A brief history of the development of Central and Eastern European Contemporary Art


The height of contemporary art in Central and Eastern Europe was marked post-World War II. The victorious triumph of Soviet Union over Nazi Germany prompted it to annex the Central Europe countries Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin instilled the socialist utopia based on loyalty to party, national patriotism and “Homo Sovieticus”-or ideal Soviet man- on youth culture. This was in stark contrast with the harsh reality of the time- youth deprivation and abject poverty, creating a dystopian picture of former Soviet satellite states. Censorship, propaganda, spontaneous protest and oppression became norms, a key inspiration for many Central and European Contemporary artists.

Two main characteristics of the then-contemporary art are its ideological theme of anti-establishment and individual self-expression. These themes created genuine polarization among critics and art collectors, who shared much of its sympathy with leftist rebellion against far-right government in South America through secret art exchange.

By 1970s, Western Pop culture influenced by Andy Warhol and other Western contemporary artists penetrated Soviet culture prompting the Soviet authority to denounce it as “degenerative and not in accordance of Soviet qualities”. Unsurprisingly, these works were censored, along with other dissident voice within and without the Warsaw pact. But such an enactment only popularized the art pieces, to the point of self-popularizing using “Censorship” status.

The downfall of Soviet Union in 1991 led to more economic and artistic freedom. However, new challenges emerge as corporatist and nationalistic authoritarian takes over Soviet authoritarian. Adding to this, focus on financial recovery, lack of appeal, pressure from authority and lack of third-party support has rendered Central and Eastern Europea to be inhospitable to the hardship of artists, prompting many to explore markets abroad.

Another crucial aspect that impedes the market is the notion that “Eastern Europe” was always simultaneously both other Europe and Europe’s “other”. This notion shaped by the West during Cold War is still alive till this day. It lumps all countries in the region and strips all Eastern and Central European countries of its national identity in favor of Western cultural monopoly. Such a contaminated definition of Eastern Europe will turn out culturally negligible for artists, in the long run, the situation became culturally disintegrated.

Eastern European artists have come a long way of rebellion against authoritarianism in search of individual and national freedom. But in the middle of international integration comes a new challenge for both artists specifically and cultural sovereignty in general: How to define their cultural authenticity.