Ostalgia at the New Museum

Ostalgia at the New Museum (Review Article),” ARTMargins, March 5, 2012.

View selected works from the exhibition on the New Museum's website.

Conceived as “a survey devoted to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Republics,” this exhibition represents a politicized, exoticized, and marginalized view of art from the former Soviet empire, making the Communist past, or, more precisely, the Western notion of it, the central axis of the show.

Deliberately blurred notions of geography and chronology complicate the rational coherence of the show, suggesting that diverse individual artistic practices and cultural backgrounds (from Central, Eastern, Southern, Northern European and Asian countries) belong to the same cultural milieu. Arguably the dialogue of art with a totalitarian regime creates the otherness that the Western audiences most often expect from the art of the former Communist bloc. Emphasizing this dialogue conveys the same simplified identity of the Other that has been continuously constructed in the West since the late 1960s by such seemingly contradictory players as leftist intellectuals and the capitalist art market, according to Éva Forgács.

Ostalgia encourages the canonization of works that reflect the tastes and formal preferences of a narrow circle of mainly Western collectors, and narratives by mainly Russian critics and theoreticians. Art from a large part of Europe therefore seems doomed to be viewed only as a heroic gesture of political resistance that can easily “fit into either the Western or the Russian narrative,” without individual artists, trends, or schools having a distinct, singular voice outside these two grand narratives.