What do we really mean when we talk about Eastern European art? A lecture by the director of Moderna galerija in Ljubljana and the chairwoman of the Jindřich Chalupecký Prize jury.
What do we really mean when we talk about Eastern European art? What is this modifier actually referring to? To call something “Eastern European” suggests that it belongs to the Cold War era and possesses particular features that are appropriate to that period. The universal features of art, meanwhile, have remained equated with Western art, which was always described by the names of various styles, not by geo-political provenance. Eastern European art thus became equated with particular features, which were soon reduced to whether the art took a pro or con position towards the socialist regime in which it originated.
The Western world was delighted especially by works that seemed to be against the regime. But what is anti-regime art, anyway? Even putting aside the considerable differences between the Eastern European regimes, we can say that we do not find very much direct criticism of actual social systems to anywhere in this geographic territory. What we do find in the post-war avant-garde art of these countries is not so much a direct critique of politics, but rather proposals for a different way of living and working. And this especially goes for the art on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Contemporary artists from this region are repeating the anti-hegemonic modernity of their predecessors, or more precisely, they are repeating their exploration of the discrepancy between ideals and their concrete realisation. If in the past this meant that artists drew attention to the inconsistencies of the progressive ideas of socialism in practice, then today art is measuring the differences between, on the one hand, the concept of the social state and the democracy that we imagined for ourselves after the fall of the communist regime and, on the other, the neoliberal forms of modernity in which we find ourselves.
Zdenka Badovinac is a curator and writer, who has served since 1993 as Director of the Moderna galerija in Ljubljana, comprised since 2011 of two locations: the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova.
In her work, Badovinac highlights the difficult processes of redefining history alongside different avant-garde traditions within contemporary art. Badovinac’s first exhibition to address these issues was Body and the East—From the 1960s to the Present (1998). One her most important recent projects is NSK from Kapital to Capital: Neue Slowenische Kunst – The Event of the Final Decade of Yugoslavia, Moderna galerija, 2015 (Traveled to Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, (2016), Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow (2016) and the Museo Reina Sofía Madrid (2017)); NSK State Pavilion, 5tth Venice Biennale, 2017, co-curated with Charles Esche; The Heritage of 1989. Case Study: The Second Yugoslav Documents Exhibition, Modena galerija, Ljubljana, 2017, co-curated with Bojana Piškur; Sites of Sustainability Pavilions, Manifestos and Crypts, Hello World. Revising a Collection, Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin; Heavenly Beings: Neither Human nor Animal, Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, Ljubljana, co-curated with Bojan Piškur, 2018;
Badovinac was Slovenian Commissioner at the Venice Biennale from 1993 to 1997 and 2005. and Austrian Commissioner at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 2002 and is the President of CIMAM, International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art, 2010–13. She also initiated the first Eastern European art collection, Arteast 2000+. Od roku 2017 je předsedkyní poroty Ceny Jindřicha Chalupeckého.