OF EXHIBITION: ON THE IDEOLOGIES OF MANIFESTA
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
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):
(ii) antithesis and
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
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
(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
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),
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
(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
(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
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,
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,
17. Otok / Island, Editor-in-Chief: Janka Vukmir, SCCA-Zagreb,
18. Urbanaria II, Ed. by Lilijana Stepančič, OSI-Slovenia
(SCCA-Ljubljana), Ljubljana, 1997.
19. Manifesta 2 - European Biennial of Contemporary Art,
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
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.