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240 × 170 × 30 mm
488 pages
224 illustrations
01 Sep 2011

In the Shadow of Yalta Art and the Avant-garde in Eastern Europe 1945-1989 Piotr Piotrowski

This book is the first comprehensive comparative study of the artistic culture of the region once located between the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union, a part of Europe that due to the agreement signed by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta in the Crimea in February 1945 found itself trapped within the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. Piotr Piotrowski chronicles the complex relation between avant-garde art practice and politics in Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, East Germany, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria from the end of the Second World War to the collapse of Communism in 1989.

Beginning with an analysis of Surrealism in Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Hungary, Piotrowski examines the development of different Modernist art strategies within the context of a thawing Stalinism. He follows with an account of the emergence of neo-avant-garde practices – conceptual, body and performance art – during the volatile political circumstances of the 1970s. The book’s epilogue examines the impact of the end of Communism on art that both witnessed and responded to the system’s demise.

Alongside the discussion of the frequently highly innovative art made in response to always challenging and sometimes nightmarish circumstances, In the Shadow of Yalta examines several common threads that bind the post-war narrative of Eastern European art: the erosion of ideology, the rise of consumerism, and the emergence of political pragmatism.

Illustrated with more than 200 images of artworks from across the region, few of which will be familiar to an Anglo-American audience, In the Shadow of Yalta offers new critical insights into the lives of artists, the politics of art and culture, and the character of the avant-garde art practices that were pursued behind the Iron Curtain during a crucial era in the history of modern Europe. This book has much to interest art historians and critics, as well as historians of European political and cultural life.

‘Piotrowskis achievement is to disinter the histories of various forms of modernism, post-modernism and the neo-avant-garde that flourished in Eastern Europe, to disentangle the fruitful misunderstandings on which some of them were based and to explain the originality that lay behind many of the apparent inconsistencies . . . Piotrowski writes clearly and readably, even in translation, and his groundbreaking study is augmented with numerous illustrations.’ — Burlington magazine

‘Piotrowskis book is a truly ground breaking publication, both in its scope and in its critical approach, in its engagement with theory and with artistic practice as well as with the wider geopolitical framework of the Cold War. It provides plenty of illuminating insights into the pages of post-1945 avant-gardes and their discourses . . . Piotrowski contextualizes the shifting kaleidoscope of artworlds in the Other Europe within a wider realm of debates at the heart of contemporary art criticism. Remarkably, the book is not addressed solely to theignorant western audience, but equally so to the contemporary Eastern European reader, whose knowledge about the art of otherbrotherly countries is also likely to be minimal.’ — Reviews in History

‘Piotrowskis book is dense with information and, while reading it, ones realizes that the history of post-World War II East European art simply cannot be squeezed into one volume. Ultimately, the book is an ambitious attempt at objectivity that nonetheless presents some of the key events and artworks of the period selectively . . . a major contribution to scholarship on Eastern Europe and is a treasure trove of facts, organized and sorted out in a way that has not been done before.’ — artmargins.com

‘Piotrowski demonstrates persuasively that the visual art of Central and Eastern Europe must now become part of the mainstreamglobal canon of twentieth-century art, even as he vigorously questions whether such a canon can any longer have real meaning. This is the fascinating and problematic crux of Piotrowskis entire volume, and confronting the authors contemplation of such paradoxes is one of the true pleasures of reading In the Shadow of Yalta.’ — Slavonic and Eastern European Review

‘A significant book that builds on a focal theme of Piotrowskis previous publications the perceived need to map art practices from the Soviet and post-Soviet eras in relation to both western and specifically local historical and cultural contexts . . . an important source in this topic area.’ — Slavic Review

‘Analysis of artworks quickly turns into discussion of major issues that will be of value to historians interested in the role of culture in the maintenance of power. What, for instance, is the value of critical practice when it is tolerated and even sponsored by the power structures which it sets out to critique? And what has been the fate of utopian thinking amongst Eastern European intellectuals?’ — Journal of European Studies

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Piotr Piotrowski is Professor of Art History at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznán, Poland. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Meanings of Modernism: Towards a History of Polish Art after 1945 (1999), Art after Politics (2007) and In the Shadow of Yalta: Art and the Avant-garde in Eastern Europe, 1945-1989 (Reaktion, 2009).

1. The Geography and History of Art in Eastern Europe
Part I: Behind the Iron Curtain Before 1948
2. The Surrealist Interregnum, 1945-8
Part 2: Modernism and Totalitarianism
3. The ‘Thaw’ of Art Informel
4. Myths of Geometry
5. Un-Socialist Realism
6. The Critique of Painting: Towards the Neo-avant-garde
Part 3: The Neo-avant-garde and ‘Real Socialism’ in the 1970s
7. Mapping the Neo-avant-garde, c. 1970
8. Conceptual Art between Theory of Art and Critique of the System
9. The Politics of Identity: Male and Female Body Art
Epilogue: The Spectres Haunting Europe in the 1980s