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Kalinsky, Yelena

The View from Out Here: Western Art in the Moscow Conceptualist Imagination

Art historian Hal Foster has argued that returns across temporal divides often contain within them the desire “to reconnect with a lost practice in order to disconnect from a present way of working felt to be outmoded, misguided, or otherwise oppressive.” An analogous logic might be said to hold across geo-political divides. During the Cold War, artists and critics on both sides of the Iron Curtain surveyed the art of the other in search of both new artistic directions and as ideological foils in a charged political climate. Inevitably, across such distances, the view could become distorted, particularly in questions of politics and art. As a result, histories of cultural interaction across the Iron Curtain have frequently focused on ideologically-driven misreadings or distortions, articulated through notions of influence and rivalry.

This paper attempts to get beyond these Cold War frameworks in the context of late-Soviet Moscow. As art historians are increasingly realizing, conceptualism was a truly global phenomenon, and late-Soviet Moscow was one center of conceptualist activity. While actual interactions with Western artists were rare or nonexistent, their latest developments were eagerly glimpsed from the pages of arduously obtained books and magazines. For some of Moscow’s young unofficial vanguard, Western conceptual art became more than a foil to compete with or a condition to aspire to. Rather, it became an imaginary place whose otherness served as a subject for the Muscovites’ own artistic investigations. Developing a complex, self-referential conceptual practice, these unofficial Soviet artists self-consciously staged their own encounters with Western conceptual art within their work as a means of investigating their location within both local and global contexts. While recognizing their distance, these artists nonetheless posited a hypothetical dialogue with the West whose imaginary parity provided a gateways out of the tyranny of the present.

Saturday 31 Oct 9.30-11.30 SESSION 7
Panel: Music, Literature and Fine Arts in the Cold War Soviet Union