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We Buy and Sell Souls – art action by Komar & Melamid and the Nest Group

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Date: 19 May 1979

Participants: Vitaly Komar (b. 1943), Alexander Melamid (b. 1945) in New York; The Nest Group – Mikhail Roshal (1956-2007), Victor Skersis (b. 1956), and Gennady Donskoi (b. 1956)

Locations: The action took place simultaneously in the studio of Mikhail Odnoralov on Dmitrievskogo Street, Moscow and at the Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York.

The event was initiated by Komar and Melamid, the founders of Sots Art in the early 1970s and teachers of a number younger Moscow Conceptualists, including members of the Nest, who emigrated from the Soviet Union to New York in 1977. One of the newly emigrated artists’ first projects was to establish a company that would buy and sell human souls. They launched an advertising campaign which included posters and print ads. They also took out an advertisement on the Times Square video display, sponsored by the Public Art Fund of New York. Komar & Melamid, Inc. purchased several hundred American souls, including that of American Pop artist Andy Warhol (1928–1987), who donated his soul for free. An advertisement in the New York Times announced “the first auction of un-official American art in the Soviet Union simultaneously in New York and Moscow on Saturday, May 19, 1979, 12:00 p.m. New York Time.” A heated auction took place in Mikhail Odnoralov’s apartment, where the soul of American collector of nonconformist Soviet art Norton T. Dodge (1927–2011) drew particularly heated bids; Warhol’s soul sold for thirty rubles. The customers who attended included the poet Genrikh Sapgir (1928–1999), art historian and collector Tatiana Kolodzei (b. 1947), and Anatoly Lepin (b. 1944). Artists who attended included Alena Kirtsova (b. 1954), Vadim Zakharov (b. 1959), and Yuri Albert (b. 1959).


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Works and Words – Early critiques of the discourse of Eastern European Art

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Date: 20-30 September 1979

Location: De Appel Foundation, Amsterdam

Curators: Frank Gribling, Josine van Droffelaar

Participating artists and critics: Aalders Franklin, Abramovic Marina, Andel Jaroslav, Attalai Gabor, Bartos Peter, Belic Zoran, Beres Jerzy, Body Gabor, Cardena Warming Up…., Demur  Boris, Denegri Jesa, Djordjevic Goran, Nusa & Sreco Dragan, Durcek Lubomir, Dziamski  Grzegorz, Erdely Miklos, Galeta Ladislav, Gotovac Tomislav, Antje von Graevenitz, Gribling  Frank, Grinberg Bucky, Gudac Vladimir, Hajas Tibor, Haka Janusz, Halasz Karoly, Havrilla  Vladimir, Hawley Martha, Hay Agnes, Hegyi Lorand, Hoover Nan, Ivekovic Sanja, Jenssen  Servie, Jaworski Cezary, Jovanovics Gyorgy, Jozwiak Jacek, Karolyi Zsigmond, Kelemen Karoly, Kern Michal, Knizak Milan, Koller Julius, Konart Tomasz, Kostovowski Andrzej, Kovanda Jiri, Harrie de Kroon, Kutera Romuald, Kwiek Pawel, Kwiek Przemyslaw & Kulik Zofia, Lachowicz  Andrzej, Leering Jean, LL Natalia, Marroquin Raul, Martinis Dalibor, Maurer Dora, Mikolajcick Antoni, Miler Karel, Mlcoch Jan, Mrozek Lech, Murak Teresa, Paruzel Andrzej, Peeters Sef, Pinczehelyi Sandor, Pogacnic Marco, Reindeer Werk, Richter Jaroslav, Robakowski Jozef, Sikorski Tomasz, Sosnowski Teresa / Zdzislaw, Stilinovic Mladen, Stembera Petr, Straus Tomas, Susovski Marijan, Szczerek Janusz, Sziranyi Istvan, Todosijevic Rasa, Tomic Biljana, Tot Endre, Ulay, Valoch Jiri, Veto Janos, Warpechowski Zbigniew, Wasko Ryszard, Albert van der Weide, Zarebski Krzysztov, Zbornik Dobra.

The exhibition Works and Words, organized in Amsterdam’s De Appel Foundation, in the words of it’s organizers aimed at “creating confrontation between artists who share a common sensibility from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia and the Netherlands. It was a manifestation which focused on the dialectical interaction of reflection and action, of works and words”.[1] The exhibition program and information on participants can be found in the original leaflet attached here, while De Appel archive provides a short description, accompanied by several images and videos. 

At the first glance, Works and falls out of the story on different aesthetical-political positions and trajectories of New Art in Student Cultural Center – Belgrade (SKC), which is the main theme of the selection of projects presented in this archive. The exhibition, presented in 1979, approaches this field of observation laterally, as it has to do with the various developments (’the works and words’) of certain artists and critics from former Yugoslavia [2] who participated in the program of SKC or who were broadly connected with the SKC ideosphere [3].

However, what is more interesting within the context of this archival presentation is that the participation of Yugoslav Artists – and protagonists of SKC scene in particular – had intervened within the conceptual framework of exhibition-in-the-process-of-making. The exhibition was initially conceived as presentation of Eastern European Art, as an event that accumulates its curiousness in the very fact that it presents the art from ‘behind the Iron Curtain’, as ‘something that is rarely seen abroad’, thus offering the presentation context that ‘covers’ the reality of singular artworks by grouping them behind the monolithic banner of dissident art. Some of the artists gathered around the SKC gallery expressed their disagreement with such idea of presentation. They perceived it as an act of ‘closing particular works by individual artists into an uniform ghetto’, and requested more equality with the Western art context by problematizing its ‘exclusive’ right to recognition of singular artistic positions. Goran Đorđević, who used to exhibit in SKC from 1973-1985[4], wrote to exhibition organizers about how such an international context of exhibiting, based on the mimicry of the cold-war geopolitical agenda, actually becomes the only context of presentation on offer for the artists coming from Eastern Europe. Đorđević’s answer to invitation letter summarized some of the critiques coming from the side of Yugoslav participants: “They (The artists from Eastern Europe) are practically forced to accept any offer since these are rare occasions when their work has a recognized artistic status, and on the other hand, this exhibition should explicitly or implicitly reaffirm the ‘unlimited’ freedom of artistic activities and ‘universality’ of cultural/artistic practice of the West. In that way the significance of such ‘ghetto’ exhibition is mainly reduced to its political dimension (dissident, exotic), while the nature of the works themselves, their character and significance, are pushed to background.”[5] After receiving Đorđević’s letter, the exhibition curators changed the initial plan; they decided to avoid framing the exhibition within the expected geopolitical agenda and joined the previously separated group of artists from Netherlands to the general selection; they also have chosen the more ‘universal’ heading – Works and Words – as the exhibition title, and dropped the term of “East European” that was prominent in previous versions and propositions. The answer by curator Josine van Droffelaar is included in the photo selection of this article, while the letter by Đorđević is reproduced among archival documents.

The story behind the exhibition Works and Words is an interesting example, or a comment on the contemporary forms of representation of Eastern Europen art in the (former) West. This story announced in a way the re-introduction of the critique of the discourse of Eastern European art in theoretical and art-historical overviews of the exhibition history and art history that emerged after 1989. As for the generation of artists gathered around SKC gallery in the 1970s, the exhibition can be observed as the indicator of some of their positions towards the “outside”, towards the context of international presentation and participation in the politics of exhibiting and framing New Art in the European and global context.

 

[1] c.f. curatorial-editorial introduction text, Works and Words (exhibition catalog), De Appel 1980.

[2] i.e.  Marina Abramović, Biljana Tomić, Vladimir Gudac, Ješa Denegri, Raša Todisijević, Goran Đorđević, Tomislav Gotovac, Vladimir Gudac, Sanja Iveković, Marijan Susovski, Dalibor Martinis etc.

[3] The term Ideosphere is borrowed from the same-titled text by Rolan Barthes. Here in particular ‘SKC ideosphere’ refers to the institutional links between the Student Centers in Belgrade, Zagreb and later Ljubljana, and their various other official or self-organised art spaces supporting the work of young artists; it also refers to the personal relations and friendships among different artists, art groups or art couples living and working in various cities throughout Yugoslavia.

[4] Goran Đorđević leaves the artworld as individual artists in 1985, or – to term it in his own words – he ‘disappears as a character from the artistic scene’.

[5] From Đorđević’s letter to the organisers of the exhibition Works and Words.


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Kosmoss Disco-Lectures

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Date: Late 1970s–early 1980s

Organizer: Hardijs Lediņš

Location: “Oktobris”, the Construction Workers’ House of Culture, Riga

In the mid 1970s, architecture student Hardijs Lediņš organized a series of disco-lectures in the Polytechnical Institute’s student club. At the time, the discotheque was a new entertainment phenomenon in Soviet Latvia, a “sociocultural product” from the West that introduced people to popular Western music. Lediņš occasionally spiced up his discos by sharing his views on contemporary music—during the first half of each event he gave a lecture, then played recordings.

In collaboration with stage designer Leonards Laganovskis and musician Mārtiņš Rutkis, Lediņš continued the disco-lectures at the “Kosmoss” experimental discos held in the Construction Workers’ House of Culture, Oktobris. In between educational and entertaining repertoire he presented various subjects, such as architecture, or readings of his own poetry. Avant-garde soloists and bands from Riga improvised on stage. Important for the experience were the visual effects and use of multimedia, which featured slide projections with texts and photographs and special stage and room decorations.

The discos signaled Lediņš’s movement towards sound and multimedia experiments and his creation of the Restoration Workshop of Unfelt Feelings, one of the most interesting phenomena in avant-garde art in 1980s Latvia.


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Lines – exhibition curated by Branka Stipančić

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Date: December 1979

Curated by: Branka Stipančić

Participants: Željko Jerman, Željko Kipke, Antun Maračić, Marijan Molnar, Goran Petercol, Darko Šimičić, Raša Todosijević

Location: Podroom—the Working Community of Artists, Mesnička 12, Zagreb

“Lines” was the second curatorial concept the art historian Branka Stipančić presented at Podroom (Basement)—the Working Community of Artists in Zagreb. Podroom, a self-organized artist space that existed between 1978 and 1980, brought together Zagreb artists associated with the “new art practice” (conceptual, performative, and process-based art of the late 1960s and ’70s in Yugoslavia).1 Most exhibitions and events were organized by artists. The two exhibitions organized by Stipančić in 1979—“Values” and “Lines”—were exceptional. They were the first two curated projects by Stipančić, a then emerging art critic and curator. For both projects, she was concerned with finding an appropriate mode of exhibition that would communicate the basic problems and meaning of the new Conceptual art to the public.

In particular, “Lines” was conceived explicitly as a didactic exhibition. In the introductory text of the accompanying catalogue, Stipančić states that she is exhibiting a “method,” a particular mode that would enable those unfamiliar with the “new art” to understand its radical departure from traditional ways of making art.2 By showing the exhibition in Podroom, the curator admitted that she was preaching to the converted, and that the exhibition would better achieve its didactic purpose in another space, such as a university.

But how was this lesson delivered (i.e., curated)? All works included in the exhibition involved a single element: a straight line drawn on a flat plane. This uniform visual identity was chosen, on the one hand, for its simplicity and the narrow range of metaphorical implications it potentially draws, and on the other, because it exposed the inadequacy and absurdity of the method of conventional formal analysis when applied to the new art. Stipančić elaborated, with humor, the likely results of such a conventional reading, if applied to the works she presented:

“By selecting artworks that resemble one another, what is revealed is the absurdity of the attempt to read the ‘new artistic practice’ by means of the existing formal, aesthetic, value-based criteria of traditional art criticism and theory. If we would proceed by such method, here we would find ten (and more, because these are merely examples) of the same visual contributions, i.e., a multitude of plagiarisms, pointing to a troubling tendency among young artists, who would seem to have found their expression in drawing and exhibiting lines.”3

Instead, new art required new tools of critical interpretation, as well as new methods of curation. Stipančić showed that the same visual element—a straight line—was in fact not at all the same, but acquired new meaning in each artistic iteration, with each change of idea, motivation, process, and context. Ultimately, what was revealed was not the work as a mere visual and aesthetic fact but “the work as a specific system within the system of art and society.”4 In order to make this as explicit as possible, Stipančić decided to exhibit each of the artworks with an accompanying text written by the artist to explain the particular concepts, processes, and intended meanings pertaining to the work. The most comprehensive and theoretical text “What Are Lines?” (1977) by Raša Todosijević explained the artist’s continuous engagement with the line-form since 1973, as a way to question “art by means of art.” Stipančić’s concept could be considered a translation of Todosijević’s artistic process into a curatorial one, into questioning the meaning and function of exhibition by means of exhibition.

Document: Branka Stipančić: Lines (1979)

Guide for the chronology (Ivana Bago: Something to think about: values and valeurs of visibility in Zagreb from 1961 to 1986)


1 For an account of Podroom, see Ivana Bago,  “A Window and a Basement: Negotiating Hospitality at La Galerie Des Locataires and Podroom—the Working Community of Artists,” ARTMargins, vol. 1, no. 2–3 (June–October 2012):116–46.

2 Branka Stipančić, Lines, exhibition catalogue (Zagreb: Podroom, 1979).

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.


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Red Year – International Festival of Socio-cultural Processual Feasts

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Date: 1979

Participants and organizers: Róbert Cyprich (1951–1996), and with the creative cooperation of 365 friends from all over the world.

Location: Czechoslovakia

Róbert Cyprich’s pseudo-festival Red Year is connected to several other events that he organized in 1979 including Faga Ready-Made ’79ONE MAN SHOW? 15 000 000 ”MAN“ SHOW!BEIG Inc.Time of Cage, and Bee Flower. The conceptual poster–calendar Red Year came about as a creative collaboration with 365 friends from around the world, and was conducted via mail. The work emerged from the collision between the international utopian ideals of the avant-garde and the reality of everyday life in Czechoslovakia at that time where official ”red” idealogy was imposed on society.

 


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