Between diplomacy and dissidence: politics of exhibition and curatorial positioning during the Cold War



Between diplomacy and dissidence: politics of exhibition and curatorial positioning during the Cold War

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Facultat de Geografia i Història
Universitat de Barcelona


The communicative potential to reach large audiences acquired by exhibitions in the interwar period increased during the Cold War years, a period in which the geopolitical scene needed all the means available to transmit new stories. In Germany, exhibitions became one of the discursive spaces used for repairing the injury suffered by these artists characterized as “degenerate” by the Nazi regime and for democratic re-education, while in Europe, museum policy was a privileged area of action in the context of the post-war physical and symbolic reconstruction. Once the block dynamics were consolidated, both the United States and the Soviet Union implemented an extensive cultural diplomacy, organizing exhibitions that showed the achievements of their policies, and ideologically and materially supported the cultural policies of regions where they aspired to have influence, such as Latin America, the Asia-Pacific region or Eastern Europe.

This expansion brought with it the globalization of cultural debates and exchanges between artistic agents, favored by the development of international networks in which the biennials and the increasing opportunities for traveling exhibits played a significant role. The nations that emerged from the decolonization movements also found in exhibitions an appropriate means to disseminate their identity projects, sometimes in relation to regional movements such as pan-Africanism. Finally, since the sixties the exhibitions served as an important tool to resist the great hegemonic forces and fracture the bipolar model, from within and from without. At this time, counterculture, dissidence and activism redefined the public sphere with new modes of political action in which counter-exhibitions, criticism of museum institutions or the occupation of public spaces became the catalysts of new stories from a redefined curatorial practice. Through the presentation some case studies framed in this broad context, the seminar aims to generate a debate around the importance of exhibition policies and curatorial practices, in order to understand the cultural dynamics of this period.


Morning (Room 308)

11.30-11.45 > Presentation of the seminar

11.45-13.30 > Conversando con… Olga Fernández López, curator of Mil bestias que rugen. Dispositivos de exposición para una modernidad crítica Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo (CAAC). (20 October 2017 – 4 March 2018) and professor of the Departamento de Historia del Arte de la Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. With Paula Barreiro López and Laia Manonelles (Universitat de Barcelona).


Afternoon (Aula Magna)

Chair: Olga Fernández López (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

15.30-16.30 > Vladislav Shapovalov (Visual artist, independent researcher), Image diplomacy. Soviet photographic exhibitions across the Iron Curtain (preliminary title)

The presentation will focus on Vladislav Shapovalov’s long-term project Image Diplomacy – a film and a series of installations concerned with the use of exhibition as political medium. Image Diplomacy draws upon historicized phenomenons, such as the reconstruction of the photographic exhibition The Family of Man, as well as largely ignored materials from the archives of itinerant photographic exhibitions and films sent from Soviet Union abroad during the period of cultural Cold War and nowadays scattered around the world oftentimes neglected and abandoned.

Photographic exhibitions were packed into folders and sent to different countries by the All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, commonly abbreviated to VOKS, with the aim of organising exhibitions to disseminate a positive and controlled image of the USSR and Soviet life. The attempts of VOKS was to create an efficient set of politics of representation, realised through a work with visual media, exhibition display and exhibition practice in general, making its activity a complex cultural phenomenon at the intersection of ideological influence, exhibition making and cultural diplomacy.

The paper will try to examine the traffic of images looking at different aspects of the exhibitionary complexes of both Socialist and Capitalist countries which blended together photography, cinema and experiments in exhibition grammar to promote their political agenda to the viewers in the First, Second and Third worlds.

The research is based on the photographic and documentary archive of the ex-association “Italy-USSR” preserved now in Milan, Italy and on the documents of VOKS (All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries) preserved in The State Archive of Russian Federation (GARF), Moscow. Additional materials were sourced from the Film Archive of the city of Bologna, Italy.

16.30-17.30 > Paula Barreiro López (Universitat de Barcelona), Hoy España, mañana Chile: la bienal de Venecia como dispositivo de solidaridad en los años setenta 

17.30-18.00 > Pause

18.00-19.00 > Roser Bosch (Universidad Pompeu Fabra), Políticas expositivas del arte aborigen australiano en la década de los setenta: identidad y disidencia

19.00-19.30 > Closing debate

Download the program

*image: Vladislav Shapovalov, Folder 93, 2014.


Direction: Olga Fernández López
Coordination: Paula Barreiro López and Juliane Debeusscher.
Seminar organized in the framework of the research project Decentralized Modernities: Art, politics and counterculture in the Transatlantic axis during the Cold War (HAR2014-53834-P).
With the support of the Departament d’Història de l’Art de la Facultat de Geografia i Història, Universitat de Barcelona.