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Exit Art

Body and the East
- Additional Information -


The First Survey Exhibition on Eastern European
Body Art Examines Work in Fourteen Countries

Opening Reception: Saturday, January 20, 6-8 p.m.
Panel Discussion: Sunday, January 21, 2-4 p.m.
Project Curator: Zdenka Badovinac, Director, Moderna galerija Ljubljana
Project Coordinator: Jodi Hanel, Exit Art

Exit Art will present Body and the East, an important survey of the history of body art actions performed in the former Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union from the 1960s to the present. Because much of this work operated outside the boundaries of state-sanctioned art, the exhibition brings to the fore a body of work experienced by only a small minority in the East, and known to only few in the West.

The exhibition brings to light provocative, poetic, and politically challenging work that broke through the boundaries of traditional art practices.  "I hope that Body and the East will serve to introduce North American audiences to work as important as the performance art of the Viennese Actionists, Joseph Beuys, Chris Burden, Vito Acconci, and others." says Exit Art director Jeanette Ingberman.  "Body and performance art is more than a Western avant-garde phenomenon, and any thorough art history must include those who operated outside the gaze of the West."

The exhibition examines more than 200 body actions and performance works through extensive video footage and still photographs taken during live actions. More than 30 video monitors will be stationed throughout the galleries of Exit Art presenting documentation of these important performances.  Drawings, writings and other archival materials will also contribute to an understanding of how a significant group of artists based in the former Eastern bloc countries used their bodies as a starting point for art.

Project Curator Zdenka Badovinac, Director, Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana, Slovenia, has organized the exhibition into fourteen sections, each representing a country in Eastern Europe.  Badovinac worked with advisors from each of these countries to help pick performance artists / works that are historically significant in their country.

Among the 80 artists represented in the exhibition are Marina Abramovic in Yugoslavia, Karel Miler, and Petr Stembera in the Czech Republic, the Post Ars group in Lithuania, Tibor Hajas in Hungary, Tadeusz Kantor in Poland, Komar & Melamid, the MOVEMENT GROUP, and Alexander Yulikov in Russia, and artists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Moldova, Romania, Slovenia, and Slovakia.  Although these Eastern European performance artists worked concurrently with their better-known counterparts in the West, there was little or no collaboration.

Included are works that reflect the changing political environment.  For one performance by Lithuanian artist, Aleksas Andriuskevicius, the artist rolled across the harsh and injurious cobblestone streets near Kaunas's Town Hall as the public indifferently walked by.  Active in the 1980s was the East German artist collective called Autoperforationsartisten (Auto Perforation Artists).  Their provocative works included Beuys Beine machen (Beuys, Get Lost!), where the group incorporated the use of felt and actions such as chest shaving as a method of questioning the Beuys legacy.  Quieter work was also created such as Amalia Perjovschi's 1980s piece The Sleep Test which was completed in her apartment with her husband.  Covered in hieroglyphics, suggesting a mysterious language that was inaccessible for the viewers, the artist drew a parallel to repressive Romanian society and the inability for artists to express themselves publicly.

Body and the East explores the concept of ‘otherness’ as the West often applies it to the East.  As Ms. Badovinac notes, "There is a new and very popular slogan in the Eastern Bloc that proclaims that we have always been part of Europe.  In my opinion, those of us who study the art of 20th century Eastern Europe should heed this slogan.  Rather than focus on ‘otherness’ in this exhibition, we have examined this art from the vantage point of its cultural-historical characteristics, including those it shares with Europe.  Certainly, the work shown here bears a strong relationship to the issues and ideas that have traditionally surrounded body art and performance art practices."

Body Art in Eastern Europe
The body art actions documented in Body and the East took place in private apartments and in marginal public spaces such as youth centers, alternative galleries, and student cultural centers, particularly those in Zagreb, Belgrade, Ljubljana, and the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw.  The actions were thus out of the control and attention of state-run institutions. Police most frequently banned public actions in the street.  In several instances artists were arrested, condemned for hooliganism, and accused of anti-social behavior, a dangerous charge.  In Slovenia, artists were even charged with Fascism.  As a result, materials for the exhibition come primarily from the artists themselves.

While in the West body and performance art posed a direct challenge to the art market, in the East there was no equivalent art market.  For an artist to work outside the art system meant that the artist was working outside the state.  To base a practice outside of the state was to act against the state, against the ideology of the country.  Artists found their remoteness from acceptable art practices a form of creative freedom.  Body art and performance was radical, a parallel condition with the West.  However, the work remains on the margins of the art world in both the East and the West.

Visitors to the exhibition can view video footage of the performance piece by the Yugoslavian artist Gotovac, running naked through the streets of Belrade in 1971.  The exhibition makes clear that, in the East, the appearance of a naked artist in public had a direct political dimension, as the threat of police surveillance and censorship was constant.  Whereas such behavior might also pose challenges to morality in the West, in the East, it bore the mark of anarchy.

Under the influence of perestroika in the 1980s (under Soviet leader Gorbachev), the power of the state regimes and ideologies began to crumble.  The curators in the exhibition noted how performances during this period stressed the distance towards one’s personal identity, a reflection of the dramatic political changes in the East.  New forms of social behavior were embraced.  For the young generation, a punk aesthetic became popular particularly the movement’s claim to anarchy.  Artists also worked collaboratively with musicians, new media artists, visual artists, and individuals involved in theater.  These multi-media experiments gave rise to a broad-based art scene that transformed the art scene in the East.  One of the more vibrant art communities emerged in Ljubljana as exemplified in concerts of the groups BORGHESIA and LAIBACH.  The play on equating Nazi and Communist iconography (LAIBACH) and on destroying sexual taboos (BORGHESIA) was analogous to the unveiling of traumatic issues with the dismantling of Communism and the concurrent exposure of that system’s mechanisms of power.  Younger artists were also iconoclasts among Eastern avant-garde as much new work satirized the endurance body artwork from the previous generation.

This crisis of identity is exemplified in the exhibition by the artist Ceslovas Lukenskas’s "A Thrown Out Man," in which the artist literally throws himself into a pile of rubbish at a dump.  Artists also respond to the growing nationalism, particularly in Serbia and Croatia.  Many artists have left those countries and their work explores their absence.  In Body and the East, Tanja Ostojic speaks poetically of exile in a work in which the she first occupies then abandons the space, leaving a trace of white dust where her body once stood.

The war in the Balkans is reflected in the works of Bozidar Jurjevic and Slaven Tolj from Dubrovnik and Nebojsa Seríc-Soba from Sarajevo, exploring situations where there is no food and no language to communicate.

Exit Art and Performance Art  Exit Art has a commitment and long history in examining performance and body art, both in the United States and abroad.  In addition to its ongoing performance programs, Exit Art has organized several exhibitions on the topic.  In particular, Exit Art presented the landmark performance art exhibition, Endurance: The Information in 1995.  Endurance was an international exhibition of artists whose work mentally, spiritually and physically challenged the body.  The exhibition included work by 65 artists including Marina Abramovic, Vito Acconci, Chris Burden, Valie Export, Yves Klein, and Carolee Schneemann.

Two years later, in 1997, Exit Art presented the Russian exhibition Collective Actions curated by Joseph Backstein, Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Moscow.  This exhibition surveyed the art and performance group Collective Actions active from the 1960s to the present in the former Soviet Union.  As with the Body and the East, the artists in Collective Actions worked outside the state-supported system.  This exhibition generated much attention in the press and brought the work of the Collective Actions to the large, international audience for whom New York is home.

Catalogue  A 192-page, fully-illustrated, bilingual (Slovenian/English) book entitled Body and the East: From the 1960s to the Present features essays by Zdenka Badovinac, Kristine Stiles and shorter statements by the 14 guest curators.  The catalogue was published by MIT Press in conjunction with the exhibition’s opening in Ljubljana.  The volume will be sold at Exit Art during the exhibition.  Retail price is $25.

Public Programs  A series of public programs has been organized concurrently with the exhibition that will allow the public an opportunity to interact with several of the artists and curators.  Kicking off the series will be a set of performances and panel discussion on Sunday, January 21 from 2-5 p.m.  Panel participants include Zdenka Badovinac, Egle Rakauskaite, Renata Salecl, Magda Sawon and Martha Wilson.  Performances by artists featured in the exhibition include Else Gabriel, Peter Mlakar and Slaven Tolj.  A five week music series titled Balkan Cabaret February 2 - March 2, will feature Eastern and Western musicians inspired by Balkan music, the music program is curated by Limor Tomer.  Please call 212-966-7745 for further information.

Exit Art  Exit Art has charted the new in art and contemporary culture since its founding by Jeanette Ingberman and Papo Colo in 1982.  Over the course of more than 18 years, the non-profit interdisciplinary laboratory for contemporary culture has grown into one of New York’s most important showcases for new work by young and emerging artists.  Exit Art also serves as a venue for landmark historical exhibitions bringing under-recognized ideas and art practices to a larger public both locally and globally.

Exit Art is located at 548 Broadway between Prince and Spring Streets in SoHo.  Hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. (Café Hours: Friday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.).  The galleries are closed on Sunday and Monday.  The suggested contribution for admission is $2.00, which goes to support Exit Art's programs.

Exhibition Sponsorship  This project was made possible in part by a generous grant from the Trust for Mutual Understanding, the Heathcote Foundation, FACE Croatia and Goethe-Institut New York.  Additional funding has also been provided by the Rudin Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts and our members.

Body and the East Project Curator and Artists
Zdenka Badovinac, Director, Moderna galerija Ljubljana / Museum of Modern Art

Artists: Jusuf Hadzifejzovic, Nebojsa Seric-Soba

Aritsts: Rassim Krastev, Ventsislav Zankov

Artists: Nenad Dancuo, Vlasta Delimar, Tomislav Gotovac, Aleksandar Ilic, Sanja Ivekovic, Bozidar Jurjevic, Dalibor Martinis, Slaven Tolj

Aritsts: Milan Knízák, Jirí Kovanda, Karel Miler, Jan Mlcoch, Jirí Suruvka, Petr Stembera, Margita Titlová-Ylovsky

GERMANY (formerly GDR)
Artists: Autoperforationsartisten (Micha Brendel, Else Gabriel  Ulf Wrede, Via Lewandowsky), Via Lewandowsky, Durs Grünbein

Artists: Tibor Hajas, Istaván Kovács, János Szirtes

Aritsts: Post Ars (Aleksas Andriuskevicius, Rombertas Antinis, Ceslovas Lukenskas), Egle Rakauskaite

Artists: Pavel Braila, Lilia Dragneva, Lucia Macari

Artists: Jerzy Beres, Katarzyna Kozyra, KwieKulik, Natalia LL, Teresa Murak, Józef Robakowski, Jerzy Truszkowski   

Artists: Alexandru Antik, Ion Grigorescu, Paul Neagu, Amalia Perjovschi, Dan Perjovschi

Artists: Alexander Brener, Vadim Fishkin, Rimma & Valery Gerlovin, Komar & Melamid, Oleg Kulik, Igor Makarevich, Vladislav Mamushev Monroe, MOVEMENT GROUP, Alexander Yulikov

Artists: ARTPROSPEKT P.O.P. (Ladislav Pagác, Viktor Oravec, Milan Pagác), Peter Bartos, L’ubomír Durcek, Michal Kern, Vladimír Kordos, Peter Meluzin, Dezider Tóth (TD)

Artists: BORGHESIA, Leonora Jakovljevic-Mark, Marko A. Kovacic, LAIBACH, Department of Pure and Applied Philosophy at NSK (Peter Mlakar), OHO (David Nez, Andraz Salamun, Tomaz Salamun), Marko Peljhan, Franc Purg, Joze Slak-Doka, Ive Tabar, Janja Zvegelj

Artists: Marina Abramovic, Dejan Andelkovic & Jelica Radovanovic, Radomir Damnjan, Era Milivojevic, Tanja Ostojic, Nesa Paripovic, Nenad Rackovic, Miroslav Misa Savic, Bálint Szombathy, Ilija Soskic, Rasa Todosijevic.

For more information please contact Brad Jackson 212-966-7745 x-13 or Jodi Hanel at 212 966-7745 x 16,

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