Art historians have tended to frame late socialist central European art as either ‘totalitarian’ or ‘transitional’. This bold new book challenges this established viewpoint, contending that the artists of this era cannot be simply caricatured as dissident heroes, or easily subsumed into the formalist Western canon. Klara Kemp-Welch offers a compelling account of the ways in which artists in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary embraced alternative forms of action-based practice just as their dissident counterparts were formulating alternative models of politics – in particular, an ‘antipolitics’ of self-organization by society. Drawing on Václav Havel’s claim that ‘even a word is capable of a certain radiation, of leaving a mark on the “hidden consciousness of a community”’, the author argues that all independent artistic initiatives in themselves served as a vehicle for opposition, playing a part in the rebirth of civil society in the region. In doing so, she makes a case for the moral and political coherence of Central European art, theory and oppositional activism in the late-socialist period and for the region’s centrality to late-twentieth century intellectual and cultural history.
This richly illustrated study reveals the struggle of Central European artists to enjoy freedom of expression and to reclaim public space, from within a political situation where both seemed impossible.
‘Klara Kemp-Welch’s book is illuminating and thoroughly written.’ – Dr. Victor Tupitsyn, Emeritus Professor, Pace University, Westchester, New York
‘This is a remarkable art history, concisely developed and engagingly analyzed.’ – TJ Demos, Reader in Modern and Contemporary Art, University College London, University of London (UK).
‘... this book is indispensable.’ – Sven Spieker, Professor,University of California, Santa Barbara
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