This course offers a survey of modern and contemporary art from the former Soviet Union and the Central European Soviet satellites. We will focus on the dynamic relationship of artistic practice to the rise and fall of communism in the Soviet bloc. The first part of the course will explore painting, photography, film and design in the decades following the revolution of 1917, mapping the aspirations of avant-garde figures like Kasimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko, Sergei Eisenstein, and Dziga Vertov, and the rationale for the introduction of Socialist Realism as official orthodoxy in 1934. In the second part of the course we will focus on the emergence of non-conformist art in the decades following the denunciation of the Stalinist Cult of Personality by Khrushchev, in 1956. Our discussions will include Tadeusz Kantor’s theatre, International Mail Art practices, and the installations of Ilya Kabakov, among others, and will explore relevant writings by key dissidents such as Vaclav Havel. The course concludes with an examination of the seismic transformations of 1989-91 and their implications for cultural life in the ‘former-East’.
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