Reforms: Art and Politics in the Soviet Union and Poland, ca. 1956

Wednesday, April 27, 2016
12:00 pm
Marshall D. Shulman Seminar Room (1219 IAB, 420 West 118th St.)
Please join us for a talk with Nikolas Drosos, Postdoctoral Fellow, Harriman Institute, Columbia University. 
The de-Stalinization of 1956 ushered in a series of political reforms that swept through the Soviet Union and its satellites. Yet the term “reform” is intimately connected to aesthetics, suggesting the altering of pre-existing forms in order to create new yet related ones. The transformation of official art and architecture, evident in the embrace of international-style architecture and the gradual openness to previously suppressed modernist forms such as abstract painting, produced a visual corollary to the Thaw. This talk seeks to analyze the precise relationship between political and artistic change in two countries with distinct experiences of 1956: Poland and the Soviet Union. It compares a range of practices, including painting, architecture, and exhibition design, as well as official institutions such as art magazines and associations of artists and architects. The aim is to suggest that political change did not always precede artistic change, as certain forms of anti-totalitarian critique were first tested in the delimited fields of art and architecture before being applied to society at large.
Nikolas Drosos (Ph.D., City University of New York, 2015) is an art historian specializing in art and architecture in Eastern Europe during the post-1945 period. His dissertation, entitled “Modernism with a Human Face: Synthesis of Art and Architecture in Eastern Europe, 1954-1958,” examines the theory and practices relating to the “synthesis of the arts,” the integration of art into architecture, in three distinct political contexts within postwar Eastern Europe: the Soviet Union, Poland and Yugoslavia. Focusing on the relationships between artists, architects and craftspeople, the trope of synthesis was political at its core: non-hierarchical artistic collaboration was envisioned as a metaphor for the classless society that was to come. The dissertation focuses on the few years following Stalin’s death, and traces the transformation of the concept of synthesis against a rapidly changing historical background, including the de-Stalinization of 1956, the ensuing revolts and reformist movements that sought “communism with a human face” and the beginnings of the non-aligned movement. Drosos holds a M.A. in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, and a B.A. in Archaeology and Art History from the University of Athens, Greece. He has been the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship, a Chancellor’s Fellowship from the City University of New York, as well as the 2013-2015 Chester Dale Predoctoral Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art,  Washington, D.C.