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Contested Spheres: Actually Existing Artworlds under Socialism

Kassák Museum Budapest
27-28 May 2016

This conference aims to provide a platform for fresh research into the art history of Eastern Europe that brings to light the varied solutions that artists and cultural workers found to living and working inside the socialist system in the period of the 1960s and 1970s.

While some took the path of direct confrontation with the authorities, leading to harassment, imprisonment or exile, and refused in principle all collaboration with state-run art institutions, others complied with the demands of the Party and freely placed their talents at the service of communist ideology, either through conviction or in exchange for public commissions, exhibition opportunities and institutional positions. There was also a wide band of artists, curators and art historians who, like the majority of citizens of ‘actually existing Socialism’, devised their own individual strategies for negotiating a haphazardly repressive system and actively participated in shaping a complex artistic landscape of alternative spaces, transitory gatherings and artist-run galleries, as well as semi-independent institutions, associations and open air symposia, which all functioned according to the unorthodox rules of the socialist art economy.

Examining the art worlds of mid- to late Socialism not from the top down perspective symbolised by the notorious ‘three T’s’ of Hungarian cultural policy, which divided artists into the categories of supported, tolerated and forbidden, but rather through a bottom up approach that examines the variety of possible attitudes adopted by cultural producers to the socialist system, ranging from confrontation and withdrawal to conformity and compromise, this conference sets out to foster debate about the conditions of artistic production during the last decades of Socialism and how these affected the individual trajectories, aesthetic choices and post-communist legacies of East European artists.                            
Papers presented at this conference examine how artists, curators or art historians, or even entire art scenes, responded to the demands of the socialist system, investigating, for example, prominent cases of refusal and resistance, the self-image and social role of official artists, as well as instances of disingenuousness, ambiguity and doublespeak in the machinations of late Socialist art worlds. Other speakers uncover the workings of the artistic economy under socialism, and the different ways in which artists reacted to, suffered under, or turned to their advantage the distinctive material and economic environment established by the socialist state.     



The conference is co-organised by Kassák Múzeum – Petőfi Literary Museum and Translocal Institute, Budapest. It takes place within the framework of the Kassák Museum’s on-going research project into the art of the 1960s and 70s.

Conference Board

The conference board is made up of Dr. Maja Fowkes and Dr. Reuben Fowkes, Translocal Institute, Budapest, Dr. Klara Kemp Welch, Courtauld Institute London, Dr. Emese Kürti, ACB Research Lab, Budapest and Dr.Tomáš Pospiszyl, Academy of Fine Arts, Prague.


Susanne Altmann (art historian and curator, Dresden), Hana Buddeus (Academy of Performing Arts, Prague), Mikolaj Czerwinski (University of Illinois, Chicago), Eva Forgacs (Art Center College of Design, Pasadena), Daniel Grúň (Academy of Fine Arts and Design, Bratislava), Candice M. Hamelin (University of Michigan), Marko Ilić (Courtauld Institute of Art, London), Raino Isto (University of Maryland), Beata Jablonská (Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava), Yulia Karpova (Central European University, Budapest), Zsuzsa László (, Budapest), Armin Medosch (artist, curator and scholar, Vienna), Helena Musilová (National Gallery of Art, Prague), Tomáš Pospiszyl (Academy of Fine Arts, Prague), Alina Șerban (National University of Arts, Bucharest), Sonja Simonyi (New York University), Tomasz Załuski (University of Łódz)



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