MA in the History of Art

Countercultures: Alternative Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America 1953-1991

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Course Description

This MA Option explores the experimental art scenes that developed, in parallel, in Communist Eastern Europe and under Latin American military dictatorships from the time of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 to the dismantling of the Soviet ‘bloc’ in 1989-91. The course begins with a series of introductory seminars on Latin American and East European modernism, Mexican Muralism, and Soviet Socialist Realism. We will then explore countercultural activities designed to subvert censorship, challenge political orthodoxy, and to produce alternative models of solidarity, analysing moral encounters between alternative art and mechanisms of military and state repression in 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Czechoslovakia, the DDR, Hungary, Mexico, Poland, Romania, Uruguay, and the USSR. Artists and collectives discussed will include: CADA, Collective Actions, Lygia Clark, Guillermo Deisler, Ion Grigorescu, Roberto Jacoby, Ilya Kabakov, Július Koller, KwieKulik, Dora Maurer, Cildo Meireles, Ana Mendieta, Helio Oiticica, Clemente Padín, Robert Rehfeldt, Tamás Szentjóby, and Horacio Zabala. We seek to draw parallels between formally similar practices without losing a sense of their ideological specificity, and consider the challenges of developing a new ‘global’ art history, beyond national and regional frameworks. Our aim will be to work outwards from artistic propositions and actions to social and political theory, exploring how artists’ projects were embedded in global power structures. This entails close engagement with the writings of historic revolutionaries such as Brazilian Carlos Marighella and dissident theorists such as Czech Václav Havel, in conjunction with reading theorists such as Suely Rolnik, Boris Groys, Ernesto Laclau, and Slavoj Žižek. Fostering fresh approaches to modern and contemporary art history, the course explores the imperatives of art developed outside a market context in relation to recent moves to recuperate this formerly invisible past by a delayed international audience. The task is especially urgent given the rapid museumification of East European and Latin American art and archives, globally, since the 1990s. The course equips students with the necessary practical and methodological tools to develop exciting virtual exhibitions and to pursue innovative research projects.

Language and other requirements

Standard entry requirements. Reading knowledge of an East European language, Spanish or Portuguese, will be an advantage, but not a requirement.