Together with the A. S. Puschkin-Museum, the ROSIZO in Moscow and the BOZAR in Brussels, the ZKM is organising the large-scale exhibition project entitled Art in Europe 1945 to 1968: The future in sight – curated by Eckhart Gillen and Peter Weibel. The exhibition focuses on the connecting cultural forces on the Eurasian continent and takes into account a central cultural region, which has been repeatedly shattered and disrupted by wars and crises in the 20th century. The period of 1945 to 1968, which is highlighted in the exhibition, stands in many ways for artistic and political perspectives, which were forward-looking in contradictory ways. After the end of the Second World War in 1945, the political and cultural boundaries hardened increasingly, until a decisive turning point for shaping the future in European post-war history in the East and West was marked ultimately in 1968 through the Anti-American student revolts and the new Ostpolitik introduced by Willi Brandt.
For the first time since 1945, the concept of retrospectively tracing the history of art in the whole of Europe can now be realised. To date, the attention of historiography was largely focussed on abstract expressionism as a symbolisation of the free West, while the socialist realism embodied the conservatism of the Communist East. But today, we know that this dominant model of art history was a product of the Cold War. For this reason, the exhibition attempts to reinterpret the development of art in Europe from a pan-European perspective and accounts for a specific renaissance of European art and culture in the period of 1945 to 1968. Whilst the exhibition project brings together the neo avant-garde from the East and West, it becomes evident that many new art forms (produced after the war) – from media art to conceptual art, from performance art to sound art – originated in Europe or were formulated simultaneously in Western Europe, the USA, Russia and Eastern Europe in parallel developments.
With the collaborative efforts of three internationally-renowned museums, the exhibition unites approx. 400 loans from over 150 artists into a panorama of pan-European art development on both sides of the historic Iron Curtain.
At the ZKM, which is focussing on the experimental artistic developments of the 1950s and 1960s in one of its programme lines, the exhibition is experiencing independent prioritisation and expansion. Representatives of Western neo avant-garde – like the ZERO group – are now appearing at the ZKM for the first time in the context of new Eastern European and Russian trends that have developed in parallel – such as the Nove Tendencije and the Dvizhenie group. Information about the exhibition focuses, the artists and works, which are on display in the ZKM as part of the EUROPE exhibition, will be available here from mid-July.
A new narrative about Europe is developing with the exhibition and the catalogue accompanying it. The separation of Europe as a result of the Yalta Conference in 1945 and the resulting Cold War gravely impacted on both Eastern Europe and Western Europe. The fact that Western Europe accepted this separation until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 amounts to auto-amputation. The exhibition aims to retrospectively bring closer together what grew apart and became distanced during the time of divided Europe and thus further suture the gaping cultural wound that still exists between Eastern and Western Europe. The image of this “suture” itself can be documented multiple times in the artistic manifestations from the time between 1945 and 1968.
This reunification of Eastern and Western Europe, as put into place by the exhibition in the name of art, not only closes a gap within art history. It should also be taken as an active pleading for Europe – with the future in sight. The exhibition contrasts the current economic and political accounts, which are propelling Europe towards the right and back into the former nationalism, with a committed, alternative narrative. It is the task of art to show alternatives and facilitate change.