PRINT May 1992


Ida Panicelli

No one celebrates the first of May any more, East or West. But is there anyone who misses it? Surely yes. I’m not talking about the propaganda, the military parades in Red Square, though there must even be people who miss those. I’m talking about May 1 as the symbol of a sociopolitical ideal that seems to have vanished, dissolved.

In this month’s “Secret Vices” column, Marco Giusti explores the intellectual, esthetic, and moral void in which the European left is wandering after the collapse of the Marxist regimes. The crisis of European intellectuals today is palpable: deprived of the ideological underpinnings for their last real inspiration, the events of May ’68, and also for the tough debates that have followed that moment (for example over the social contract in the face of terrorism), they are also witnessing a progressive shift to the right in nations like France and Italy, which until recently boasted strong communist opposition parties. The result, for Giusti, is a deep sense of loss.

Others confront the problem without melancholy and with purpose. In this issue of Artforum Komar and Melamid—who, with exquisite irony, have taken to calling themselves “Soviet artists”—use the magazine to challenge artists and general readers everywhere: let’s imagine new meanings for the political monuments of communist Moscow, meanings more apt for the times. Not to preserve them, as sterile signs of the past; not to destroy them, as in the worst tradition of victor and vanquished; not even to ridicule them, for in and of themselves they have no guilt, but are innocent ambassadors of their time. Instead let’s transform them. Made less oppressive, they may make clearer the meanings worth saving, and those worth sweeping away.

The Yugoslav artist Jadran Adamović tells us about the faceted artistic geography of his country as it emerges from communism into war. Alongside Adamović’s essay, Lorenzo Buj outlines the complex historical plots that are the backdrop for this conflict, which is opening up perhaps unhealable fractures in Yugoslavia’s cultural world. The suffering certainly include artists, writers, and curators who have played a part in Western European culture, offering it a bridge to the East, and now paying the price of nationalist separatism.

The utopia of socialism has failed the East—clearly, failed it long before the recent collapse. But equally clearly there is no true democracy to act as a counterweight in the West. Thus Peter Marcuse, with the photographs of Camilo Vegara, illuminates one of the pressing problems of capitalist society in America: the acceptance of homelessness as the unchanging condition of an ever increasing population of individuals and families, for whom a technologically advanced country is incapable of furnishing a basic social right. Marcuse speculates on the role that should be played by the architects called upon to design the contradiction in terms that is called “homeless housing.” What needs definition, he argues, is not just the esthetic responsibilities of those builders, but the moral ones.

How long can a West without a Marxist opposition remain in its political torpor? At a certain point it will become necessary to cease mourning the dear departed. A renewal of the ideological discourse has to take place, and it will not regain its integrity from the self-satisfaction of the orthodox conservative intelligentsia, American or otherwise. Instead, it will emerge from the action of individuals taking the kind of ethical and intellectual stand that Vivian Sobchack discusses in her book-review column this month—a politically engaged stand that questions the structures of power. Meanwhile, perhaps the production of culture will have to get back to an “elitist” practice—in the sense that a Marxist like Pier Paolo Pasolini gave that word. After all, even in the Greece of Pericles, the audience for Aeschylus was smaller than the audience for the Olympic Games.

Ida Panicelli