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C-MAP Research Trip to Romania, Lithuania, and Serbia: Travel Journal

A group of ten curators and researchers from MoMA’s C-MAP Fluxus group set off on a ten-day trip to Romania, Lithuania, and Serbia in May 2012 to experience firsthand the material that they had until then been studying mainly from afar. The Fluxus group focuses on Fluxus-related and other experimental artistic practices that emerged in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s in countries east of the former Iron Curtain. Having visited Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Croatia in the fall of 2010, the members decided this past spring to further explore the region’s art, with its people, institutions, and complex histories.

Under the leadership of Christophe Cherix, and accompanied by Jarosław Suchan from Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź (PL), the group met with longtime colleagues and made numerous new acquaintances in Bucharest, Vilnius, Belgrade, Novi Sad, and Berlin. We visited museums, foundations, and contemporary art centers; looked at paintings, documents, and PowerPoint presentations; talked to artists, curators, and archivists over office desks and café tables; and experienced art exhibited, among other places, in the former museum of Soviet Revolution in Vilnius, in Ceauceşcu’s monumental palace in Bucharest, as well as in the basement of a block of flats—a vestige of the Communist era—in Belgrade. We were welcomed into museum storage spaces and people’s kitchens, and the inspiring encounters in each city left our minds racing, while our travel bags were got heavier and heavier with the books we were given by our hosts.

Here we share our impressions from some of the more than fifty meetings we held in the five cities. This experience has turned out to be invaluable for our ongoing C-MAP research in New York. As we look back at it now, we would like to know: Did we miss anything? As visitors to this region, we are aware of the limitations to our own knowledge and we invite your comments, and critique of our itinerary.

MM

Author

Elligott  michelle headshot3

Michelle Elligott

Chief of Archives The Museum of Modern Art Michelle Elligott is Chief of Archives of The Museum of Modern Art. Ms. Elligott joined MoMA as a Mellon Fellow in 1995; she became Rona Roob Senior Museum Archivist in... Read more »
Jon hendricks

Jon Hendricks

Consulting Curator, The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection The Museum of Modern Art Jon Hendricks is an artist, Fluxus Consulting Curator of the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection at The Museum of Modern Art, and curator of Yoko Ono exhibitions.... Read more »
Barbara london

Barbara London

Associate Curator, Department of Media and Performance Art The Museum of Modern Art Barbara London is Associate Curator in the Department of Media and Performance Art at The Museum of Modern Art. She joined the Museum in the early 1970s and founded the... Read more »
Picture roxana marcoci

Roxana Marcoci

Senior Curator, Department of Photography The Museum of Modern Art Roxana Marcoci is Senior Curator in the Department of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art, where she focuses on major acquisitions and exhibitions of modern and... Read more »
M moskalewicz

Magdalena Moskalewicz

Former Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral C-MAP Fellow at The Museum of Modern Art In 2012-2015 Magdalena Moskalewicz was a postdoctoral fellow for the C-MAP research initiative at MoMA, where she conducted research and organized academic programs for... Read more »
Paulina pobocha

Paulina Pobocha

Assistant Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture The Museum of Modern Art Paulina Pobocha is an Assistant Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at The Museum of Modern Art. During her time at MoMA, she has work on the exhibitions ... Read more »
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David Senior

Senior Bibliographer The Museum of Modern Art David Senior is the Senior Bibliographer at the Museum of Modern Art Library, where he manages collection development, including the library’s artists’ books collection.... Read more »
Jaros%c5%82aw suchan

Jarosław Suchan

Director Muzeum Sztuki Lodz Since 2006, Jarosław Suchan has served as director of the Muzeum Sztuki in Lodz. Previously, he served as the director of the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery, Cracow (1999–2002),... Read more »
Headshot gw 2.8.13

Gretchen Wagner

Curator The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts Gretchen Wagner is the curator at the The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis, MO, a position to which she was appointed in October 2012. Prior to this, she was... Read more »
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C-MAP Research Trip to Romania, Lithuania, and Serbia: Travel Journal MAP


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C-MAP Research Trip to Romania, Lithuania, and Serbia: Travel Journal

A group of ten curators and researchers from MoMA’s C-MAP Fluxus group set off on a ten-day trip to Romania, Lithuania, and Serbia in May 2012 to experience firsthand the material that they had until then been studying mainly from afar. The Fluxus group focuses on Fluxus-related and other experimental artistic practices that emerged in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s in countries east of the former Iron Curtain. Having visited Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Croatia in the fall of 2010, the members decided this past spring to further explore the region’s art, with its people, institutions, and complex histories.

Under the leadership of Christophe Cherix, and accompanied by Jarosław Suchan from Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź (PL), the group met with longtime colleagues and made numerous new acquaintances in Bucharest, Vilnius, Belgrade, Novi Sad, and Berlin. We visited museums, foundations, and contemporary art centers; looked at paintings, documents, and PowerPoint presentations; talked to artists, curators, and archivists over office desks and café tables; and experienced art...

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A group of ten curators and researchers from MoMA’s C-MAP Fluxus group set off on a ten-day trip to Romania, Lithuania, and Serbia in May 2012 to experience firsthand the material that they had until then been studying mainly from afar. The Fluxus group focuses on Fluxus-related and other experimental artistic practices that emerged in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s in countries east of the former Iron Curtain. Having visited Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Croatia in the fall of 2010, the members decided this past spring to further explore the region’s art, with its people, institutions, and complex histories.

Under the leadership of Christophe Cherix, and accompanied by Jarosław Suchan from Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź (PL), the group met with longtime colleagues and made numerous new acquaintances in Bucharest, Vilnius, Belgrade, Novi Sad, and Berlin. We visited museums, foundations, and contemporary art centers; looked at paintings, documents, and PowerPoint presentations; talked to artists, curators, and archivists over office desks and café tables; and experienced art exhibited, among other places, in the former museum of Soviet Revolution in Vilnius, in Ceauceşcu’s monumental palace in Bucharest, as well as in the basement of a block of flats—a vestige of the Communist era—in Belgrade. We were welcomed into museum storage spaces and people’s kitchens, and the inspiring encounters in each city left our minds racing, while our travel bags were got heavier and heavier with the books we were given by our hosts.

Here we share our impressions from some of the more than fifty meetings we held in the five cities. This experience has turned out to be invaluable for our ongoing C-MAP research in New York. As we look back at it now, we would like to know: Did we miss anything? As visitors to this region, we are aware of the limitations to our own knowledge and we invite your comments, and critique of our itinerary.

MM

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May 24th: Bucharest

Day One in Bucharest: Visit to MNAC

As soon as our plane landed on May 24 at Otopeni airport in Bucharest, we headed to Hotel Intercontinental, dropped off our luggage, and went straight to the Palace of Parliament, better known as "Casa Poporului" (House of the people). We learned that this is the largest building in Europe and the second largest in the world after the Pentagon. The edifice was designed during Nicolae Ceauşescu’s regime, after the Romanian dictator returned from a visit to North Korea in the early 1970s. Today, the building functions as the seat of political and administrative power, and it also houses MNAC (The National Museum of Contemporary Art), which opened in 2001. Our first visit was scheduled with MNAC’s director, Mihai Oroveanu, and Chief Curator Ruxandra Balaci. Oroveanu, a photography historian who oversees the museum’s collections, took us on a walk through the architectural photography exhibition on view, featuring International-style buildings from the 1920s and ’30s in Bucharest, many of which have since been destroyed. We also visited the museum’s underbelly, its hidden, residual storage spaces, where we saw a trove of Socialist Realist paintings—all official portraits of Ceauşescu and his wife, Elena. At MNAC we met with two members of subREAL, a group founded in 1990 by Călin Dan, Iosif Király, and Dan Mihaltianu, whose conceptual works were being installed for a retrospective that was opening the following week. Later that evening, we had dinner with artist Dan Perjovschi, curator Alina Serban, and philosopher Erwin Kessler.

MNAC: National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest

SubREAL at MNAC

One of the highlights of the trip for me was meeting Iosif Király and Călin Dan of the group subREAL and visiting the preliminary installation of their exhibition at MNAC with them. It was great to see one of their iconic works, Draculaland, in person. But perhaps of even more interest was viewing their poster for Dataroom while listening to the artists describe it: a yearlong live/work project in which they inhabited a room whose walls and ceiling were covered with reproductions of artworks from Arta, the official art magazine in Romania, and where they staged events. Truly a living archive... (and nice to know that the Arta image archive now resides in MNAC's documentation center).

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Posters by subREAL for Dataroom and Draculaland

Bucharest

I felt great excitement about going to Romania for the first time, with visions of Brancusi's Endless Column in my mind and amazement that I would be visiting the source from which so much Dada sprang—Tristan Tzara, Arthur Segal, Marcel Janco and his brothers, like a bookend to Berlin for the fusion in Zurich. Excitement also that we would be meeting the great artists Ion Grigorescu and Geta Brătescu, both of whom deserve much greater recognition in the world. There were no disappointments in Bucharest. We were warmly welcomed by Mihai Oroveanu and Ruxandra Balaci at the National Museum of Contemporary Art. Mihai has encyclopedic knowledge of the Romanian avant-garde, and they both shared so much with us. At dinner, I had a chance to speak at length with Erwin Kessler, who also has a vast knowledge of the Romanian avant-garde. The food was delicious as well.

Bucharest Biennale Opening Performance by Klas Ericsson

Soon after our lively dinner with Dan Perjovschi, Alina Serban, and Erwin Kessler in the restaurant of the Intercontinental Hotel in Bucharest, where the C-MAP group had checked in several hours previously, we made our way outside to view the Bucharest Biennale’s inaugural event, a work titled Com’on You Reds by Swedish artist Klas Ericsson. The sun had set, and it was just beginning to rain as we joined an already assembled group of onlookers in the plaza directly in front the hotel’s entrance. Slowly, the building seemed to set aflame. It was impressive. (In fact, in a highly coordinated effort, several dozen volunteers positioned on the hotel’s balconies lit red flares, beginning on the lower floors and working their way up, creating the illusion of fire.) I had learned during dinner that prior to 1989, the Intercontinental was the premier hotel in Bucharest (though it’s older now, I think it still is), attracting primarily foreign patrons. During the 1989 revolution, the hotel’s balconies offered privileged views of the protests happening in the immediate vicinity of University Square. Ericsson’s work thoughtfully engaged the history of the city and the building. It was an effective start to a Biennale staged, in part, in the city’s unused, dilapidated, or otherwise peripheral corners.

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Hotel Intercontinental in flames. © Michelle Elligott

Bucharest Biennale 5 opening

That same evening we attended the opening performance of the Bucharest Biennale, Tactics for the Here and Now. Organized by Ann Barlow, the biennial responded to the shifting conditions of economic culture and recent political revolutions through a series of new commissions by seventeen emerging artists, including Alexandre Singh, Wael Shawky, Haris Epaminonda, Aurélian Froment, and Marina Albu. The opening performance was by the Berlin-based Swedish artist Klas Ericsson, who set Hotel Intercontinental ablaze. Titled Com’on You Reds, the performance took us by surprise when one hundred volunteers began burning red flares from the balconies of the hotel in which we stayed. This hotel is a landmark of Bucharest. Situated in University Square, site of student protests, the hotel is the seat from which foreign journalists reported during the 1989 revolution.

At dinner

May 25th: Bucharest

Bucharest Biennale 5

Bucharest Biennale 5

The next morning, we visited other venues of the biennial. A highlight was the House of Free Press, an edifice previously closed to the public. This structure is practically a copy of the Lomonosov Moscow State University, the largest university in Russia. Erected in the 1950s, it was the headquarters of state media, the printing press, and of the newspaper Scînteia, which emerged as the official voice of the Communist Party of Romania. Interestingly, the legacy of Communism was displayed alongside the city’s burgeoning capitalist spring: when we saw the building, the top of its facade was emblazoned with a Citibank banner. Another venue worth visiting was the Institute for Political Research, which opened ten years after the 1989 revolution and serves as one of the few platforms for debate and critical analysis of the political environment in Romania. Here we saw Marina Albu’s The Real People’s House, an environment that re-creates the living conditions during Ceauşescu’s power supply blackouts; and Janice Kerbel’s Remarkable, a series of faux agitprop posters inspired by nineteenth-century fairground posters.

Bucharest Biennale 5

The Bucharest Biennale is a raw and vital gathering of artists doing current and essential work. One really feels a sense of discovery, a sense of immediacy, and a need to better understand the work. Many of the installations are demanding and provoking. I was especially taken with the work of Marina Naprushkina from Belarus, who is challenging not only herself but the structure of her society.

MNAR (National Museum of Art of Romania) and Around

Ion Grigorescu Studio Visit

The first formal studio visit of the trip did not take place in a studio and was not that formal. The entire MoMA group descended upon Ion Grigorescu’s apartment for a conversation with the artist. We talked of older works from the 1960s and the social setting of these works. He told of the necessity of developing his own films in secret and the degree of difficulty in making and showing work in Bucharest at that time. The discussion turned to Grigorescu’s current practice, and he passed around daily journals annotated with notes and drawings. We were short on time, and some of group left to meet with Geta Brătescu while a few of us stayed behind. We went downstairs to a cafe, and in this setting, Grigorescu spoke more about his journals and his interests in writing and psychoanalysis. He currently records his dreams. Some of these dream writings have been published in a Bucharest art magazine, but we talked of the possibility of a book project to assemble all of these materials in one place. He also discussed some his long-ago travels, such as the time he went to Paris and met Christian Boltanski and Jean Le Gac. It was a gorgeous afternoon as we finished our drinks in the outdoor cafe and finally said goodbye to Mr. Grigorescu.

MNAR, Food, and Thought

While in Bucharest, we were treated to a tour of the National Museum of Art of Romania (MNAR), where we not only saw displays of their permanent collection of twentieth-century Romanian avant-garde art, but also were very privileged to look at works by Maxy, Janco, and Segal in their vaults. Curator Valentina Iancu was most helpful and informative. For lunch, we went to the small vendors behind the museum and had enormous, dripping sandwiches that were delicious.

Visiting Ion Grigorescu

Meeting Ion Grigorescu

During our visit with Ion Grigorescu at his studio, he mentioned that the political situation in Romania was such that, until the 1990s, after the fall of the Ceauşescu regime, his seminal 1978 film Dialogue with Ceauşescu had only been viewed by a handful of people. In fact, he made it in complete seclusion, playing both roles, operating the camera, and later developing the film in his studio. He stressed that everyone was a potential informant, and there were very few people including fellow artists, friends, and family that he could trust. The reception of an artwork is predicated on an audience. For many artists the prospect of reception, intertwined as it is with a desire to communicate, drives their practice. Given the oppressive censorship in Romania during the 1970s and throughout the 1980s, which virtually robbed Grigorescu of an audience, it is remarkable that this and his other films exist at all.

Ion Grigorescu

While in Bucharest we made two memorable studio visits, one with Ion Grigorescu, an iconic figure of performance and Conceptual art. Increasingly acclaimed for his role in effectively cultivating resistance and underground art under Communist totalitarianism, Grigorescu’s work has recently been added to MoMA’s collection, filling an important gap in the history of media and performance art.

Geta Brătescu

The other visit was with Geta Brătescu, who at age eighty-six works daily in her studio. During the two decades of Ceauşescu’s regime, Brătescu’s studio served multiple functions: as a space of interaction for artists working outside the official art scene (she did a number of film collaborations with Grigorescu), and as a site where she developed performative choreographies that took on political implications. Christophe Cherix conducted an interview with Geta about the influence of Chaplin on her work and the special role that the studio plays in her practice.

Geta Brătescu's Home Studio

Geta Brătescu Studio Visit

Our group split into two, and five of us took the van to a residential area of Bucharest to visit 86-year-old artist Geta Brătescu. We were warmly greeted by the artist and her gallerist Marian Ivan in a well-lit and very much in-use studio. During the course of our visit, we saw many works still in her collection, among them a series of intricate sewing-machine drawings titled Medea’s Hypostasis and Pafnutie’s Box, and a collection of performative objects related to her 1978 film The Studio. I was as much impressed by her personality as by her art. Almost forty years after her first films, she remains equal parts exuberant and irreverent. There has been a recent surge in interest surrounding Brătescu’s practice. It is well deserved.

May 26th: Vilnius

National Gallery of Art in Vilnius

National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art in Vilnius was designed in 1966 and erected in 1980 as the Museum of the Revolution of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, which was part of USSR until its dissolution in 1991. What used to be a monument to constructed history and, ultimately, oppressive ideology now houses twentieth-century art. The story was told to us by Lolita Jablonskienė, the gallery’s chief curator, as early afternoon sun from over the nearby Vilnia River entered the modernist building through its massive windows. We were amazed by (and also slightly jealous of) the building’s 2009 additions: two freestanding, wall-like, shiny, black structures of almost sculptural quality that house staff offices.

Lolita gave us a fascinating...

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National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art in Vilnius was designed in 1966 and erected in 1980 as the Museum of the Revolution of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, which was part of USSR until its dissolution in 1991. What used to be a monument to constructed history and, ultimately, oppressive ideology now houses twentieth-century art. The story was told to us by Lolita Jablonskienė, the gallery’s chief curator, as early afternoon sun from over the nearby Vilnia River entered the modernist building through its massive windows. We were amazed by (and also slightly jealous of) the building’s 2009 additions: two freestanding, wall-like, shiny, black structures of almost sculptural quality that house staff offices.

Lolita gave us a fascinating tour of the collection, which has been gathered over the past century and reflects Vilnius’s complex history. (The city belonged to Poland before World War II and is an important part of the history of Polish avant-garde art.) She explained that the lack of more experimental artistic trends in the collection reflects the general lack of such trends in Lithuanian postwar art. Lolita also told us that the urge to build a national cultural identity for the relatively young democratic Lithuanian state has had repercussions on the local art market, which remains rather closed to foreign artistic production.

After this illuminating walkthrough we found ourselves in yet another seminar on Lithuanian art. Elona Lubytė gave us an extensive presentation of the exhibition Quiet Modernism in Lithuania 1962–1982, which she curated in 1997. She made the claim that in Lithuania, unlike in many other countries of the region, there was no clear division between official and unofficial artists (those supported by state institutions and those working underground). There were only official and unofficial art spaces, in which the same artists exhibited very different types of production. She showed us a set of beautifully crafted handmade Christmas cards that local artists used to send to each other in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, as a form of independent, very personal art practice. After the viewing, we were treated to more presentations. Dovilė Tumpytė gave an overview of an extremely ambitious archival project that the gallery is participating in, called Parallel Chronologies: An Archive of East European Exhibitions and organized by tranzit.hu, and Ieva Mazūraitė-Novickienė showed us books on photography recently published in Lithuania.

Before we left the National Gallery, we met with the artist Dainius Liškevičius and the curator Giedrius Gulbinas in the space of their show The Museum. And so, by the time we found ourselves once again on the monumental steps outside the museum, the sun was sinking behind the Old Town’s historic buildings on the other side of the river.

Old Town in Vilnius

Sunny Vilnius

The Old Town of Vilnius is extraordinarily clean, composed of newly renovated buildings whose freshly painted facades are spotlit in the evening to maximum dramatic effect. We checked into our hotel on a warm and sunny Saturday when the Lithuanian Heritage Festival was in mid-swing, aurally evidenced by the folk music filling the square. After Bucharest, a very lived-in city, I wondered if I hadn’t just walked onto a film set. The effect was so pronounced and startling that I asked Virginija Januškevičiūtė, a curator from the Contemporary Art Center, about it. As it turns out, in 2009 Vilnius was selected as the European Capital of Culture, which spurred much restoration across the city and particularly in the historic district. Of course, most residents of Vilnius live outside the Old Town under comparatively normal lighting conditions.

May 27th: Vilnius

Contemporary Art Center in Vilnius

Mindaugas Navakas

One of the artworks we found most impressive in the National Gallery’s vast collection was a set of collages showing imaginary monuments inserted into Vilnius’s urban spaces. The collages were produced by Mindaugas Navakas between 1981 and 1985. We visited the artist the next day: he hosted us in a sculpture garden just outside of the city, in a place where the artistic community started setting up studios and open-air exhibition spaces in the 1980s. Navakas himself gained wide international recognition after representing Lithuania at the Venice Biennale in 1999, and although he mainly produces monumental stone sculptures, the artist shared with us his former fascination with industrially produced materials. It was a fascination he developed in the early 1990s, when these materials suddenly flooded the Lithuanian market, prompting him to produce a very different body of work. For his successful Frieze Project installation commissioned for London’s Frieze Art Fair in 2009, Navakas used windows that had just been removed from Vilnius’s Center for Contemporary Art during its renovation. We found some of those in his garden, mounted directly on the ground. They surrounded a medium-sized, sarcophagus-shaped piece executed in red granite and hollowed out in the middle, creating something similar to a mini shaded glasshouse for the sculpture. The artist presented the piece to us as his outdoor bathtub, and just as we started giggling at what we assumed was a joke, we noticed that the granite tub did indeed have a stopper…

Visiting Mindaugas Navakas

Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center

Through my work with the Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift at MoMA, I had heard much about the Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center and looked forward to finally visiting in person. Having spearheaded the influential Anthology Film Archives and Film-Makers’ Cooperative in New York, Mekas, a Lithuanian filmmaker, returned home to initiate yet another site for creative production and research. Fundamental to the Center’s mission is the desire to establish Vilnius as “avant-garde’s new capital” and to do this by exhibiting historical material, including Fluxus objects and documents acquired by the city, as well as presenting contemporary projects. Considering this ambitious call for a hub of radical activity, it was peculiar to find the Center located in a recently constructed high-rise office building. Perhaps this is a comically subversive gesture on the part of Mekas? The space opened to the public in 2007 with the exhibition The Avant-Garde: From Futurism to Fluxus. At the time of our visit, young local artists from the Ministry of Fluxus collective performed and discussed their installations. It was disappointing that we could not access works in the collection during our stay for reasons that were not altogether clear; however, perhaps the works will return to view soon and be made available to the public as the Center initially intended.

Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center

Meeting Vytautas Landsbergis

It was an intriguing experience to sit face-to-face with the distinguished deputy of the European Parliament and a prominent conservative politician, while being aware that a few decades ago he was associated with Fluxus, one of the most radical (also politically) experiments in art. George Maciunas, the leader of Fluxus, exchanged correspondence with Landsbergis, and at the same time, he was writing letters to Khrushchev trying to convince him to make the USSR the center of the Fluxus movement. You can say: a typical story. Many contemporary American neocons used to be involved in the countercultural revolt of the 1960s. But this instance, I think, is more complex. This is not necessarily a case of political “conversion.” In the art of Central Europe, we can find quite a few examples proving that artistic radicalism went hand in hand with political conservatism (or a kind of pro-aristocracy stance), since they both contested the then status quo.

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Lunch conversation with Vytautas Landsbergis. © Michelle Elligott

Darius Mikšys

In the lounge of our Vilnius hotel, part of the group met with the soft-spoken Darius Mikšys. The artist talked about his practice, in which social networks take on new forms. For Mikšys, installations provide the opportunity to experiment, conceptualize, and reimagine processes of making, displaying, and engaging with art. Representing Lithuania at the Venice Biennale in 2011, Mikšys invited all Lithuanian artists who had received Lithuanian government grants to submit a work to his project, titled Behind the White Curtain. Visitors to the Lithuanian pavilion were able to access a database and select from these works, enabling them to create their own displays of Lithuanian art. This resulted in a continuously changing narrative of collective identity.

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Barbara London with Darius Miksys. © Jon Hendricks

Meeting with Arturas Raila

Virginija Januškevičiūtė, the curator from the CAC, told me when we met the first night in Vilnius about a coming project that the center was doing with the artist Arturas Raila. Raila produced a video project, Under the Flag (2000), of a Lithuanian neo-Nazi group as they commented on videos of various street scenes that the artist had filmed during a residency in Lenz, Austria. The video had never been screened in Lithuania because of an agreement that Raila had with the subjects of the film. Virginija explained that the CAC was planning to do a reenactment of the film with actors as a way of getting around the issue of screening the original version in Lithuania. We met with Raila at the Academy of Fine Arts on our second day in Vilnius, and he screened Under the Flag for us, as well as another video piece, The Girl Is Innocent, about the traditional academic training and review process that still existed in Lithuanian art academies in the 1990s.

May 28th: Vilnius

Vilnius: The Ministry of Fluxus, Republic of Užupis

George Maciunas envisioned the interpenetration of art and life as a core proposition of Fluxus, and in Vilnius we encountered examples of this put into practice, with some cases very specifically citing the legacy of the historical movement. Maciunas’s work to establish Flux Houses, cooperative living for artists in downtown New York during the 1960s and 1970s, finds resonance in developments currently taking place in Vilnius. The Ministry of Fluxus, opened in 2010 by the city’s mayor, Artūras Zuokas, housed studios and workshops with the aim of fostering community among local artists of all disciplines. The short-lived space has since closed; however, the Republic of Užupis, its more established counterpart, continues. Located in the city’s Old Town, the Republic was founded in 1997 when the district declared itself independent, with its own flag, currency, president, and constitution. The terms of the latter are nonsensical and contradictory, and mostly point toward total freedom in all aspects of life. Our tour of the district revealed Fluxus landmarks, including a footbridge dedicated to the movement and alleyways tagged with Maciunas’s spray-painted portrait. Maciunas’s efforts in New York sparked SoHo’s status as an artists’ enclave and eventually a gentrified commercial district. Will these same results come to pass in Vilnius?

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Found in Užupis. © Michelle Elligott

Užupis

Constitution of Užupis

The 41 rights, which form this constitution, were officially announced on April Fool's Day of 1997, and the citizens of the Republic annually celebrate April 1 as their Independence Day. These rights are now engraved on mirrors that are attached to a wall in one of the district streets, Paupio Street, where they can be read in eight languages. Here is the English version:

Constitution of Užupis

Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, while the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.

Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.

Everyone has the right to die, but it is not a duty.

Everyone has the right to make mistakes.

Everyone has the right to individuality.

Everyone has the right to...

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Constitution of Užupis

The 41 rights, which form this constitution, were officially announced on April Fool's Day of 1997, and the citizens of the Republic annually celebrate April 1 as their Independence Day. These rights are now engraved on mirrors that are attached to a wall in one of the district streets, Paupio Street, where they can be read in eight languages. Here is the English version:

Constitution of Užupis

Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, while the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.

Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.

Everyone has the right to die, but it is not a duty.

Everyone has the right to make mistakes.

Everyone has the right to individuality.

Everyone has the right to love.

Everyone has the right to be not loved, but not necessarily.

Everyone has the right not to be distinguished and famous.

Everyone has the right to be idle.

Everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat.

Everyone has the right to look after a dog till one or the other dies.

A dog has the right to be a dog.

A cat is not obliged to love its master, but it must help him in difficult times.

Everyone has the right to sometimes be unaware of his duties.

Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not a duty.

Everyone has the right to be happy.

Everyone has the right to be unhappy.

Everyone has the right to be silent.

Everyone has the right to have faith.

No one has the right to violence.

Everyone has the right to realize his negligibility and magnificence.

Everyone has the right to encroach upon eternity.

Everyone has the right to understand.

Everyone has the right to understand nothing.

Everyone has the right to be of various nationalities.

Everyone has the right to celebrate or not to celebrate his birthday.

Everyone shall remember his name.

Everyone may share what he possesses.

No-one can share what he does not possess.

Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents.

Everyone is capable of independence.

Everyone is responsible for his freedom.

Everyone has the right to cry.

Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.

No-one has the right to make another person guilty.

Everyone has the right to be personal.

Everyone has the right to have no rights.

Everyone has the right to not be afraid.

Do not defeat.

Do not fight back.

Do not surrender.

May 29th: Belgrade and Novi Sad

From Belgrade to Novi Sad: Van Ride with Miško

We assembled in the early morning to make our trip to Novi Sad, and we were joined in our van by curator, art historian, and writer Miško Šuvaković. I noticed that he was carrying a rather large bag but did not think too much about it at that early hour. As we departed from downtown Belgrade, we asked Miško some questions about the artists we would meet at the reception in Novi Sad and the historical lineage of neo-avant-garde groups and artists that had formed in the late 1960s and early ’70s in Belgrade, Novi Sad, and the neighboring city of Subotica. As he proceeded with the discussion, he would pull books out of his bag and send them around for us to look through during the road trip. As time passed, more and more books emerged from the bag until all of us had things to look at and piles accumulated. Astoundingly, all of these publications were books that Miško himself, our gracious guide sitting in the front of the van, had authored, edited, or contributed to in some form. We perused exhibition catalogues and monographs of Bogdanka and Dejan Poznanović, the OHO group, Group KOD, Atila Černik, as well as a selection of surveys of the historical avant-garde and mid-century New Tendencies artists and designers in the former Yugoslavia. The level of scholarly production was incredible, and the van ride had quickly turned into an intensive seminar.

Visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art of Vojvodina in Novi Sad

Novi Sad: Museum of Contemporary Art of Vojvodina

We left Belgrade very early Tuesday morning and headed by car to Novi Sad, accompanied by the gracious and incredibly knowledgeable Miško Šuvaković. (If you have an interest in learning more about avant-garde and neo-avant-garde art practice in Yugoslavia, I recommend consulting one of the many books Šuvaković has authored.) At the Museum of Contemporary Art of Vojvodina, Vladimir Kopicl, the museum’s director, himself an artist and poet, had invited many, primarily Conceptual artists active in the region during the 1970s to the museum for a conversation. It was a nicely orchestrated event that enabled us to view works in the collection, including photographs and documentary materials, while speaking to the people who made them. The museum in Vojvodina has a strong commitment to collecting and exhibiting Conceptual and performance-based art. They employ a curator who deals specifically and exclusively with this material and have begun an impressive project of digitizing the works in their collection as well as related archival matter, making it available to the general public online.

Novi Sad: Museum of Contemporary Art of Vojvodina

During our visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art of Vojvodina, I was impressed to learn that they have a Department of Conceptual Art, with its own curator. Coming from a museum where the departments are divided by medium/discipline (Painting and Sculpture, Photography, Film, etc.), it was a nice change to think about grouping works by their aesthetic sensibility rather than medium. Furthermore, the department has done an admirable job of digitizing its complete assets, which can be found here.

Novi Sad: Ilija & Mangelos Foundation

Our visit to the Ilija & Mangelos Foundation was a surprise and delight. The foundation is headquartered in the apartment of Mangelos's brother, and we were not sure what to expect. First, we were treated to an introduction to the foundation provided by Mangelos's very knowledgeable niece, Ivana Basicević, who is currently completing her PhD on Mangelos and Marcel Broodthaers (which resonated with us due to MoMA’s extensive recent acquisitions of work by both of these artists). But the story literally came alive when Mangelos's brother became animated, leapt to his feet, and began recounting stories about the two of them as young men. His subjects ranged from working in the fields to his brother studying art history. The residential backdrop was enlivened by artworks and a manifesto on the walls, and we sat enraptured as we inspected countless examples of handwritten letters, texts, diaries, painted notebooks and sketchbooks, and unique artist books, all displaying Mangelos’s distinctive cursive handwriting on ruled lines. The grand finale was when Ivana displayed the smallest of all of Mangelos's legendary globes; this gilded example fit in the palm of her hand.

Ilija & Mangelos Foundation in Novi Sad

Novi Sad: Visit to kuda.org

A group of us took a car to a residential neighborhood in Novi Sad to meet with the members of kuda.org, a media and arts organization that is both an experimental Internet platform with international scope and an active participant in the local cultural scene. The office space houses a study center, a small library, and a meeting area where they stage events and talks by visiting scholars. The talks are streamed and archived on the kuda.org site. The site is also home to their digital journal and an extensive set of links to events in Novi Sad, Belgrade, and other international locations that the group is participating in or promoting. We were shown copies of the catalogues Political Practices of (post) Yugoslav Art and Art Always Has Its Consequences, to which kuda.org contributed, along with other groups like the Zagreb-based curatorial collective WHW (What, How and for Whom) and transit.hu. Among other things, the exhibitions that gave rise to these catalogues highlighted the practices of the Yugoslavian neo-avant-garde of the late 1960s and ’70s and collected extensive documentation of this generation of artists. These contemporary curatorial groups have done interesting work to rehabilitate these particular histories of an older generation of artists and filmmakers.

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Zoran Pantelić in front of kuda.org space in Novi Sad. © Magdalena Moskalewicz

SKC in Belgrade

In the 1970s, some of the most advanced, politically engaged exhibition spaces were the student centers that proliferated in Belgrade, Zagreb, and Novi Sad, which served as platforms for ideas that were largely informed by neo-Marxist critical theory. Although today they don’t serve the same purpose, they preserve important archives about those years. We made a stop at the Archives of the Student Cultural Center in Belgrade and reviewed some of their publications. Beuys was there in the 1970s, numerous exhibitions by the New Art Practice generation took place there, and the famous two-day feminist conference “Comradess woman: the women’s question; a new approach?” was hosted there, the first of its kind in a Communist country. Although heavily criticized by the official Yugoslavian women’s organizations “on the grounds that a feminist stance was superfluous in Communist society, which had already ‘overcome’ gender differences in the Revolution,” the event marked a turning point, since for the first time Yugoslavian feminists were able to publicly question the rule of patriarchy in socialist society.

SKC: Student Cultural Center in Belgrade

Belgrade: Visit to the Student Cultural Center (SKC)

The history of this place proves that the reality of art in socialist countries can’t be described in black and white. It is much more complex that we used to think. It is true that the SKC was established due to pressure from student revolts, as an answer to their demands for a space for independent culture to thrive. But it may also be true that the state created the place to channel the students’ rebellion and to control “independent” culture. This was a place where one could go much further than in other spaces—but does this mean that everything was possible? How far one could go in criticizing the ruling political system? By saying this, I don’t want to diminish the importance of what was going on at SKC. Regardless of the fact that the freedom it offered was licensed, it was a place of authentic experiment: cultural, artistic, social. The list of events that took place there in the 1970s and ’80s is really impressive. However, I wonder if there were any events that were not realized for political reasons…

SKC in Belgrade

It felt like stepping into history when we assembled in the archive of the Student Cultural Center in Belgrade, with a large photo mural of Joseph Beuys’s performance there in 1972 gracing the walls. We were treated to a presentation by Dragica Vukadinović, who is in charge of the documentation center and is herself a living archive, as she has been with the Center since its early days. She is undertaking the large-scale, painstaking process of digitizing the entire photo archive, an admirable ambition, which can be found here.

Meeting Raša Todosijević

I liked his honesty, his reluctance to portray as heroic his own activity in the 1970s (although he is aware of its importance) and to mythologize the reality in which this activity took place. Today we observe a tendency to idealize the times of Tito’s socialism. The activity of SKC and radical artists like Raša Todosijević is to confirm the democratic character of Tito’s Yugoslavia, so different from the nationalism of the 1990s. Todosijević shows that the 1990s were horrible, but that doesn’t mean that the 1970s were OK.

Belgrade: Meeting Raša Todosijević

In Belgrade we visited the studio of Raša Todosijević, a protagonist of the Belgrade group of Conceptual artists best known for the series of performances Was ist Kunst? (What is art?), which he held between 1976 and 1981 in various settings. In these, Todosijević touched, slapped, and smeared the face of his partner while whispering, shouting, screaming, pleading, begging, or simply demanding an answer to the question, “What is art?” A discourse on authoritarianism, the piece probes the nature of art itself, a duality that is prevalent throughout Todosijević’s work. Todosijević also talked about his controversial sculptural installations, performances, and pseudo-advertisements with which he denounced the dominant Serbian culture of exalted nationalism during the 1990s. In 1989, with the historic turn to post-Yugoslavian states, he began a series of installations titled God Loves the Serbs. In these works, he inverted symbols of totalitarian ideologies and religions to offer a political critique of the right-wing, ultranationalist daily culture that pervaded the region throughout the 1990s. He arranged ordinary restaurant tables to form the shape of swastikas, on which traditional Serbian dishes (beans, bread, and beer) were served, and mounted a giant red swastika on a wall with a text underneath, written in heavy black typeface, about a Serbian woman who curses God and Communism alike.

Meeting Branko Vučićević

In Belgrade, Gretchen Wagner and I had the honor of meeting with the legendary filmmaker, writer, and catalyst Branko Vučićević. Living in Belgrade in 1966, Vučićević was interested in Fluxus and contacted George Maciunas, who was living in New York. Maciunas corresponded with him and sent him Fluxus material, which Vučićević included in the publication Rok, put out by Bora Ćosić.

In 1967, Vučićević made this prescient statement, which I believe sums up his attitude toward art:

DOWN WITH ART, LONG LIVE LIFE!
(Mayakovsky)

If after next fifty years Fluxus finds itself in possession of the historical
and social status Dada enjoys today then
all Fluxus activities will have been in
vain.
Every anti-art gesture is inevitably and
...

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Meeting Branko Vučićević

In Belgrade, Gretchen Wagner and I had the honor of meeting with the legendary filmmaker, writer, and catalyst Branko Vučićević. Living in Belgrade in 1966, Vučićević was interested in Fluxus and contacted George Maciunas, who was living in New York. Maciunas corresponded with him and sent him Fluxus material, which Vučićević included in the publication Rok, put out by Bora Ćosić.

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Meeting with Branko Vučićević

© Michelle Elligott

In 1967, Vučićević made this prescient statement, which I believe sums up his attitude toward art:

DOWN WITH ART, LONG LIVE LIFE!
(Mayakovsky)

If after next fifty years Fluxus finds itself in possession of the historical
and social status Dada enjoys today then
all Fluxus activities will have been in
vain.
Every anti-art gesture is inevitably and
inextricably coupled with so-called art
and is finally assimilated by it. The desti-
ny of Dada bears witness to this. At this
stage anti-art activity should represent
only a small part of Fluxus program.
(Performer of anti-art gestures finds him-
self in the position of worm in some sorts
of cheese who imagines that he is undermi-
ning cheese with his burrowing when in fact
giving it a piquant taste.) Such as it is
it should be more in the nature of Chinese
Red Guards' undertakings.
Primary tasks of Fluxus (based on Maciunas
letter to Tomas Schmit, January 1964) should
be in the area of everyday life.
Therefore is proposed the compiling of
FLUXUS MANUAL OF EVERYDAY LIFE
a) Fluxus enrichment of basic everyday
activities (eating, work, sexual intercourse
etc. etc);
b) creation of n e w activities.
Fluxus should be interested not in artist
but in man.

Meeting Biljana Tomić and Jesa Denegri

Biljana Tomić and Jesa Denegri

On our second and last evening in Belgrade, we dined with Biljana Tomić and Jesa Denegri, a remarkable couple of art historians and curators who for several decades directly influenced the Yugoslav, and later Serbian, experimental art scene. In the early 1970s, Jesa, as curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, exhibited art by the most experimental and progressive members of the local art scene, including Marina Abramović and Rasa Todosijević. At the same time, Biljana, herself a poet, mixed visual poetry and performance with other contemporary art production while running the gallery of the Students Cultural Center. She also established direct contacts with the Italian Arte Povera movement and the Slovenian OHO group. The stories Biljana and Jesa shared with us added so much to our understanding of the Yugoslav experimental art scene in the 1970s that by the time dessert arrived, we had decided that this could not possibly be our final meeting with them, and that we should see them again, in New York.

May 30th: Belgrade

Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade

During our morning meeting at the temporary headquarters of the Museum of Contemporary Art, curators Dejan Sretenović, Branko Dimitrijević, and Zoran Erić shared with us the history of the institution as well as stories of its difficult present. Founded in 1958 as a Museum of Modern Art with the aim of collecting Yugoslav art, the museum faced the challenge of defining its new role as the Serbian Museum of Contemporary Art after the dissolution of the Yugoslav state. Since 2007, it has been even more challenged by the lack of a proper exhibition space. The museum produced a traveling project, Museum on the Move, that enabled at least parts of the collection to be shown around the country. The curators prepared a real book feast for us: numerous exhibition catalogues of their recent projects and rare historical artists’ publications from the 1960s and 1970s occupied a huge wooden table around which we eagerly gathered. We also received a few of these books as a generous gift to our MoMA Library. Among them was a copy of Political Practices of (post-)Yugoslav Art, a publication that we had encountered before in various institutions and had read in preparation for our visit to Serbia. Even though MoMA’s Library holds a copy of it, this red book had become, by this stage of our trip, an object of personal desire to every single one of us.

Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade

Belgrade Museum of Contemporary Art

Currently there is no museum devoted to exhibiting modern or contemporary art in Belgrade, a city where neo-avant-garde art practice flourished during the 1970s. The building that had been home to the Museum of Contemporary Art has stood abandoned near the banks of the Sava River since 2007, awaiting restoration. The windows are broken, and grasses and other vegetation have overtaken the landscape, still inhabited by the outdoor sculptures placed there more than a decade ago. The museum’s staff works out of temporary offices located in a mid-century residence initially intended for the U.S. ambassador and directly across the street from the “House of Flowers,” Tito’s mausoleum. At the moment, their collection is in storage and inaccessible.

Kunsthistorisches Mausoleum

The last stop in Belgrade was a visit with curator Jelena Vesić to the Kunsthistorisches Mausoleum, a space named after the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna that could easily be described as a tomb of art history. In two adjacent rooms, this Mausoleum contains original paintings of illustrations from two canonical books of art history: A Concise History of Modern Painting by Herbert Read and the History of Art by H.W. Janson.

Kunsthistorisches Mausoleum

May 31st: Berlin

“Forget Fear”: 7th Berlin Biennale

Berlin Biennale

On our last day in Berlin we met with Gabi Horn, director of Kunst-Werke, and Joanna Warsza, associate curator of the Berlin Biennale, who took us on a walk through the exhibition. Titled Forget Fear, the biennale’s starting question, as posed by Artur Żmijewski, was, “What can art do for you?” The show focused on the intersection between the global Occupy protests, the Arab Spring movements, and the art world. Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar stamped people’s passports both in Palestine and in West Germany near Checkpoint Charlie, a symbolic location that echoes the wall dividing Israel from the occupied territories. Dutch artist Jonas Staal built an installation of hanging banners and an architectural model titled New World Summit,...

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Berlin Biennale

On our last day in Berlin we met with Gabi Horn, director of Kunst-Werke, and Joanna Warsza, associate curator of the Berlin Biennale, who took us on a walk through the exhibition. Titled Forget Fear, the biennale’s starting question, as posed by Artur Żmijewski, was, “What can art do for you?” The show focused on the intersection between the global Occupy protests, the Arab Spring movements, and the art world. Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar stamped people’s passports both in Palestine and in West Germany near Checkpoint Charlie, a symbolic location that echoes the wall dividing Israel from the occupied territories. Dutch artist Jonas Staal built an installation of hanging banners and an architectural model titled New World Summit, which functioned as an alternative parliament for representatives of organizations on international terrorist lists, who were invited to debate the limits of current democratic systems. Mexican artist Teresa Margolles conceived a mural-scale display of the front pages of the daily tabloid PM, published in Ciudad Juarez, one of the most dangerous border cities in Mexico. Each front page featured a soft porn image alongside a picture of a gruesome crime. In Berlin, at sites with historic connections to the Holocaust and deportations, Polish artist Łukasz Surowiec planted birch seedlings from the area around the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Occupy Museums filled the entire downstairs of KW, raising questions about the relationship between activism and cultural institutions—a relationship somewhat weakened here, since the movement’s leaders were paid by the biennale’s organizers to come to Berlin to be part of the show.

Tomas Schmit Archiv

In Berlin, members of the group visited the Tomas Schmit Archiv, administered by Barbara Wien and Wilma Lukatsch. Creating drawings, texts, and books, Schmit began submitting his works to George Maciunas in 1962 with the idea that they would be included in publications and festivals. Eventually, his involvement grew, and he worked with Maciunas to produce Fluxus Editions, typing up handwritten scores and translating texts. Upon Schmit’s death, in 2006, Wien and Lukatsch published his final two publications and founded the archive. Their goal is to compile an illustrated catalogue raisonné online and to collect the complete correspondence with Scmit’s peers, including a number of artists involved with Fluxus during the 1960s. Once launched, this will be an incredible asset to researchers.

Visit to the Tomas Schmit Archiv

John Cage at Akademie der Künste

Dr. Wulf Herzogenrath, a knowledgeable old friend, veteran curator, and museum director, , guided the group through John Cage und …, a gem of an exhibition that he co-organized with Barbara Nierhoff-Wielk at the Akademie der Künste. Extraordinary lifelong art historical research radiated out of the compact galleries. We all discovered new Cage connections. Most revelatory was Alexej von Jawlensky’s painting Meditation (1934), acquired by Cage at age twenty-two. Displayed on an adjacent wall were late 1940s tapestries by Anni Albers. They had the same playful geometries as Cage’s own drawings of that time. Another insight could be found between Cage’s score for his composition Apartment House 1776 (1976) and Duchamp’s La Boîte en Valise (1941/66). We all left savoring the experience and wanting more.

“John Cage und ...” Exhibition at the Akademie der Kuenste

Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin

After a delightful lunch with Media Archive curator Henriette Huldisch and director Udo Kittelmann, our group fanned out through Hamburger Bahnhof's vast spaces. These had more than quadrupled since the building opened in 1996 as the Museum für Gegenwart. While I enjoyed seeing Bruce Nauman’s installation Room with My Soul Left Out, Room That Does Not Care, first experienced in 1984 at Leo Castelli’s Green Street Space, I spent most of my time in Anthony McCall’s exhibition Five Minutes of Pure Sculpture. Where else would I ever again enter such a cathedral-like space, plunged into hazy darkness and experiencing McCall’s sculptural installations, which consist solely of projected white light? I moved among the slowly shifting, geometric light shafts thinking about the intangible nature of much contemporary art.

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I think you mean to link to http://hu.tranzit.org/en as the organizer of Parallel Chronologies.

Great website!

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I think you mean to link to http://hu.tranzit.org/en as the organizer of Parallel Chronologies.

Great website!

Show more »