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New Left Review 56, March-April 2009


BARRY SCHWABSKY

POST-COMMUNIST AESTHETICS?

Boris Groys made a strong impression with his first book, Gesamtkunstwerk Stalin (1988)—but more so with its publication in French and English, as Staline, Œuvre d’art totale (1990) and The Total Art of Stalinism (1992), than with its German original. [1] Boris Groys, Art Power, MIT Press: Cambridge 2008, $22.95, hardback, 190 pp, 978 0 262 07292 2. This belated impact undoubtedly has something to do with the larger role of English and French than of German as languages for the diffusion of discourse on art, but of course it has even more to do with the world-historical changes that had taken place in the intervening years; after the dissolution of the Soviet Union it became easier to read with equanimity a book showing Stalin as a kind of artist. And yet there is still a third reason why the book could be received differently in 1992 than in 1988: the entry of unofficial and conceptual Soviet art into the Western art system—thanks, of course, to the same processes that led to the dismantling of the ussr—but also, to a certain extent, that of Stalin-approved Socialist Realism; shortly after statues of Lenin were toppled all across Eastern Europe, exhibitions of official Soviet art began to appear in venues whose programmes normally reflect a taste for modern and postmodern avant-gardes: the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, in 1992; the p.s.1 gallery, New York, in 1993; the Kassel Documenta Hall, in 1993.

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