Visualizing Ideology: Art, Culture, and Politics in the Cold War Era

2nd conference organized by the Research Group of Critical Theories (led by Edit András and Sándor Hornyik) Institute of Art History, Research Center for the Humanities of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

After a quarter of a century, it is time to undermine the rigid duality of the ideologically charged official art and the autonomous, unofficial neo-avantgarde art. The conference aims to scrutinize the different ways of crossing ideological boundaries and the various forms of seemingly contradictory but actually overlapping artistic activities. The conference discusses the available theoretical frameworks to be applied for uncovering the ideological underpinnings of the Central and Eastern European neo-avantgarde in the time of socialism. The papers excavate the roots of its origins in the avant-garde culture and theory, and shed light on its connection to different visual cultures, i.e. socialist realism, abstract and surrealist art, pop art, etc.


Bartók Hall, Institute for Musicology, Táncsics Mihály u. 7, Budapest.

Time: May 15th Friday 9.30 am ‒ 13.00 pm

Keynote Speaker:

Tyrus Miller (University of California, Santa Cruz)


Dávid Fehér (Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest)

Maja and Reuben Fowkes (Translocal Institute, Budapest – London)

Sándor Hornyik (Institute of Art History, Research Center for the Humanities of HAS)

Katalin Timár (University of Pécs, Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest)


Edit András (Institute of Art History, Research Center for the Humanities of HAS)

Hedvig Turai (International Business School)


9.30 Introduction


Tyrus Miller (University of California, Santa Cruz)

The Non-Contemporaneity of György Lukács: Cold War Contradictions and the Aesthetics of Visual Art

György Lukács's aesthetics were primarily based in literature, and his pronouncements on visual art were rare. However, in the early post-war years he polemicized against theories of abstract art appearing with the Európai Iskola, and in later writings, continued to defend realism as the only mode of authentic art. Moreover, he expound the view of the art work as an autonomous heterocosm, as the exclusive mode through which art's socially critical and ethically formative effects could be exercised: a process he termed "defetishization." Paradoxically, in the West, theorists who likewise strongly defended the heterocosmic autonomy of form--most prominently Clement Greenberg and Theodor Adorno (strongly influenced by Lukács's theory of reification)--did so in the name of abstractive processes contrary to Lukács's mimetic, realist orientation in the arts, which Adorno took (falsely) as a sign of conformity with Stalinist aesthetics. In a further complication, through the belated reception of Lukács's youthful work by the Western New Left in the 1960s, the theory of reification and defetishism also helped legitimate neo-avantgarde practices that emphasized "art-work" as process and experience over the "artwork" as object. As perceived from the late socialist context, on the other hand, the self-contradictory and self-constraining nature of the elder Lukács's contemporary aesthetics, which were neither fully "official" nor suppressed, were more evident. László Lakner, for instance, in his 1970 work "My George Lukács-Book," which alludes to English- and German- language as well as Hungarian contexts, captured in a complex image the non-contemporaneity of Lukács's aesthetics to either the East or West sides of the Cold War divide. In so far as Lukács could be aesthetically "actual" in the late 1960s, especially in the West, it was via a younger set of theoretical writings that he had left behind and spurned; the "current" Lukács of late socialism (as represented by his aesthetics the 1960s) could no longer be in tune with the arts of his time.


Sándor Hornyik (Institute of Art History, Research Center for the Humanities of HAS)

Aesthetics in the Shadow of Politics: ‘Surnaturalist’ Painting in the Early Sixties

The presentation focuses on the paintings of the so called Csernus Circle whose members produced figurative paintings and partly relied on the officially proposed themes and semantics. They, however, “served” the system in an ambivalent or ironic manner since they “revitalized” the style of socialist realism on the basis of renaissance and modernist (abstract and surrealist) formalism.


Maja and Reuben Fowkes (Translocal Institute, Budapest – London)

New Left East: Socialism as (if) It Really Existed

The left critique of the socialist system in Eastern Europe was at best a precarious position and one that tended towards invisibility, in fact, to seriously argue for a freer and fairer version of communism was only possible for a relatively short period of time. The peak of intellectual criticism of 'real existing socialism' from the left took place in the late 60s and early 70s, a period that coincided with the emergence and flourishing of the neo-avant-garde in East European art.

11.00 ‒ 11.30 Discussion

11.30 – 11.50 Coffee break


Dávid Fehér (Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest)

Consonants of Karl Marx: Left vs. left in the Hungarian Neo-Avantgarde (The Case of László Lakner)

The title of the paper comes from the title of László Lakner’s conceptual work. The presentation is about the usage of leftism and leftist symbols in the Hungarian neo-avant-garde focusing mainly on Lakner’s artistic activity shedding light on some unknown works as well.


Katalin Timár (University of Pécs, Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest)

Talking about Differences: Pop Art and Popism in the East and West

The presentation is about to elaborate on the different social and ideological embedding of Eastern and Western pop art, partly informed by the Eastern reception of Western art and theory.

12.30 ‒13.00 Discussion


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