The exhibition Arteast Collection 2000+23 is, first of all, a display of a selection of works from the collections of the Moderna galerija (mainly the Arteast Collection 2000+) as well as proposals, concepts, and ideas for works that should be added to this collection by the year 2023.
Why, specifically, the year 2023? Because this is the year when the magazine Maska will publish its 200th issue, and it was Maska that first proposed the exhibition as part of the celebrations for its 100th issue, which appears this fall. When Emil Hrvatin, the director of Maska, approached me with the idea of the Moderna galerija putting together a show that would, in one way or another, include all the artists the magazine has written about in all its previous issues, the challenge seemed to me, as a curator, to be primarily one of working with an already-selected group of artists, many of whom could well be exhibiting for the first time in a gallery space. Maska, after all, deals primarily with contemporary theater arts, although in its pages these are to a large extent also intertwined with contemporary visual art.
The collaboration between the Moderna galerija and Maska, then, was designed at the outset as a collaboration between the artists presented in the magazine and artworks found in our collections. The initial proposal, that we assemble an exhibition of previously selected artists, led me to the decision to relinquish entirely the curator’s role as selector, leaving it to the “Maska artists” to also choose the works from the Moderna galerija’s collections; I would, instead, construct my curatorial role primarily around the questions: Who is the one who chooses? And, to take this even further, who in fact is the true subject in the process of historicization?
The answer to this latter question depends entirely on whether we insist on historicization as a type of scientific method, and therefore a well-ordered system, or whether we dare to conceive it as the mapping of heterogeneous ways of thinking and creating.
The exhibition Arteast Collection 2000+23, then, has two intentions: the first is to link the efforts of two of Slovenia’s important cultural players, Maska and the Moderna galerija, both of which take a similar approach in their thinking about contemporary art. This approach is based on the fact that one of the essential features of contemporary art is its contextual and interdisciplinary nature; yet another thing we share, then, is that both our organizations are developing more and more opportunities for art institutions to be more flexible and more open to various kinds of collaboration. The second powerful motive behind our collaboration is a shared interest in the processes of redefining history, a topic that in one way or another has been addressed by a large number of art projects over the past year, both here and internationally. This year’s collaboration between Maska and Moderna galerija seeks to broach such questions as whether the Slovene neo-avant-garde movements of the twentieth century are at all present in our collective consciousness as a significant part of the national history, and whether contemporary art in Slovenia has the opportunities it needs to present itself as the heir to local traditions of this sort.
In addition to the exhibitions Arteast Collection 2000+23 and Defunct Spaces of Art, our collaboration extends to several other projects as well, to which we have given the collective name History as Workshop. The show we mounted this spring, Interrupted Histories, also belongs to this group.
At the Moderna galerija, we began dealing systematically with the processes of redefining history and questions about avant-garde traditions and the international context of Slovene art, particularly in connection with Eastern Europe, as far back as 1998 with the exhibition Body and the East. In 2000, we continued this exploration with the founding and first showing of the Arteast Collection 2000+. This was followed by the series Arteast Exhibitions: Form-Specific in 2003, 7 Sins: Ljubljana – Moscow in 2004, and Interrupted Histories in 2006. Arteast Collection 2000+23 is the fourth installment in this series, which supplements the Arteast Collection 2000+ primarily by researching current issues in the Eastern European space, which it attempts to address in dialogue with other spaces. The exhibitions are all linked in essential ways with the Arteast Collection 2000+ and with the development of ideas to ensure its continued vitality and future growth.
The founding of the Arteast Collection 2000+ was connected, first of all, with the need to redefine history, to musealize the art of Eastern Europe, which we set straightaway into communication with other spaces, as is indicated by the subtitle of the collection’s first showing: “The Art of Eastern Europe in Dialogue with the West.” The collection’s primary focus was never regional provenance, but rather the question of the relationship between individual cultural traditions and the broader international arena.
No less important than the need to redefine history is the issue we faced in 2000, when the collection was founded, namely: Who is it that does the historicizing? Must the musealization of the East be left exclusively in the hands of the West (i.e., capital and political power), which began taking an increased interest in the East after the fall of the communist regimes?
It was essential that the first word about the art of Eastern Europe belong to the East itself.
In the most recent exhibition in the Arteast series, we referred to the spaces of the former communist regimes as spaces of interrupted histories, for, as a result of political dictatorships, wars, genocides, and social and economic crises, these spaces never succeeded in developing a modern system of historicization and a collective narrative of the region such as would make it possible to make international comparisons vis-à-vis the art of these spaces. With this same exhibition, we also found that artists were often forced, especially during the time of communism, to be their own archivists and curators and that in many cases this was the only means by which significant documents of “unofficial” art were preserved.
If the artists in the Interrupted Histories exhibition were presented in the role of archivists, the artists in Arteast Collection 2000+23 appear as the selectors of other artists. The artists who have been featured in Maska’s one hundred issues come from all over the world, so in this case the question of regional origin plays no role whatsoever. Through the exhibition, however, these artists are brought face to face with Eastern Europe’s spaces of interrupted histories. For a number of the Maska artists who had to choose works from the Arteast Collection 2000+, their examination of the material represented their very first encounter with the history of the art of Eastern Europe.
Just as with Interrupted Histories, the present exhibition, too, demands that its participants assume an active stance toward history. Arteast Collection 2000+23, like its predecessor, underscores the fact that art re-acquires a real-world function by discovering informal modes of historicization and emphasizing their importance for the processes of redefining history and searching for new methods of historicization.
The need for redefining history, as represented by the Arteast exhibitions, should not be confused with a desire that spaces previously excluded now be included in some universal history. We are not just talking about Eastern European art catching the train and finding its seat in one of the compartments of modern history. Our Arteast exhibitions speak to the fact that it is not enough to have a system of historicization based simply on the inclusion of new regions into the existing system of history. Today, one of the essential questions we face is “how we in the museum can present a difference that is not of a formal–aesthetic nature, but rather derives from the function of the artwork in society, politics, the media, and other contexts outside the museum.” (1) The system of historicizing art that has been in place so far has always been based on styles or, more recently, on the aesthetic characteristics of individual decades.
When Eastern European artists take on the role of archivists, curators, and selectors, they link art to a function, a need, that has no comparison in any similar activity of artists in the West, although aesthetically the works may look similar. Today we face, on the one hand, the need to present the differences in the art of different spaces and, on the other, the need for comparable systems, which, it would seem, is the only thing that would allow for the creation of a global history. The artists in our exhibitions do their historicizing outside the established classification systems. They use informal means of historicizing, whether because of the lack of any formal means of historicization or because of the fact that these formal methods simply can no longer keep up with an art that increasingly escapes the standardized classifications. The art field is becoming more and more heterogeneous, and the demand for collaboration between institutions that we still classify as museums, galleries, theater spaces, etc., foretells the essential transformation of these institutions.
In the exhibition Arteast Collection 2000+23, the Maska artists penetrate the existing collection with their interventions and offer ideas for its future. Perhaps in 2023, the Moderna galerija’s curators – or however its art professionals will be then called – will make the final evaluation of this project and decide which works are indeed relevant for inclusion in the museum’s collection. In the context of this project, history appears no longer as a matter solely of the past; it is also a matter of the future. Redefining history, then, is not merely filling in the blanks and including after the fact that which was yet unknown; rather it is also, at the same time, a way of contributing to the shaping of the future.
The Arteast 2000+ Collection is to a large degree oriented toward the art of the Eastern European countries, which share a similar political and social past; now, however, we are pondering the collection’s future, the possible directions it can develop. In this exhibition, the Maska artists offer proposals for future works, ones that really could be produced before the year 2023. This partly utopian project was born here in Ljubljana, and this is hardly an accident, since a number of important artists are based here who very much follow the tradition of the historical avant-gardes – movements we cannot begin to imagine without their grand utopias.
We should remember, too, that in a previous Arteast exhibition, 7 Sins: Ljubljana – Moscow, utopianism was presented as one of Eastern Europe’s key sins and, at the same time, one of its virtues. The attempt to design a better and more equitable future was, in general, one of the distinctive features of Eastern Europe’s twentieth century. Despite the extreme degeneration of communism, we must not forget that other processes of modernity and progress also experienced their contrary phases, which were marked by various catastrophes.
In their proposals, the Maska artists in Arteast 2000+23 take great delight in the processes of progress, but at the same time, these are what worry them most. The future is trapped between positive and negative utopias, which are predicated not merely on science and technology, but on science and technology as the tools of capital and political power.
For artists, the present exhibition is, above all, an opportunity for thinking about just how far their works can think, for pondering the future of art and its institutions. The essential discovery in this project – which from the very beginning was designed as dialogic on a number of levels – is that the main characteristic of art and its institutions in the future is precisely communication and collaboration.
Arteast Collection 2000+23 tells us that we are never alone: there is always someone else around who can pose things differently. The artist-selectors in Arteast Collection 2000+23 underscore the aspect of accident and uncontrollability in the processes of historicization. And no matter how much a person might feel himself to be a major force in the processes of historicization, it always turns out in the end that the selection is made by somebody else.
“In an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Hans-Georg Gadamer mused on the idea of an endless conversation based on the infinite possibilities of different responses. His assertion could be applied to widely differing forms of communication. In that particular case, Gadamer stressed the fact that for Plato ‘not even definitions have the last word, but rather the appropriate relationship with the other.’ Plato’s thought is even more significant today than in antiquity, since an appropriate relation to the other has now acquired global dimensions, consequently becoming much more of a challenge, as it also includes knowing the diversities of a world which is becoming too vast for only direct contacts.” (2)
(1) Boris Groys, Teorija sodobne umetnosti: izbrani eseji, Koda (Ljubljana: Študentska zalożba, 2002), 107.
(2) Zdenka Badovinac, “The Conversation of a Painting,” in (un)gemalt (Vienna: Sammlung Essl, 2002), 22 (exhibition catalogue). In this exhibition, too, artists were invited to select works from the Essl Collection.