Transition in Post-Soviet Art: The Collective Actions Group before and after 1989

Transition in Post-Soviet Art: The Collective Actions Group before and after 1989

Transition in Post-Soviet Art: The Collective Actions Group before and after 1989

Transition in Post-Soviet Art: The Collective Actions Group before and after 1989

Synopsis

The artistic tradition that emerged as a form of cultural resistance in the 1970s changed during the transition from socialism to capitalism. This volume presents the evolution of the Moscow-based conceptual artist group called Collective Actions, proposing it as a case-study for understanding the transformations that took place in Eastern European art after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Esanu introduces Moscow Conceptualism by performing a close examination of the Collective Actions group’s ten-volume publication Journeys Outside the City and of the Dictionary of Moscow Conceptualism. He analyzes above all the evolution of Collective Actions through ten consecutive phases, discussing changes that occur in each new volume of the Journeys. Compares the part of the Journeys produced in the Soviet period with those volumes assembled after the dissolution of the USSR. The concept of “transition” and the activities of Soros Centers for Contemporary Art are also analyzed.

Excerpt

Few are the reliable and well-written books that seek to tell the history of recent art in Eastern Europe—that is, the history of work by the artists who crossed the line in time that divided the old, communist era from the new postcommunist one. The communist past as experienced by those who lived it is largely a foreign concept to the majority of art historians in the West, who thus tread hesitantly over its uncanny terrain. As for the new generations of Eastern European art historians, they have already partially forgotten this past or even actively suppressed the memory of it. Thus, Octavian Eşanu’s book Transition in Post-Soviet Art: The Collective Actions Group Before and After 1989 is exceptional in many ways. It presents a thoroughly reliable, well-researched narrative of the transformations that art in the eastern reaches of Europe has undergone since the demise of communism. These transformations are demonstrated by the example of the group of artists dubbed Collective Actions that has been active in Moscow from the middle of the 1970s to the present day.

Here we might ask: why this group? Why analyze and judge such a wide-ranging historical process by its effects on the activities of only one group of artists? Several reasons account for why such a choice should be immediately plausible to an informed reader. Collective Actions group was in operation throughout the entire period of transformations that led from the state-controlled economy to the emergence of the free market, including also the emergence of an art market. In this sense the group is exceptional indeed. Moreover, it would be difficult to find other groups of artists—at least in Russia—that kept their artistic practices going continuously notwithstanding the drastic changes in their economic and political contexts. Of course, it might be argued that Collective Actions succeeded in surviving communism because the group remained programmatically marginal during the whole period of its existence—operating on the borders of the Soviet official economic and political system and remaining . . .

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