Antipolitics in Central European Art: Reticence as Dissidence Under Post-totalitarian Rule 1956-1989

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Bloomsbury Academic, Jul 19, 2017 - Art - 360 pages

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-organisation by society. Drawing on Vaclav 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-20th century intellectual and cultural history.Spanning a period punctuated by landmark events - the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956; the Warsaw Pact troops invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968; the signing of Charter '77 by dissident intellectuals in 1977; the birth of the Polis h Solidarity movement in 1980 - while presenting powerful new readings of the work of six key artists - Tadeusz Kantor; Julius Koller; Tamas Szentjoby; Endre Tot; Jiri Kovanda and Jerzy Beres - Antipolitics in Central European Art anchors art historical analysis within a robust historical framework.
It traces the passage from a modernist commitment to 'disinterest', through successive waves of doubt, dissent, ironic disengagement and reticent engagement, to the eventual exhaustion of antipolitics as a strategy in the 1980s as imperatives to engage in direct political dialogue gained ground. 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.

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About the author (2017)

Klara Kemp-Welch is Lecturer in 20th Century Modernism at The Courtauld Institute of Art, UK. She is co-editor of a special issue of ArtMargins devoted to Artists' Networks in Eastern Europe and Latin America (2012), and author of book chapters and catalogue essays on Central and Eastern European post-war art.

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