Unblocking the Blocs. Intertwined Art Practices and Receptions in Divided Europe (1950-1970)

Matteo Bertelé

Otto Donath, 3. International Festival of Youth and Students, East-Berlin, 12 August 1951 Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-M0213-0301 / Otto Donath / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

My current research intends to outline a compared mapping of art practices during the Cold War within a polycentric area, including the two German republics, Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and Italy. Selected artists and art professionals from the given countries serve as active agents, narrative clusters and crucial case studies, in order to highlight the productive outcomes of the cultural Cold War and its role as a catalyst of artistic practice and critical discourse in divided Europe. In this framework, art practices are analysed not in "spite of" or "regardless of" the cultural Cold War, but precisely because of it. A specific emphasis is given to international exhibitions, not only as diplomatic tools of soft-power and hotspots of cross-border encounters and negotiations, but also as public arenas for receptions and remote constructions of the “Other” across the Iron Curtain. A relevant case study is given by the characterization of the dissidents living under so-called “actually existing socialism”, whose reception in the West was generated by both ethical and aesthetic stances. Reception of such cases will be reconstructed on the basis of stereotypes and common places, generated by political and ideological bias, which inevitably determined their Erwartungshorizont.

The research will complement recent scholarly studies on the entanglement in the field of the visual arts within Cold-War Europe, covering and interconnecting area studies usually treated separately, such as customary (West)-Eurocentric art studies, Russian and Soviet Studies, and Central and East-European Studies, hence expanding the geographic and cultural scope within an overall European dimension.


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