Confrontations: Sessions in East European Art History

Led by Dr Maja Fowkes and Dr Reuben Fowkes at the Post-socialist Art Centre (PACT) at University College London, this program investigates the entangled histories of East European art through a series of itinerant symposia held at pertinent locations across and beyond the region. By staging encounters between contrasting aesthetic and critical positions and creating conditions for comparative insights to crystallise, these sessions aim to instigate more rigorous and integrated accounts of East European art history. Acknowledging the singularity of individual practices, the multi-directional flow of artistic exchange and the generative effects of local circumstances, this transnational initiative is a contribution to an emergent global history of art from the Second World War till today.

The title of the project refers to the series of Confrontations exhibitions held in Czechoslovakia in the years around 1960 and again in the spirit of post-modernist revival during the mid-1980s. While the original studio exhibitions were a means for young artists to challenge the dominance of socialist realism and figurative art by embracing the international style of art informel, those held at the end of the socialist period were organised in aesthetic opposition to the ethos of the dissident neo-avant-garde. What these two moments of contestation had in common was a willingness to challenge established artistic paradigms, a critical attitude to dominant institutions and a boldly experimental character. They also correspond chronologically to the two art historical periods with which this research project is primarily concerned.

This Getty Foundation grant will facilitate a process of intellectual exchange and collective research between a group of twenty emerging scholars engaged with art movements and phenomena that have yet to be given substantive comparative treatment, focusing in particular on the under-researched periods before and after the neo-avant-garde. The project is based at the Post-socialist Art Centre (PACT) at the Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) and realised in cooperation with the Department of Art History and School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES), building on the research strengths of UCL in the field of East European art and visual culture and the activities of the Translocal Institute of Contemporary Art.

The core team members are: Dr Maja Fowkes and Dr Reuben Fowkes (PACT UCL / Translocal Institute), Dr Pavlina Morganová (Academy of Fine Arts in Prague), Dr Tomasz Załuski (Institute of Contemporary Culture, University of Łódź) and Alina Șerban (art historian and curator, Bucharest).

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