New Museum


14 Jul - 25 Sep 2011

© Sergey Zarva
Untitled, from the “Ogonyok” series, 2001
Courtesy the artist
14 July - 25 September, 2011

This summer, the New Museum will present “Ostalgia,” an exhibition that brings together the work of more than thirty artists from twenty countries across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Republics. Contesting the format of a conventional geographical survey, the exhibition will include key works produced by Western European artists who have depicted the reality and the myth of the East.

The exhibition takes its title from the German word ostalgie, a term that emerged in the 1990s to describe a sense of longing and nostalgia for the era before the collapse of the Communist Bloc. Twenty years ago, a process of dissolution began, leading to the break-up of the Soviet Union and the many other countries that had been united under socialist governments. From the Baltic republics to the Balkans, from Central Europe to Central Asia, entire continents and nations were reconfigured, their constitutions rewritten, their borders redrawn. “Ostalgia” looks at the art produced in and about some of these countries, many of which did not even exist two decades ago. Mixing private confessions and collective traumas, the exhibition describes a psychological landscape in which individuals and entire societies try to negotiate new relationships to history, geography, and ideology.

The works in “Ostalgia”—both from the East and West—describe the collapse of the Communist system while offering a series of personal reportages on aspects of life under Communism and in the new post-Soviet countries. In particular, the survey exposes the peculiar place that artists came to occupy in socialist countries, acting simultaneously as outcasts, visionaries, and witnesses. “Ostalgia” does not make a case for a unified history of art in the former Eastern Bloc, but instead illuminates similar atmospheres and sensibilities across nations and histories: It is an exhibition that is more about a state of mind than a specific place in time.

Some of the preoccupations that seem to unite the artists in “Ostalgia” are a romantic belief in the power of art as a transformative, almost curative agent; an obsession with language and particularly with its propagandistic use; the conception of a new aesthetic of the body to contrast with the heroic bodies of Socialist Realism; a fascination for the ruins of history as represented by monuments and architectural vestiges; and an understanding of the artwork as a form of sentimental documentary that mediates between cultural pressures and individual anxieties. By combining seminal figures from the 1970s and 1980s, along with the work of younger artists, “Ostalgia” does not follow a simply chronological perspective, establishing instead a series of dialogues between different generations and distant geographies. Exposing local avant-garde practices and discovering international affinities, “Ostalgia” composes an imaginary landscape, tracing the cartography of a dream that haunted the East, for ultimately “Ostalgia” is an exhibition about myths and their demise.

“Ostalgia” is curated by Massimiliano Gioni, Associate Director and Director of Exhibitions.

Tags: Massimiliano Gioni