A brief history of the development of Central and Eastern European Contemporary Art
Our story begins post-World War II. The victorious triumph of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany prompted the annexing the Eastern European countries. Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin instilled the “socialist utopia” based on loyalty to the state, national patriotism, and “Homo Sovieticus”-or ideal Soviet man- on youth culture. However, this was in stark contrast with the harsh reality of the time- youth deprivation and abject poverty, creating a dystopian picture of former Soviet satellite states. Censorship, propaganda, spontaneous protest and oppression became norms until of course, they were freed with the fall of the Berlin wall. This is the collective cultural experience that ties Eastern Europe together. Although the idea of Eastern Europe is nearly not as new as one would presume. In a way, there has always been a stark polarization of Western and Eastern Europe. The cultural construction of an underdeveloped, weaker sibling to Western Europe persisted long before recent events and continues to haunt the region. The Iron Curtain may have fallen, but the idea of “a weak Eastern Europe still persists.” By representing and pushing forward clearly talented emerging contemporary artists from this region, we are making a stand here at Victory Art — it’s time to give these artists a chance.
Eastern European artists have always been a brave breed of artists. Obviously, two of the main characteristics of contemporary art have been either ideological theme of anti-establishment or individual self-expression. During the 1970s when Western Pop culture influenced by Andy Warhol and other Western created penetrated Soviet culture, it prompted the Soviet authority to denounce it as “degenerative and not in accordance with Soviet qualities”. Unsurprisingly, these works were censored, along with other dissident voice within and without the Warsaw pact. But such an enactment only popularized the art pieces, to the point of self-popularizing using “censorship” status. It also emboldened the resolve of the many art groups working in secret including Sztuka, Gorgona, and Jack of Diamonds. Another crucial aspect that impedes the market is the notion that “Eastern Europe” was always simultaneously both other Europe and Europe’s “other”. This notion shaped by the West during the Cold War is still alive till this day. It lumps all countries in the region and strips all Eastern and Central European countries of its national identity in favour of Western cultural monopoly. Such a contaminated definition of Eastern Europe will turn out culturally negligible for artists, in the long run, the situation became culturally disintegrated.
For the younger generation who grew up free from Soviet rule, they are the first generation to create art that allows them to fully express themselves and their individuality. The downfall of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to more economic and artistic freedom. However, new challenges emerge as corporatist and nationalistic authoritarian takes over Soviet authoritarian. Adding to this, focus on financial recovery, lack of appeal, pressure from authority and lack of third-party support has rendered Central and Eastern Europe to be inhospitable to the hardship of artists, prompting many to explore markets abroad. Given the market is largely undiscovered, this has for better or for worse, led to the rise of artists untouched by commercial greed. The artists do not try to force themselves into fitting the Western ideal but rather, with all intent and purpose, just find their own way in the tiny market. Either way, Eastern European artists are not contaminated by the idea of what is trendy and hot at the moment. If anything, this region despite its fractured history (or perhaps because of it) has been championing the true essence of art: authentic expression of the human experience.
As the global market, which has so far largely motivated by Western ideals and standards expands it’s horizon: it is less patriarchal and open to exploring new cultures, Eastern philosophy, African tradition, South American culture, and even Australian aboriginal art are being welcomed with open arms. During such a time, Eastern European artists face a unique challenge: they are different enough to not fit the Western ideal but close enough to not have an exotic appeal. The market, despite its rich fabric, is largely undiscovered by buyers and patrons, an injustice to the bravery the artists have brought to the table. Eastern European artists have come a long way of rebellion against authoritarianism in search of individual and national freedom. Despite the technical and conceptual quality of the region, the obscurity of the market makes it so the art world has pigeon-holed these artists into creating only Moscow-centered work, marginalizing the larger culture of the region. With the art capitals shifting from New York and London to other parts of the world including China, India, and North Africa, it has overlooked the collective experience of Eastern Europe. Up until 2019, there had been no art auctions organized by major art platforms in the entire region made up of multiple countries. Sotheby’s “Contemporary East” was the first. So, in the middle of international integration comes a new challenge for these artists, to the larger world specifically and cultural sovereignty in general: how to define their cultural authenticity?