By Maja and Reuben Fowkes
In Sándor Hornyik, Edit Sasvári and Hedwig Turai, eds, Doublespeak: Hungarian Art of the 1960s and 1970s
London: Thames & Hudson, 2018
Across Eastern Europe the neo-avant-garde, which was characterised by a desire to experiment with innovative artistic forms and test the boundaries of the established institutional structures around the revolutionary conjuncture of 1968, was at the same time obliged to negotiate its position within the complex systems of control and containment devised by the socialist state. This contribution examines the sites of dissemination of nonconformist artistic practices within institutional settings that were developed through a process of arbitration between the divergent interests of artists and the state authorities. Considering the modus operandi of particular spaces, it assesses the balance between confrontation and accommodation, attempts of appropriation from both sides, the avoidance of issues of open conflict and seeking of a ‘happy medium’ through mutual concessions. Taking examples of diverse sites of emergence of conceptual artistic practices in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia in the early 1970s to comparatively situate the Hungarian case, it examines the wide range of exhibiting strategies in relation to specific social, political and cultural conditions, while also inspecting the ways in which the given institutional landscape was critically addressed. Finally, focusing on the metamorphosis of the gallery system in response to neo-avant-garde strivings, it investigates the degrees of autonomy in their programming, the limits posed by socialist institutional frames and attempts to evade the system.