Arts is an international, peer-reviewed, open access journal promoting significant research on all aspects of the visual and performing arts, published bimonthly online by MDPI.
Being invited to edit an ARTS Special Issue, I intend to bring into debate a range of questions at play in discourses on the history and socio-political anchorage of international traveling and exchange art exhibitions. My aim is to share thoughts with colleagues interested in the dynamically growing field of studies focused on staging art exhibitions and curatorial practices, as perceived in a historical and political context. Although the history of exhibitions has gained the status of a sub-discipline in global art history, the subject of exhibition policies implemented in East Central Europe (hereafter ECE) over the course of the 20th century still remains an under-researched domain (the exception being a few polyphonic narratives, such as Art Beyond Borders. Artistic Exchange in Communist Europe 1945–1989, edited by Bazin et al., 2016). Therefore, this collection of essays is intended to address the topic of cultural diplomacy conducted in the ECE region, both in the interwar decades and during the Cold War bipolar division of the world, as well as in the post-1989 period until the end of the millennium.
The emphasis is on inter/transnational expositions organized on the basis of bilateral or multilateral agreements between state agencies that, apart from cultural promotion, served multifarious purposes: political, economic, and commercial. The thematic scope of this Special Issue covers the strategies of state-sponsored institutions that were applied to exhibitions traveling across the region and beyond its borders to the West and the East, as well as unofficial international, transregional, and intercontinental artistic contacts and institutional interactions that resonated in the cultural and social discourses in the host countries.
The interwar decades were distinguished by a persistent search for the roots of national identity and the idiosyncratic features of culture in the ECE countries that were striving to establish or strengthen their position on the geopolitical map of the newly reconfigured European continent. The trend that became significant in the 1920s and 1930s was the perfectly functioning circulation of art exhibitions that exemplified the strategies of the cultural self-presentation of particular nations. International dissemination of these expositions depended, to a considerable extent, on political factors and cultural policies that transcended national borders.
Political underpinnings and economic interests hidden behind the spectacles of touring exhibitions during the Cold War period led the shows’ trajectories far beyond the European continent to North America (USA, Canada), Latin America (Argentina, Cuba, Mexico), Asia (China, Vietnam), and Africa. Thus, the ARTS Issue in preparation may contribute to the demythologization of the total cultural isolationism of Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain by historicizing and problematizing the cultural contacts of the Soviet communist bloc with not only ideologically fraternal countries, but also with the capitalist West. The governing forces in individual member states of the Eastern bloc treated cultural networking as an ideologically effective propagandist instrument in service of political and economic goals. However, many official exhibition projects emphasized the national cultural specificity and tradition of the organizing country, regardless of the Soviet doctrine of socialist realism and/or the aesthetic norms of socialist modernism. The national agenda devised for Western audiences was implemented in the format of historicizing survey presentations of national artistic accomplishments and cultural treasures. Contrary to that, exhibitions crafted for perception in communist countries emphasized the common ideological core and a homogenized aesthetic conformed to the socialist realist doctrine.
The last decade of the 20th century, which was a strenuous and challenging period of political and economic transformations in ECE, heralded post-dependence proliferation of exhibitions, featuring art produced in the region, differently problematizing the material regarding identity politics, gender perspective, political engagement, etc. Most of the export presentations held in the 1990s manifested idiosyncratic features of the region-specific art and pointed to historical determinants responsible for the absence of Eastern art on the international market. A significant number of these exhibitions were politically neutral, while many were politically loaded.
The addressed lines of enquiry may include but are not limited to the following topics:
- International, transregional, and/or intercontinental dimension of cultural policies deployed in the ECE nation states in the interwar period and under the communist rule
- Diplomatic function of survey presentations of national art traveling within ECE and to the West as well as beyond the Transatlantic axis
- Traveling shows of “national treasures” and “highlights of a collection” as a tool for self-promotion of the state
- Political, economic, and commercial underpinnings of cultural agendas implemented in the ECE countries in conjunction with the ideological expansion of the Eastern bloc to the West and to the “Third World”
- Curatorial practices in the staging of state-funded export exhibitions in the context of various interplaying forces: cultural, political, and economic powers, and institutional policies
- Reception of exhibitions coming from ECE by art-viewing public, art critics, and institutional players in the West and the East
- Spectatorship and criticism of import exhibitions in individual ECE nation states
- Changing function of national pavilions of individual ECE states at art biennials, triennials, and other large-scale transnational exhibitions over the course of the 20th century
- Changes in the intercultural dialogue and artistic geography of ECE during the first post-Wall decade
- Referential frame of the “national treasures” exhibitions in post-1989 Europe: political, institutional, and curatorial
- Cultural diplomacy considered as a component of cultural industry, tourism, and the art market
Please note that there is a two-stage submission procedure. Kindly submit a title, an abstract (up to 500 words), and a short bio (up to 300 words), by February 28, 2023, via email to Prof. Irena Kossowska (email@example.com). Selected abstracts will be invited to submit 5000–9000-word papers for blind peer review by September 30, 2023.
Guest Editor: Prof. Irena Kossowska, Department of the History of 20th Century Art in Central Europe and in Exile, Faculty of Fine Arts, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. For more information about Prof. Kossowska: ORCID: 0000-0001-5679-4653
Prof. Dr. Irena Kossowska
Special Issue Guest Editor: Prof. Dr. Irena Kossowska (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Special Issue Editor: Dora Wang (email@example.com)