CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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Reframing National Identity: Official Art Exhibitions on Tour in Central and Eastern Europe

Session 6 Politics of Identity: Tradition and Origin

Nicolaus Copernicus University, Torun, Poland


“Reframing National Identity” focuses on the search for plastic equivalents of the idioms of national identity, a question crucial for the art discourse in the period between the two world wars as well as in the era of globalization, in which the phenomena of adoption of dominant cultures to local traditions are becoming more and more strongly emphasized and elucidated in terms of glocalization, indigenization and acculturation. After the Great War the notion of tradition, as a means of consolidating, nationalizing and regimenting the society, implied more complex meanings in the newly (re)constructed nation-states in Central and Eastern Europe than in the West. In the eastern geopolitical region, it frequently involved cherishing the indigenous heritage and, concurrently, drawing on well-established aesthetic norms of western culture. Hence, pivotal was the question of the ‘purity’ of the national style envisaged as a clearly defined and recognizable set of idiosyncratic morphological features. Yet, in the artistic practice the specific national style appeared to be difficult to capture. In this paper the visual arts of Young Estonia would serve as an exemplification of the attempt to create a distinct plastic language of a nation which throughout ages was subjugated by foreign oppressors. The dialectical tension between the local and the supranational in Estonian art will be perceived through the lens of the interwar art criticism, and through the prism of the present day Estonian historiography.


glocalization, indigenization, acculturation, national identity, national art, national style, neorealism, modernism, art criticism, historiography



Professor of Art History at the Copernicus University in Torun and at the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. She specializes in the field of the 19th and 20th century visual arts, art theory and criticism in Europe and in the United States. She gained her professional expertise as a Research Assistant at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (Washington D.C.) and as a Fellow at the National Humanities Center (Research Triangle Park, N.C.); Institut national d’histoire de l’art (Paris), Henry Moore Institute (Leeds), Finnish Academy of Sciences, Royal Academy of Letters History and Antiquities in Sweden, British Academy, Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters and the Smithsonian Institution (Washington D.C.). She is an author and co-author of several books and exhibition catalogues, among others The Search for Cultural Identity in Eastern and Central Europe 1919-2014 (2015), Symbolism and Young Poland (2010); Reinterpreting the Past: Traditionalist Artistic Trends in Central and Eastern Europe of the 1920s and 1930s (2010), Bruno Schlulz: El pais tenebroso (2007); Tadeusz Makowski (2006); Medieval and Modern: Direct carving in the work of Gill and Barlach (2005); Witold Wojtkiewicz: une fable polonaise (2004); Le Symbolisme polonaise (2004); Polonia fin de siglo 1890-1914 (2002); The Beginnings of Polish Original Printmaking 1897-1917 (2000).