Critics’ Picks

View of “Ostalgia,” 2011.

New York


New Museum
235 Bowery
July 14 - September 25

Much of “Ostalgia,” the New Museum’s summer exhibition dedicated to art from and about the Soviet bloc, makes for predictably grim viewing. How can we account, then, for the sense of longing and nostalgia triggered by day-to-day imagery of life within a communist regime that hardly seems a lost paradise? This question hovers over the many works in the show, curated by Massimiliano Gioni, who coined its catchy title with reference to the German word Ostalgie, expressing the yearning for a prelapsarian state before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Part atlas, part archive, “Ostalgia” avoids the tedium of a survey exhibition organized along geographical or chronological lines, instead mixing and matching works in a wide range of media by artists from the former sphere of Soviet influence (with a few Western figures thrown in for good measure). While some need no introduction––Tacita Dean, Jonas Mekas, Andro Wekua, Miroslaw Balka, Phil Collins, and Simon Starling, among others––for most the visitor is reliant on Chris Wiley’s lengthy but mostly engaging wall labels to contextualize each individual practice and relate the works to international artistic trends.

The last significant show of art about the Soviet bloc to take place in North America, “Beyond Belief: Contemporary Art from East Central Europe,” was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 1995. Why revisit the topic today? Beyond the clichéd appeal of communist exotica—which has yet to relinquish its hold on Western imagination—the artworks on display at the New Museum act as alternative models of artistic practice. Made by established artists and amateurs alike in the absence of commercial gallery spaces and financial incentives, they go to show that art can exist––and even thrive––without a market.