The end of the Cold War in 1989 signalled the start of a new era in Eastern Europe, and these transformations were felt no less profoundly in the art world. This course examines ‘Eastern European’ art in the decades preceding and following the transformations of 1989-1991. By way of introduction, we survey changes in cultural policy across Central and Eastern Europe following Yugoslavia’s expulsion from the Communist Information Bureau in 1948, the death of Stalin in 1953 and the political events of 1956. We continue to examine the art production of the 1960s – a decade marked by student demonstrations and the emergence of an international ‘New Left’, together with the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. Through this context, we will explore artistic gestures designed to undermine political dogmas, and address the social objectives of artists and cultural workers working outside of market mechanisms.

From there, we will proceed to examine the region’s art production after 1989 in light of the social, political, economic and cultural consequences that have accompanied ‘transitions’ from post-socialist societies into free-market economies and liberal democracies. This discussion will include themes of communist memory and identity; critiques of nationalism; reflections on the economic and social realities of the neoliberal ‘reconstruction’ of Eastern Europe’s new nation states; issues of gender after 1989; together with the challenges implied in theorising a regional cultural experience. Is it possible to speak about ‘Eastern Europe’ as a cultural phenomenon that crosses the borders of individual national cultures? And if so, is the Eastern European cultural space and its art distinctive from other regions? Besides becoming familiar with important contemporary practices and practitioners, students will have the opportunity to develop informed opinions about the broad and diverse heritage of communism and the social and political dilemmas of post-communism.