Art History and Socialism(s) after World War II

Albeit the Soviet and Eastern European socialist regimes during the latter 20th century seem to be a distant past by now, one must acknowledge that research on it still has many uncovered areas. This applies not least to the role of “socialist” art historians, their activities and functions in universities, exhibitions or the mass media, but above all their academic text production. Deriving from a complicated socio-cultural set of relations, the common denominator for which was “socialism”, these art-historical “acts” shaped the general comprehensions of art, culture and history in the society at large. With the overall historiographical turn across humanities, scholars from the Baltic to the Balkan region have begun to re-address the various histories of artworks, architecture, artistic styles or whole epochs that these practices constructed. Conferences on this recent art-historical past have been held and scholarly publications issued, also in English, today’s lingua franca, but the vast majority of research remains written in national languages, thus circulating mainly at local level.

Our call for papers originates from the conviction that researchers of socialist art history need a common platform, to introduce and compare the art-historical practices across former Soviet Union and socialist countries in Europe. Paraphrasing the late Piotr Piotrowski – the time is ripe for the project of a “horizontal” reading of socialist art history. Our hypothesis is that similar to different “socialisms”, the “socialist art history” as an umbrella term covers rather distinct and distant ways of writing the history of art and architecture. On the one hand, Moscow’s determining power varied greatly by decade, region and particular case. In addition to ideological pressure or terror, other kinds of factors – of which the neighbours might not have been or still be aware of – affected the art-historical ideas and practices of different Soviet republics or the satellite states in Eastern and Central Europe. On the other hand, the making of art history and its visual displays by means of exhibitions (as well as contemporary artistic practices) were depending upon the international art history discourse, even if the range and accessibility of literature etc. varied from country to country.