2009. Budapest, 2009. Her website:

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