No.3, Ljubljana, Januar 2002
PlatformaSCCA ISSN 1580-738X
platformaSCCA 3 platformaSCCA 2   platformaSCCA 1
Izdal SCCA, Zavod za sodobno umetnost-Ljubljana, 2002
Published by SCCA, Center for Contemporary Arts-Ljubljana,
Miško Šuvaković


This short text is conceived as a deliberation on the ideology (fictional screen, ritual space and the functioning of apparatus) of one exhibition and a family of exhibitions. The deliberation is carried out by means of locating disclosures established on the premises of Cultural Studies, and it comparatively points out to:
1) the ideology of a family of exhibitions (e.g. the Venice Biennale, the Kassel Documenta and the mobile Manifesta),
2) the very ideology of Manifesta, and
3) the role of SCCAs (Soros Centers for Contemporary Arts) in the direct and indirect formulating of the status and priorities of the exhibition.

The Ideology of Exhibition (theoretical scheme)

The ideology of exhibition is not an aggregate of oriented and entirely rationalised intentions of its organisers (curators, authors of concept, financiers, cultural workers, politicians). The ideology is a precarious atmosphere (environment) of conceptualised as well as non-conceptualised possibilities, decisions, symbolisations, solutions, proclamations, oversights (erasure), fortuitous choices, selections, proposals, values, tacit insights, censorships, the effects of public and tacit taste, justifications, desires and social functions that form some sort of acceptable reality of the exhibition from the perspective of society and culture. In other words, the ideology of an exhibition or a family of exhibitions is not the order (text) of messages that the authors of exhibition are projecting and proclaiming in their introductory or accompanying texts; it is that difference between the intended and the unintended, the acceptable and the unacceptable in relation of the public and the tacit scene: the conscious and the unconscious, i.e., the literal and the fictional. The ideology of exhibition is not that which is meant to be accepted by public opinion (doxa) but, paradoxically, that which constitutes doxa and represents its expression (a single case) in some sort of exchange of 'social values' and 'social powers'.

Comparative Discussion on Great European Exhibitions

If one makes a fairly rough comparison of three entirely different families of international exhibitions: the Venice Biennale, the Kassel Documenta and the mobile Manifesta - there appear three entirely different political disclosures of 'the reality' of art.

The Venice Biennale was constituted in the époque of transformation of national Modernist cultures into the international language of great European and, subsequently, Euro-American Modernity (Modernism with capital M). In that sense, the structure of Biennale is 'solved' (plotted) as the relation between national pavilions and the international exhibition. Biennale's organisational structure repeats (recreates) the point of initiation of XX century Modernist art, i.e. the transformation of national bourgeois modernities into the international language of Modernism. This recreation of 'the original' transformation of Modernism (its particular national promises and identities) into a hegemonic and united international Modernism is the central 'voice' (effect) of all the biennial exhibitions, as much as they differ and project a specific concrete aesthetic, poetic or artistic problem in a given historical moment. The Venice Biennale is altogether marked by the Dialectics of Modernism (as 'it' is assumed by Hegel):
(i) thesis
(ii) antithesis and
(iii) synthesis.

Thesis is the national modernity (individual pavilions, often 'folkloristic' or 'hegemonic'). Antithesis is the international Modernism (collective international exhibition or exhibitions; it is the norm or the current canon). Synthesis is an exceptional artwork of the individual (the award-winner, the antecedent of a new phenomenon, the creator transcending one's own national horizon) who manifests his artistic, i.e. creative, originality, genius or grandeur by turning the national into the international of the great planetary Modernism.

As a family of exhibitions, the Kassel Documenta appears after World War II, at the time when the great hegemonic Modernism is the dominant ruling and encompassing culture of contemporary autonomy of art. Instead of national selections, there exists the intentional choice of great artists who represent neither a particular nation nor culture, nor even a movement, phenomenon or style, but rather demonstrate (transcend) the 'erased traces' of a movement or style as the expression of great individual artistry, inspiration, vigour, transgression or penetration of the individual - the Modernist artist him. This artist speaks, that is, acts by means of the language of distinguishable international modernity (the language of Paris, New York or some other hegemonic school) which portraits itself as the very source of current art and the artistic. This artist is a paradigmatic model of creator with:
(1) nature as role model - Pollock once said 'I create like the nature'
(2) machine as role model - Warhol once said 'I create like the machine'
(3) society as role model - Beuys acted and worked as society (social organism, social being: zoon politikon)

Documenta is a non-dialectic and non-historical exhibition. It is non-dialectic because it does not reveal the torque, but the HERE-present isolated and idealised force and power of the individual artist proper or the art masterpiece proper which exceeds its own context. It is non-historical because it does not reconstruct history but merely locates the moment (interval, segment, point, point de capiton) of history as an exceptional moment of appearance of an exceptional artist and his work (this is obvious at Documenta VII where the emerging Postmodernism overtakes the exceptionality of the curbed Modernism, and enables the 'weak', 'soft' or 'plural' subject of Postmodernism to reconstitute according to the model of the strong Modernistic subject of the ruling art market). In other words, the weak subject of Postmodernism has overtaken the effects of the strong subject and thus annulled itself; as an example, one can compare the status transformations of Clemente or Kiefer into the great masters of Western painting. But this occurs as well when new movements are promoted (Documenta X with Post-object art) or 'representations' of culture disclosed (Documenta X). Even Documenta X, which carries the promise of both history of Modernity and its culture as politics, is brought to an exceptional code of particularity of the ideality of an art which is made 'from' or 'of' transcending the political and the historical in the artistic. History and dialectics are being inscribed into the synchronicity of ideality. The Documenta X exhibition has shown the torque of representations of the political, the social or the cultural into a high aestheticism of an art that retains its autonomy and market singularity even when it explicitly advocates politics, society and culture through the illusion of documentary depiction of European realities.

But, something else happens with Manifesta. It is created with the explicit political claim in a moment of alteration of Block (binary) Europe into a Post-block (heterogeneous or plural) Europe, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Three essential yet uncertain demands occur here:
(i) a demand to establish a possibility of exhibiting, artistic and cultural - and that means also political - communication (exchange) between historically separated (perhaps even incomparable) cultures of Eastern and Western Europe, but also to point out to the relative relations of margin and centre within Western Europe proper as a paradigmatic model,
(ii) a demand to identify the identity (where identity is always a discursive creation /formation/ super-determined by culture) of transformation of international high art into trans-national (multicultural) art after the fall of the Berlin Wall (i.e. the instant where the Postmodernisms of late Capitalism, Western European retro-marginal cultures and Post-Socialism are brought together in the promise of 'open society'),
(iii) a demand on the status of art: art is no more suggested as a particular (autonomous and ideal) sphere (context) of creation or production, exchange and reception of artefacts (artworks). The evident border between art and culture is disturbed - hence the family of Manifesta exhibitions is not a presentation of grand works (masterpieces) of the actual moment but the archiving (classification) of the artefacts (traces, information, media re-coding) of culture of actuality on the site where art is expected.

While Venice Biennale operated through the dialectic tension of national and international, and Documenta through non-historicism and anti-dialectics of the individual, Manifesta is conceived as a transparent relation of arbitrary registers or: as a relation of indexing and mapping of possibilities of presenting the local (particular, specific, incomparable) culture to discursive machines and media capacities of mass culture of late Capitalism. With its mechanisms of disclosure and presentation, late Capitalism is inscribed into a seemingly non-conflictual situation of advocating cultural differences and gaps (of different cultures) of Europe at the end of XX century.

It is essential to recognise one more characteristic difference between Venice Biennale, Documenta and Manifesta in regard to the international art market and the utilitarian demands of national cultures. Venice Biennale offers at least a possibility of an exclusive and symbolical parallel display of formulations of national 'cultural' (national pavilions) and international 'market' (big international exhibitions) Modernism and Postmodernism. Documenta has always been an exhibition of international 'market' Modernism and Postmodernism. Documenta was the ground for crucial verification of an artist that makes the transition from local national culture and adolescent period into the high and big world of international art and its gallery and museum representative system. Contrary to that, an entirely new and as yet unknown situation occurred with the family of Manifesta exhibitions:
(i) a high international second league was created. That means that, within the political transformation of international hegemony into multiculturalism of the emerging globalisation, it was necessary to create a 'mobile' and 'open' institution which would integrate on global level: (a) young artists, (b) artists of those marginal Western European cultures which are not 'great' (as German, French, Italian and perhaps Russian are), and (c) artists of transitional former Eastern cultures,
(ii) this was done while avoiding a blow, or at least a disturbance, in the stable market system of identification and existence of the Grand Masters of Modernism and Postmodernism who constitute the art world or, bluntly said, the first master league; as if, with this, a space was created between the high autonomous art which builds the world of great epochal works and the chosen projected art that represents and depicts the actual interests of particular cultures and their identities;
(iii) as a matter of fact, what happened in Europe for the first time in XX century was that the world (institutions, officials) of high autonomous art enabled and plotted the space for the appearance of utilitarian (with functions) art which is other than it is; not jeopardising, but confirming it in its exceptionality and providing it, under careful control and selection, with fresh blood (young and other artists) that strengthens, but does not endanger.

The Logic of Institutions, SCCA and the Connection to Manifesta

It is my contention (and not only mine) that Post-Conceptual painting and sculpture (e.g. from the mid-70s on) have no historical logic of linear development (the change of styles, individual poetics or phenomena). Everything is in parallel and probable, with numerous feedbacks (counter-transfers, counter-blows) within loosely related worlds of art. It is a disordered and vast field of plural prospects and their multiplications (metastasis). This is not post-history, but a raving-raging history which falls apart and entropically dissipates, thus becoming a matter of academism or fascinating spectacle (between eye and body, that is, visual and haptic). There is no difference between 'the source' (of creation, renewal) and 'the abyss' (end) of painting and sculpture. Legitimacy goes to any artist's works of any strategy, gesture or procedure (Trans-Avant-garde, Neo-Expressionism, Anachronism, Non-Expressionism, Non-Conceptualism, Simulationism, Retro-Avant-garde, Sots-art, Cynical Realism, Post-Pop-art, Net-art, Cyber-art, etc). There is no difference between an oil painting and a digitally generated image, that is, between the solitary work on a painting in a studio and the art of spectacle by the rules of mass culture. Art appears as a field of vast possibilities. Vastness is the essential attribute of the art that calls itself the 'Postmodernism of the 80s'. Entering painting, leaving painting. Abandoning art. Obliterating the profession of painter and obsessively invoking the traditional role of painter-craftsman-labourer. The artist is at once entertainer (Koons), shaman (Beuys), producer (Warhol), master of craft (Stella), anthropologist (Kosuth), media analyst (Burgin), intelligent provocateur (Komar & Melamid) or a fiction constructor (Alice Aycock), etc…

In the 90s, major changes occur in the tissue of art. An unexpected turn takes place, amidst the very evasive pluralism and its evasive vastness.

In the artistic context of the USA, this change happens through the fragmentation of the gallery para-mediatic Neo-Conceptualism into particular models of representation and depiction of the ideal or, perhaps, the illusion of multicultural society: a society without ethnic, racial, sexual, culturally differentiated centre, and without the obvious tensions (conflicts). In other words, the means of elite autonomous art (e.g., Neo-Conceptualism and Neo-Expressionism) are being implemented for the purpose of registering the 'occurrences' of small or marginal cultures (Mexicans, Pakistani or Portoricans in the USA) by introducing them into the discursive and visual discernibility and the omni-presence of the mass culture of late Capitalism. In other words, local ethnic folklores acquire the contemporary media as well as trans-nationally recognisable language.

In the artistic context of Europe, there is a shift caused by the decline of Real-Socialism (Eastern Block) and by the creation of Western institutions whose function is to stimulate, initiate and provide transition processes in the East (from the former Soviet Union states to the Communist states of Central Europe and the Balkans). The stimulation, initiation and provision of these processes were enabled, among others, by Soros Centres for Contemporary Arts (SCCAs) of the Open Society Fund, commonly known as 'Soros'. Initially, those centres were envisaged as institutions that enabled the documenting of local art scenes, financing of present artistic projects and representing the trans-nationally emancipated local art on the international scene. In time, the Centres have connected into financial, communication, exhibiting, promotional and educational networks abridging the gap between the East in transition and the West in globalisation. What characteristically occurred soon after the creation of the Centres was the appearance of similar new art in entirely different, sometimes even incomparable, cultures. The narrative and the presented cases were different, but the means, i.e. the poetics of presentation, expression and communication were altogether comparable. To put it bluntly: This was probably not a plan or a program plotted in advance, but surely it is not a kind of whatever-Zeitgeist metaphysics!?! It has to do, I suppose, with the relation of function, structure and effect, the way that was disclosed long ago by Foucault (discourse) or Žižek (ideology). This means that we are dealing with the function of the institution that reconfigures art according to non-artistic criteria:

(i) globally: the initiation of transition in Eastern European cultures,
(ii) poetically: the emancipation from the elite autonomous-artistic Modernism and Postmodernism in practical-artistic as well as theoretical-interpretational sense,
(iii) culturologically: the metamorphosis of 'alternative' (emancipated urban) art as marginal art of national culture, positioned between popular and high culture, into sonde-art by which strategies of relativisation of relation of margin and centre are tested, projected and represented in every concrete single society. In other words, culture itself becomes 'the material' and 'the medium' of engagement with the aim of anticipation and realisation of non-conflicting (politically correct) society, and
(iv) politically: the artwork becomes the demonstrating media object by which a politically toned, but not wholly explicit practice and production of samples are being realised, promising a real activity within the civil society which is yet to be created. Thus the conditions of creation and presentation of critical, cynical, subversive and, quite clearly, nihilistic art of Perestroika, Sots-art, Cynical Realism or Retro-Avant-garde, are essentially neutralised.

This effectively brought to the creation of a formula for 'the genesis' of a work that has a go and that receives theoretical and financial support. The ontology of artwork attains a recognisable morphology:
(a) new media (trans-national) + (b) local (regional) themes = (c) presentation 'of' erased traces of culture.

One can observe another enticing controversy. The model which was established for marginal or other (e.g. Mexican, Portorican, or Eastern European) cultures is now also being implemented, through the exhibitions of Manifesta and similar exhibitions under the influence of the Centres (e.g., After the Wall), to small or peripheral Western European cultures such as Sweden, The Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, etc. Consequently they are included in the 'emancipating' horizon of the equalising multicultural sociability of the end of XX century.
That is why I used on one occasion - and without any irony whatsoever - the term Soros Realism to mark the artistic productions that are being supported by SCCAs. This term literally refers to the art:
(a) that has function (see i-iv),
(b) that has a relation of presentation and representation towards a concrete reality of society and culture (see formula /a/+/b/=/c/), and
(c) that has an 'optimal projection', which means a positive social exchange project (emancipation, education) which is being represented 'through' the work of art.

Soros Realism is not a Realism in the sense of return to the Realism of the paranoid nationalistic type, which emerged, in most Post-Socialist societies in the 80s and the 90s. It is neither a brutal variation of Socialist Realism that has established the canons of expression in the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s in the East. Contrary to that, it is a soft and subtle uniformisation and standardisation of Postmodernist pluralism and multiculturalism as a criterion of enlightened political Liberalism that has to be realised by European societies at the turn of the century. A concrete benefit of such approach is the shifting from 'the limited' (purely elite) emancipation borne both by the high art and the alternative, to an all-encompassing social emancipation within the frame of local culture. For instance, the theories of Post-structuralism and the values of Liberalism that have the character of 'academic' or 'museum-like', and certainly of 'intellectual minority' discourse, now become 'through' art the discourse, taste and value of the 'normal' culture of the emerging middle-class intellectual stratum and its public opinion (doxa). The concrete deficiency of such an approach to art is the establishing of 'the average overview' which realises artistic and aesthetic goals as culturally determined effects. In other words, the art of the young, the marginal and those in transition acquires 'its own' mobile reservation of promised prospects of survival and realisation.

1. Documenta V, Kassel, 1972.
2. Alan Sondheim, Individuals: Post-Movement Art in America, A. Dutton Paperback, 1977.
3. Slavoj Žižek, Hegel in označevalec (Hegel and the Adressant), Analecta, Ljubljana, 1980.
4. Documenta VII, Kassel, 1982.
5. Slavoj Žižek, Filozofija skozi psihoanalizo (Philosophy through Psychoanalysis), Analecta, Ljubljana, 1984.
6. Venecijanski bijenale i jugoslavenska moderna umjetnost (The Venice Biennale and Yugoslav Modern Art), Ed. by Želimir Koščevi­ć, Contemporary Arts Gallery, Zagreb, 1988.
7. Frederic Jameson, Postmodernizem (Postmodernism), Analecta, Ljubljana, 1992.
8. Urbanaria I, Ed. by Lilijana Stepančič, OSI-Slovenia (SCCA-Ljubljana), Ljubljana, 1994.
9. Quarterly: The Soros Centres for Contemporary Arts 5, Soros Centres for Contemporary Arts Network, 1995.
10. Mikhail N. Epstein, After the Future. The Paradoxes of Postmodernism and Contemporary Russian Culture, The University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 1995.
11. Manifesta I - European Biennial of Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, 1996.
12. Documenta X, Kassel, 1997.
13. Druga godišnja izložba (Second Annual Exhibition), SCCA-Belgrade, Belgrade, 1997.
14. 'The New Europe Issue' (thematic issue), Siksi 4, Helsinki, 1997.
15. Christopher Phillips, 'The View from Europe's Lower East Side', Art in America, October 1997: pp 47-53.
16. Art Work in Public Spaces, SCCA-Prague, Prague, 1997.
17. Otok / Island, Editor-in-Chief: Janka Vukmir, SCCA-Zagreb, Zagreb, 1997.
18. Urbanaria II, Ed. by Lilijana Stepančič, OSI-Slovenia (SCCA-Ljubljana), Ljubljana, 1997.
19. Manifesta 2 - European Biennial of Contemporary Art, Luxembourg, 1998.
20. Michel Foucault, Arheologija znanja (Archaeology of Knowledge), Plato, Belgrade, 1998.
21. Michel Foucault, Treba braniti društvo. Predavanja na Kolež de Fransu iz 1976. godine (We Must Defend the Society. Lectures at College de France in 1976), Svetovi, Novi Sad, 1998.
22. Manifesta 3 - European Biennial of Contemporary Art; Ed. by Igor Zabel, Cankarjev dom, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2000.


Miško Šuvaković: philospher, lecturer of aesthetics at the Faculty of music in Belgrade.

Copyright: Avtorji & SCCA, Zavod za sodobno umetnost-Ljubljana /Authors & SCCA, Center for Contemporary Art-Ljubljana