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International Conference “Communism on display: Exhibition and Festival Cultures in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, 1950-1980s” (Princeton – Rutgers, November 2-3, 2018)

The conference is scheduled for November 2-3, 2018 at Princeton University (Day 1) and the Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University (Day 2). The conference is jointly sponsored by the Program in Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies (Princeton University), and Rutgers University (Zimmerli Art Museum, Avenir Foundation Endowment Fund).

During the Cold War, the CIA and related agencies sponsored a large number of ambitious exhibitions of Western art and culture all over the world. Serving far-ranging political and ideological goals and promoting arguably universal Western ideals such as “freedom” and “democracy,” these well-known events were matched, on the other side of the Iron Curtain, by corresponding, Soviet-sponsored efforts to harness the display of art and culture to the promotion of a Communist International. These exhibitions provided a means by which newly articulated policies of international exchange between East and West in a broad variety of fields—from art and culture to technology—could be implemented.

Day 1, will be devoted to the “Eastern” chapter in the history of cold war era exhibitions. We plan to explore how officially sponsored displays and festivals of art, science, technology, and culture both inside and outside of Eastern Europe and the post-Stalinist Soviet Union sought to promote the goals of Soviet and/or socialist internationalism.

In particular, we are interested in revisiting such key events of this period as the 1957 International Festival of Youth in Moscow; the 1959 Soviet Exhibition of Science, Technology, and Culture in New York; but also related exhibitions of Soviet (and non-Soviet) art and culture in countries both inside and outside of Europe, from Poland to India and Cuba. What kind of socialism(s) did these exhibits envision and conceptualize? What organizational and expressive forms did they use, and what forms of audience engagement did they allow for and encourage?

Day 2, hosted at the Zimmerli Art Museum, will address the multiple goals and impacts of the art sections of exhibitions such as the American National Exhibition (1959) and the French National Exhibition (1961) in Moscow, part of a series of large-scale, government-sponsored shows held in the Soviet capital during the so-called Thaw.

We are seeking innovative proposals that explore the kinds of cultural transfer and exchange these and a related shows–including the first Picasso retrospective in the Soviet Union (1956) and the remarkable 6th Union of Youth Exhibition (1957), to name but two—, legitimized and made possible, as well as the impact these shows had on local audiences–including artists—, contributing, for example, to the astonishing rise in abstract and non-normative figurative painting in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during the late 1950s and ’60s.

Speakers from any discipline are encouraged to submit proposals for either Day 1 or Day 2 by April 15, 2018 to

Conference travel and accommodations will be covered by the conveners.

Co-organizers: Tomas Glanc (Zürich), Serguei Oushakine (Princeton), Jane Sharp (Rutgers University, Zimmerli Art Museum), Sven Spieker (University of California, Santa Barbara).


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