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1989. End of History or Beginning of the Future?

Kunsthalle Wien, Wien

The exhibition 1989 attempts no socio-historical categorization of those 20 years since the end of the bipolar world, but rather investigates the ciphers, metaphors, and metonymies connected with the decline of a system and a political upheaval: not providing a documentation of everyday realities or a historical analysis, the show rather explores such concepts and phenomena as bureaucracy, surveillance, nostalgia, violence, manipulation, and irony, analyzing them with artistic means in order to assess their suitability for social self-analysis. Among the artists: Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Sophie Calle, Marina Abramovic, Chantal Akerman, Erik Bulatov, Maurizio Cattelan...

comunicato stampa

curated by Gerald Matt and Catherine Hug

The "annus mirabilis" 1989 marked a paradigm shift. The breath of history wafted through the collective consciousness, and a cheerful, yet incredulous "Wow!" was on everybody’s lips. 1989 stands for the opening of the Iron Curtain and the fall of the Berlin Wall erected in 1961 as its strongest symbol: extending over a length of 5,000 kilometers, the border between East and West with its barbed wire fences, watchtowers, automatic firing devices, and minefields separated two worldviews from the Baltic to the Adriatic. 700 kilometers of it ran along Austria’s northern and eastern border, which is why the country was strongly affected by what was going on. Its opening brought the end of one of the longest borderlines drawn in the twentieth century. Utopias were buried, and new, hitherto undreamt-of future scenarios unfolded. Cold and hot wars and the routine of Communist oppression and shortage were followed by a period of ruptures in which the return of various nationalist and religious fundamentalist movements and the present financial crisis nurture doubts concerning the functional efficiency of a socially irresponsible "predatory capitalism."
1989 is the starting-point and key year of the exhibition, which is not aimed at offering a categorization of the period following the end of the bipolar world from a socio-historical point of view or in terms of a history of mentality, but rather investigates the ciphers, metaphors, atmospheres, and emotional states connected with a system’s decline and a political upheaval whose consequences are of unbroken relevance today. The title of the exhibition emphasizes that history continues to be written – contrary to the political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s thesis that historical evolution has come to an end with the collapse of Communism and for lack of efficient alternative systems in 1989.
Assembling 35 positions from 20 Eastern and Western nations, the exhibition offers a comment on an ongoing process and outlines the facets of individual realities of life as seen through a prism. The show explores such concepts as bureaucracy, treason, surveillance, fear, nostalgia, violence, and religious renaissance, the return of nationalism, manipulation, and irony, analyzing them with artistic means in order to assess their suitability for social self-analysis.
In his video work Niemand ist mehr dort, wo er anfing (1989/90), Marcel Odenbach focuses on the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, confronting pictures of past violence with scenes of cheer and joy. The works of Alighiero Boetti with their historical cartography dominated by the Soviet Union’s red and of Stephan Huber with their new, fictitious geopolitical world orders also center on changes in the sphere of realpolitik. The protesting people’s political power becomes manifest in both the installation by Hans Haacke on Ronald Reagan’s armament policy and in the subtly romantic tribute to the Solidarność-movement by Eva Partum.
1989, however, was not only the year of a peaceful revolution and the dawn of a post-Communist age, but also saw, as Chen Danqing reminds us of, bloody military measures ordered by the Chinese Communist regime against their own people on Tian’anmen Square, the "Square of Heavenly Peace."
In a film shot exactly twenty years after her escape (1989), Anna Jermolaewa retraces her way from St. Petersburg via Cracow to Vienna against the background of blurring memory images and creeping changes. The story of her reunion with Aleksandra Wysokinska, who helped the artist enormously then, tells a personal, unofficial, but no less crucial story set off against those years’ great upheavals and official historiography.
The exhibition also features works by Ilya & Emilia Kabakov the subtle critics of Soviet everyday life, Johan Grimonprez, and the sisters Jane and Louise Wilson. The Kabakovs will lead the visitor through claustrophobic rooms whose atmosphere will make them feel as if part of the queues subjected to a bureaucratic apparatus paralyzing all life. While Grimonprez, presenting strange pairs and exploring ambiguous negotiations, reveals how "fear as a mass product" has only become possible through Cold War global politics, Jane and Louise Wilson’s impressive video takes of abandoned and lifeless Stasi rooms recall the gray and yet frightening banality of evil and oppression.
With their pictures of leisure in Communist times, Boris Mikhailov’s photographs and Marek Piwowski’s film describe how people, banking on pragmatism, their skills, and their irony, made ends meet under the ruling regime.

While Mikhailov in a further work titled Case History (1997–1998) impressively captures the social hardships and the human degradation in post-socialist dog-eat-dog capitalism, Martin Parr photographs reveal the wastefulness and Parr’s shameless enrichment of Russia’s nouveaux riches.
Infiltrating Communist symbols with capitalist trademarks, Alexander Kosolapov works thematize the corruption of Kosolapov’s signs, their reversal, and the changing balance of power. Sophie Calle has preserved names and public insignia doomed to disappear and be replaced in the "new German federal capital" as memory monuments in her twelve-part photo and text work Die Entfernung (The Detachment, 1996). Drawing on found footage video recordings, Sergei Bugaev Afrika strikingly elucidates the return of nationalism in the form of horrible excesses of violence between Russians and Chechens in his work Stalker 3 (1996/2002). In her film Count on Us (2004) which features the artist’s performance conducting a children’s choir singing "A Hymn to the UN" in Serbo-Croatian as a symbol of understanding among nations, Marina Abramovic counters the Yugoslav war trauma.
While Josephine Meckseper analyzes the smooth rampant consumerism’s superficiality and hollowness in her installations, the Norwegian artist Pushwagner Soft City (picture novel 1968–1976, film 2006–2008) outlines a Pushwagner’s capitalist future of man’s standardization and functionalization which in its enforced conformity hardly differs from the Communist past.
The show, the catalogue published on its occasion, as well as the comprehensive accompanying program contribute to the continuing discourse on this paradigm shift in the form of critical comments – a shift which manifested itself most visibly twenty years ago, had already been foreshadowed in earlier years, and has still not come to an end.

Participating artists: Marina Abramovic, Sergei Bugaev Afrika, Chantal Akerman, Alighiero Boetti, Christoph Büchel und Giovanni Carmine, Erik Bulatov, Sophie Calle, Maurizio Cattelan, Chen Danqing, Harun Farocki und Andrej Ujica, Rainer Ganahl, Johan Grimonprez, Hans Haacke, Stephan Huber, Anna Jermolaewa, Ilya & Emilia Kabakov, Komar & Melamid, Alexander Kosolapov, Barbara Kruger, Lars Laumann, Josephine Meckseper, Jonas Mekas, Boris Mikhailov, Marcel Odenbach, Nam June Paik, Martin Parr, Ewa Partum, Susan Philipsz, Marek Piwowski, Pushwagner, Neo Rauch, Pedro Reyes, Nedko Solakov, Song Dong, Jane & Louise Wilson.

Accompanying program: The exhibition will be accompanied by a comprehensive program of panel discussions and lectures, developed in close cooperation with IFK (International Research Center for Cultural Studies, Vienna), the Polish Institute, Vienna, the Bruno Kreisky Forum, the Embassy of the United States of America, and the Austrian Association for Cultural Policy. Five of the invited guests will also be represented with a new essay, interview, or excerpt in the exhibition catalogue; some interviews with lecturers on the subjects of the exhibition "1989" will be published in the daily Die Presse.

Historical background: The exhibition will be embedded in a documentary introduction assembled by a team around the contemporary historian Oliver Rathkolb, sketching the upheaval of 1989 with its fascinating background and consequences.

Catalogue: 1989. Ende der Geschichte oder Beginn der Zukunft. Edited by Kunsthalle Wien, Gerald Matt, Cathérine Hug and Thomas Mießgang. With new contributions by Synne Genzmer, Cathérine Hug, Helmut Lethen, Thomas Mießgang, Mikhail Ryklin, and Martin Walkner, interviews with Emilia Kabakov, Barbara Kruger, and Neo Rauch, as well as numerous excerpts of texts by Svetlana Boym, Francis Fukuyama, Boris Groys, Yu Hua, Durs Grünbein, Karl Schlögel, Slavoj Žižek, among others. German. Graphic design: Chris Goennawein. Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg. 320 pages, ca. 150 illustrations, ISBN 978-3-85247-077-1

Cooperation This exhibition will be shown in adapted form and with the title 1989 from November 9 until May 2 2010 at Villa Schöningen in Potsdam, Germany. Further details:

Information and photo material: Claudia Bauer
Tel.: +43-1-521 89-1222, fax: +43-1-521 89-1217 e-mail:

Press conference: Thursday, 8 October 2009, 10 a.m.
Opening : Thursday, 8 October 2009, 7 p.m.

Kunsthalle Wien - hall 1
Museumsplatz 1, Vienna
Daily 10 a.m. - 7 p.m., Thur 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Political Populism
dal 5/11/2015 al 6/2/2015

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