CFP: Exhibitions, New Nations and the Human Factor, 1873–1939

CALL FOR PAPERS

Exhibitions, new nations and the human factor, 1873–1939

CRAACE symposium, 4–5 April 2022

Institut national d’histoire de l’art, Paris

 

Keynote speaker: Professor Mary Pepchinski, Technical University Dresden

It is widely recognised that new political entities that came to existence as nation states from the end of the nineteenth century sought to legitimise their identities externally through participation at world’s fairs and internally through consolidation of their national collections in museums and galleries of art and design. While the official motivations and presentations have been examined quite thoroughly, the agency of many individuals involved in different stages of exhibition design has been overlooked.

This symposium aims to explore the relations – including discrepancies – between the official narratives of exhibitions, as devised by the organisers, and the narratives by individuals whose participation helped to construct the meaning and content of the exhibits. By this, the discussion moves away from the focus on the state apparatus and official ideologies towards the people who designed the national presentations, worked in them and visited them. Our main focus is on how exhibitions were used to consolidate new political identities. The period covered by the symposium begins with the Vienna World Fair of 1873 and concludes with the outbreak of the Second World War. It saw important changes in political and geographical circumstances globally, with the creation and recreation of, for instance, Romania, Turkey, Egypt, Czechoslovakia, Austria and Hungary.

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Artwork of the Month, August 2021: To Arms! To Arms! by Róbert Berény (1919)

In 2018 the Kassák Museum in Budapest staged Everything Is Ours!, an installation by artist Ádám Albert (*1975) that pondered on the visual propaganda of the 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic. The small, meditative show was suddenly thrown into the limelight when it was ferociously denounced in the right-wing press for supposedly promoting Communist ideas and violence. The controversy is seen to have led to the resignation of the director of the Petőfi Museum of Literature (the mother institution of the Kassák Museum) not much later.

These events suggest that the Soviet Republic constitutes a highly sensitive and prominent memory site in Hungarian culture, but the ‘scandal’ was in fact something of a surprise. Although the short-lived 1919 Communist regime remains controversial, its memory is much less pivotal today than it was in the first seventy years after its collapse, when it was undoubtedly a cornerstone of political self-identification. In the interwar period, the right-wing Horthy regime held it up as the manifestation of all evil, while under state Socialism it was celebrated as a venerable antecedent. Today, by contrast, right-wing anti-communism has a more immediate counterconcept in the post-1948 regime, while for left-wingers the Soviet Republic’s excess and violence precludes it as an object of identification. Indeed, the most uncomfortable, and at the same time most intriguing aspect of the Soviet Republic is how progressive ideas and a genuine will to bring about positive change, which drew in some of the best – not necessarily Communist – minds of the time, coexisted with unrestrained brutality and diehard dogmatism. The latest study of the events emphasises their chaotic, sometimes accidental nature, and the widely varied ideologies, aims, desires and ambitions of the individuals who made them happen.[1]

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Toyen: The Dreaming Rebel: Exhibition review

One of interwar Czechoslovakia’s best-known younger artists, Toyen (1902–1980, born Marie Čermínová) had a long and productive career – first as a member of the interwar avant-garde Devětsil group, then as a founding member of the Prague surrealist group, and finally as a core member of André Breton’s Paris surrealist group. Through almost five decades and many stylistic shifts, Toyen forged a remarkable and unusual career, not least because of her important role as a woman central to, rather than peripheral to, three important creative groups. Works such as the moody and lyrical abstractions of her Artificialist period, and surrealist paintings such as Dream (1937) and Eclipse (1968), have assured Toyen’s significance in the contexts of both the Czech and the international avant-garde. In recent years, Toyen has also become a figure of interest for the international trans community, due to the artist’s gender-ambiguous self-styling.

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