Cold Atlantic International Conference


International Conference: Cold Atlantic. Cultural War, Dissident Artistic Practices, Networks and Contact Zones at the Time of the Iron Curtain

Museum Reina Sofía, Madrid
5-7 September 2016


This project is made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art



The international conference Cold Atlantic seeks to highlight the transatlantic exchanges between North America, Europe, Africa and Latin America bringing into the fore other hubs of artistic exchange and influence, aiming not just to de-center the (still predominant) Paris-New York axis, but also to foster a discussion that gives a voice to cultural expressions that were generated outside the official power structures. Parting from the destabilization of the status quo, with the Bandung conference in 1955 and Hungarian revolution in 1956, these interactions and dialogues will be studied in the context of the Cold War. With this we aim to emphasize forms of mediation, dissidence and resistance that offered alternative responses to the ideological and aesthetic schism that dominated social, political, artistic and curatorial practices after WWII. Interrogating transatlantic artistic networks, the conference hopes to displace normative narratives of modernism in order to reveal a plurality of responses to the ideological call to cultural warfare that influenced intellectual and visual culture during the times of the Iron Curtain. This approach, we hope, will configure a new cartography of artistic practices and of institutional, extra-institutional, and political relations along various transatlantic axes during the Cold War.

Reassessing the intertwining of artistic practices, material culture, resistance and politics is an important step toward reconsidering the existent competing narratives of modernism(s). Such a task does not just show alternatives to dominating Western views, but also highlights the links that often served as gateways for dissident responses to the geopolitics of the Cold War – a period that has shaped greatly the configuration of the contemporary globalized world. Spain’s own ‘peripheral position’ vis a vis England, France, and the United States will provide an interesting platform from which to rethink the role of modern art as well as questioning the narratives of modernity and progress that have dominated the study of modernism.

The conference will be organized around four panels:


Panel 1Panel 2Panel 3Panel 4

Networks and ‘contact zones’ for a non-aligned geopolitical order

From the 1955 conference of Bandung, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) offered an alternative to the bipolar division of the world imposed by the two superpowers. The choice to look for another configuration of the world did not just create a league of peripheral nation-states but inspired as well cultural and artistic formations. This priority axis of Cold Atlantic aims to encourage transnational studies seeking to expose the networks of collaboration and contact zones developed by artists, critics, curators or institutions in dialogue with or inspired by the NAM. Thus, we hope to reveal the way in which these alternative constellations contributed to the development of a transatlantic (and transcontinental) culture and to show in how far those entanglements helped to subvert the bipolar geographies of the Cold War.

Resistance, dissidence and utopia(s)

In a world where imperialist and neo-colonial politics were imposed on both sides of the iron curtain, artistic practices provided ways to resists, subvert and combat them. This priority axis of Cold Atlantic aims to study vanguard and experimental artistic practices analyzing their aesthetic, political and social bases (and contexts), and their role as models for resistance against the normative culture(s) of the Cold War. Thus we seek to highlight the role of artistic production and cultural agents, operating in both, hegemonic and subaltern centers, as subversive tools in countercultural movements within the transatlantic axis, and to show their potential for imagining alternative forms of society.

Competing hegemonies

The Cold War, with its primary opposition between two superpowers (the USA and the USSR), provided the bilateral framework for the aspirations of governments and oppositional elites to be “modern”. Negotiations between different notions of modernity and the terms and conditions of the local contexts resulted in a wide range of often contradictory aesthetic discourses and artistic practices. Claims for autonomy, sovereignty and progress coincided with a need to be recognized as members of the new geopolitical order. This priority axis of Cold Atlantic aims to discuss, from a pluralistic angle, the exchanges, negotiations and confrontations that the battle for cultural hegemony entailed, giving rise to the emergence of various geopolitical powers in the increasingly globalizing arena of the Cold War.

Global order: Cold War and beyond

In 1967 the French philosopher Guy Debord understood the bipolar division of the world between capitalism and communism as an interdependent and global system of a total spectacle. He quickly felt that the complex geopolitical entanglements that the political, economic and cultural spheres entailed, accelerating with the radical development of market -communication- and media networks, were evolving into a single totality; the latter, in fact, becoming greatly responsible for shaping today’s globalized world. This priority axis of Cold Atlantic considers the entanglements and dialogues between artistic and cultural spheres during the Cold War, and their persistence in the contemporary world. It seeks to show in how far transatlantic configurations, in the transition from modernity to post-modernity, inform today’s global order.


Confirmed keynotes: Andrea Giunta, Serge Guilbaut, Jonathan Harris, Walter Mignolo.
Confirmed respondents: Atreyee Gupta, Julia Bailey, Jaime Vindel, Paula Barreiro López.

The Call for applications is closed.
Results will be notified by April 2016.

All the participants have to submit a finished version of their papers in English by the 30 of June 2016.

More information in


International Academic CommitteeOrganized by

Andrea Giunta (Universidad de Buenos Aires)

Serge Guibault (University of British Columbia)

Jonathan Harris (Birmingham City University)

Jesús Carrillo (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

Julia Tatiana Bailey (Tate Modern)

Michael Wellen (Latin American and Latino Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)

Paula Barreiro López (Universidad de Barcelona)

Fabiola Martínez Rodríguez (Universidad de Saint Louis, Madrid)

Chema González (Museo Reina Sofía)

Carlos Pietro del Campo (Museo Reina Sofía)

Olga Fernández López (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

Juan Albarrán (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

Paula Barreiro López (Universidad de Barcelona),

Fabiola Martínez Rodríguez (Universidad de Saint Louis, Madrid),

Chema González (Museo Reina Sofía),

Carlos Pietro del Campo (Museo Reina Sofía),

Olga Fernández López (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

Juan Albarrán (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

This conference has been generously funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art, and it is linked to the research project: Decentralized Modernities: art, politics and counterculture in the transatlantic axis during the Cold War (HAR2014-53834-P).

Related activities

Pre-doctoral international seminar at the University of Barcelona, 8-9 September 2016.