2017 CAA: European Eighties


Time:  Wednesday, 02/15/2017, 3:30 PM—5:00 PM

Location: Bryant suite, 2nd Floor, New York Hilton Midtown

The Eighties: the decade defined by an unapologetic art boom, ideological disengagement, and postmodern drift toward an alleged “end of history.” Or so the story goes. A closer look at this decade in Europe, however, suggests otherwise. The fall of the dictatorships in Southern Europe and the changes in Central and Eastern Europe accompanying the end of the cold war dramatically reconfigured the geography of the continent. New relationships with former colonies and the rise of neo-liberalism transformed the European political climate, while intensified migration complicated the perception of national identities and cultures. Technological developments also altered the form and content of communication as well as the dissemination of information.

With historical distance, increasingly accessible archives and artworks, and a wider range of art historical methods, it is now possible to address this period in new critical terms. This session looks to demonstrate that a historical reassessment of the European Eighties is a necessary step towards a better understanding of the globalization that shapes today’s art world, as well as the challenges that western democracies are currently facing: extreme far-right identity politics, the migrant crisis, and uncertainty around the future of the EU.

This session brings together three case-studies focusing on very different aspects of European art in the Eighties. All three explore the permeable frontiers of identities and geographies (through circulation, appropriation and conflict), and of mediums and categories (confronting visual arts with technology, audio-visual production and publishing practices).




Nicolas Ballet 
Institut National d’Histoire de l’art

Totalitarianism, Destruction, and Trauma: Dystopia of Industrial Music

Europe in the 1980s witnessed the emergence of industrial music bands involved in a counterculture that operated as a platform of exchange between the arts. The visual productions of industrial musicians, who were initially performers, revealed a global artistic phenomenon operating at the intersection of a multitude of media (film, music, performance). The sound works of these artists were supplemented by a rich array of visual productions: a regular practice of mail art and collage allowed industrial artists to design album covers, flyers, and magazines as a means of spreading their music to a wider audience.

The term “industrial” characterized the work of artists who, through visual and sound issues, tried to develop a critique of industry standardization and to highlight the most contentious aspects of the European post-industrial societies in a Cold War context. Some industrial artists such as the bands Autopsia, Laibach, Maurizio Bianchi, and Throbbing Gristle, working on the fringe of mainstream culture, became aware of the rise of mass media and of the new kind of power that followed an ability to manipulate crowds. These artists used a subversive iconography in their visual productions in order to reveal a form of implicit totalitarianism generated by the power of information, which was identified by the biopolitics concept of Michel Foucault.

Using several European industrial bands as a case study, this paper examines the visual productions of industrial culture, revealing how these artists explored the thematic of totalitarianism across a new kind of resistance in the 1980s.


Angela Bartholomew 
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Art on Mass Media: The Feedback Loop of ‘Artists Talking Back to the Media’ (1985) & ‘Revision: Art Programs of European Television Stations’ (1987)

In 1985 David Garcia and Raul Marroquin, artists active in Amsterdam’s video art scene, initiated a multi-faceted project entitled Artists Talking Back to the Media. The manifestation brought together artists, from Ulises Carrión and Lydia Schouten to General Idea and Hans Haacke, who sought in various ways to deconstruct notions of objectivity and neutrality in mass media. The artists re-inserted their works – many of which ‘adapted’ images from the mass media through strategies of reinterpretation or parody – into the same mass media from which they were born. Two years later, it was the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam that would step in to commission artists. The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam – Nan Hoover, Gérald van der Kaap, Niek Kemps, Rob Scholte, and Stansfield/Hooykaas among others – to create works of art for television. These works aired on Dutch television in the same period that the museum reinserted itself into the art television equation by hosting the exhibition, Revision (1987), which presented art programs of European television stations.
This paper will discuss Artists Talking Back to the Media and Revision, and will suggest that this cyclical (re)institutionalization of progressive, or self-reflexive, practices is reflective of a trend that can be observed repeatedly in the 1980s.


Sara Blaylock 
University of California – Santa Cruz

Enacting the Citizen: Artist Publications in East Germany as a Counter-Public Sphere

Some thirty independent publications appeared in East Germany in the 1980s. These were all collaborative efforts, involving artists and writers, journalists and bookmakers, gallerists and art historians who organized prolific projects in a state marked by material privation and censorship. Some publications recurred as many as eight times per year; many appeared as special editions organized around thematic concepts; some focused primarily on textual works; others highlighted photography, graphic arts, even film. All violated the state’s demand for universal control of print culture. The DIY-aesthetic of these publications reflect that subversion. From methods of duplication to quality of paper to distribution strategies, publishers were as resourceful as their contributors were inventive.

This paper examines the Leipzig-based publication Anschlag as an outcome of a dynamic and evolving print culture in late state-socialism. As a co-production that involved dozens of artists and writers, the magazine crossed frontiers of medium to connect myriad publics across East Germany, the East Bloc, and beyond. In so doing, Anschlag complicated the geopolitical and ideological divisions imposed upon Europe by the Cold War. It contributed to a network of experimental artists, writers, and activists to produce a viable and dynamic counter-public sphere where new enactments of citizenship could occur. This paper considers how these publications operated within the public sphere of state-socialism. It argues that these publications illustrate a citizen agency specific to Eastern Europe in the 1980s that challenges critical or aesthetic theories from the West; particularly with regard to definitions of the public sphere.