Cold Revolution Central and Eastern European Societies in Times of Socialist Realism, 1948–1959
27.05 – 19.09.2021 Cold Revolution Central and Eastern European Societies in Times of Socialist Realism, 1948–1959
curators: Joanna Kordjak, Jérôme Bazin
cooperation: MIchał Kubiak
exhibition partners: National Museum and National Gallery in Budapest; National Film Archive, Prague; Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava; Université Paris-Est Créteil
The project is co-financed by the Governments of Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia through Visegrad Grants from International Visegrad Fund. The mission of the fund is to advance ideas for sustainable regional cooperation in Central Europe.
cooperation: Romanian Cultural Institute Warsaw, Hungarian Cultural Institute, Slovak Institute in Warsaw, Bulgarian Institute for Culture in Warsaw, Czech Centre, Adam Mickiewicz Institute
In the ‘cold’ climate of the 1950s — growing international tensions and the strengthening of communist dictatorships — a social revolution took place in Central and Eastern European countries. It was a revolution in the sense of profound transformations leading to the establishment of new social hierarchies and the bringing about of a 'dictatorship of the proletariat’, strictly tied to the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of this part of Europe.
The curators of the exhibition undertake a critical reflection on the changes taking place at that time, illustrating their scale and dynamics using visual material from the fields of painting, photography, film, design and architecture. It includes over 400 works from six countries of the former Eastern Bloc: Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.
The art of that period is generally reduced to images of cheerful workers or heroic representations of their work, imbued with faith in a bright future, but this is only part of the visual production of socialist realism. In order to draw a fuller, more nuanced picture of it, the curators reach for works that deviate from these stereotypical notions, often far from propaganda enthusiasm, sometimes marked by melancholy or anxiety. They take up a polemic with the long-established conviction that socialist realism was a ‘spectacle that produced a new reality’ (Evgeny Dobrenko), detached from social reality. From among the numerous representations, they choose those that have previously remained in the shadows, and which today can shed new light on the cold, harsh realities of that era. They focus on the role that culture and art played in the creation of the socialist social order and valuing the new elites. Aware of the discrepancies between the presented images and the actual situation of social actors, they follow the fate of the workers (migrations from the countryside to the city, gaining a new professional position, redefining one's own identity) and with the selected works try to capture the emotions accompanying them: enthusiasm, anxiety and disappointment. The exhibition shows the changing face of the working class: conflicts and tensions within this heterogeneous group, as well as its ambiguous attitude towards the authorities. One of the project’s assumptions is to also include Socialist Realism (also called the ‘great Other’ of the 20th century) in the transformation processes of 20th-century art and to show it in its surprising diversity and ambiguity.
The title Cold Revolution obviously refers to the political context of the Cold War (although at the time the term was not used in the languages of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe) and, above all, to the climate of the political freeze of the Stalinist era: acts of arbitrary violence and fear. The term 'cold' raises also question of the degree of involvement of the whole society in the revolution of the 1950s and the temperature of revolutionary zeal with which the building of the new world began.
The exhibition will include works by such artists as Aurél Bernáth, Walerian Borowczyk, Hans Grundig, Renato Guttuso, Wojciech Fangor, Emil Filla, Arno Fischer, Jiří Kroha, Jan Lenica, Max Lingner, János Mattis-Teutsch, Andrzej Munk, Evelyn Richter, Willi Sitte, Henryk Stażewski, Władysław Strzemiński, Alina Szapocznikow, Jiří Trnka, Werner Tübke, Kurt Weiler, Andrzej Wróblewski and Karel Zeman
The exhibition is accompanied by the publication:
Cold Revolution. Central and Eastern European Societies in Times of Socialist Realism, 1948–1959, ed. Jérôme Bazin, Joanna Kordjak, Warsaw and Milan: Mousse Publishing, Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Zachęta — National Gallery of Art, 2020
Tibor Honty, Summer Evening, 1952, photograph, 59.2 × 48.1 cm, Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava
Works on exhibition
Central and Eastern European Societies in Times of Socialist Realism, 1948–1959
27.05 – 19.09.2021
Zachęta – National Gallery of Art
pl. Małachowskiego 3, 00-916 Warsaw
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Tuesday – Sunday 12–8 p.m.
Thursday – free entry
ticket office is open until 7.30 p.m.
The project is co-financed by the Governments of Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia through Visegrad Grants from International Visegrad Fund. The mission of the fund is to advance ideas for sustainable regional cooperation in Central Europe: