CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed



The paper I am proposing for the session titled “Creative Misunderstanding” will focus on the work of the Russian artist Yuri Albert, who since the late 1970s has developed an artistic practice that uses deliberate misunderstanding and misinterpretations of established aesthetic practices and behavioral norms to make visible to both audiences and other artists the otherwise invisible expectations and assumptions with which Western culture surrounds art as a social institution. In his projects, Albert has led tours of blindfolded visitors through museums while works of art were described to them; has pumped the air from one museum into another in order to lend “contemporary” art the atmosphere of “real” art; and has proposed establishing an art prize for the Moscow Biennale the winner of which would be selected by fellow artists and would have his funeral expenses covered if he were to die in the two years before the next biennale. In these and numerous other works, Albert has found ingenious ways to examine our deepest held beliefs about the sources of art’s power, purpose, and possible forms by making literal and visible the metaphors (of value, prestige, transcendence) art lives by. As a member of the second generation of the Moscow Conceptualist circle, moreover, Albert comes from a lineage of other Russian artists – in particular, the duo of Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid – who during the Cold War also used creative mistranslations and misinterpretations (of languages, visual signs, ideologies, and incompatible value systems) in order to establish a tradition that at once shared the concerns of Western conceptualism and deviated from them, digging, arguably far deeper into the history of competing Western aesthetic discourses than contemporaneous work in the West. In my paper, I will thus examine this legacy of misinterpretation – developed as a creative response to the information vacuum in which unofficial Soviet artists found themselves and which they strove to fill – and argue that in Albert’s work, this strategy, born of necessity, becomes a new, independent way of working that retains its viability to this day. 


Ksenya Gurshtein (Washington, D.C., USA) is an art historian with broad interests in contemporary art and a focus on the history of conceptualism and Eastern Europe. She received her Ph.D. in the History of Art from the University of Michigan in 2011. In 2011-2014, she was a Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. In 2014-2015, she was a Lecturer in modern and contemporary art at the University of Virginia. She is currently a 2015-2016 National Endowment for the Humanities fellow working on expanding her dissertation into a book titled TransStates: Conceptual Art in Eastern Europe and the Limits of Utopia. With Sonja Simonyi, she also co-editing an edited volume on experimental cinema in post-war Eastern Europe (tentatively scheduled for publication by Amsterdam University Press in 2017). Also with Sonja Simonyi, she is currently co-editing a special issue ofStudies in Eastern European Cinema on the same topic slated for publication in 2016.


• National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship awarded for full time work on current book project

• Ph.D., History of Art, University of Michigan, adviser: Dr. Alex Potts Ph.D. Thesis: TransStates: Conceptual Art in Eastern Europe and the Limits of Utopia; Received the ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award, University of Michigan

• Getty Research Institute Predoctoral Fellowship, “Display of Art” theme year





• Guest Editors’ Introduction in Studies in Eastern European Cinema, vol. 7, issue 1 (2016), a special issue on experimental cinema in Eastern Europe in the post-war period [forthcoming 2016].
• “The Eloquent Spaces of Silence: D.A. Prigov’s Visual Art” in Russian Literature, vol. 76, issue 3 (Fall 2014), a special issue on D.A. Prigov edited by Dennis Ioffe.

• Author and editor for “Artists, Amateurs, Alternative Spaces: Experimental Cinema in Eastern Europe, 1960-1990” website, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., October 2014
• “Utopia by Mail: Komar and Melamid’s A Catalogue of Superobjects: Supercomfort for Superpeople," Los Angeles: Getty Research Journal #6, February 2014, pp. 203-213.

• “OHO: An Experimental Microcosm on the Edge of East and West” in Christian Höller, ed.,L’Internationale – Post-war Avant-gardes between 1956 and 1986, Zurich: JRP Ringier, 2012, pp. 208-215; reprinted in an e-book version (Spring 2015):

• “Komar and Melamid, TransState” entry in the electronic catalogue of the exhibition The Desire for Freedom. Art in Europe since 1945 (Verführung Freiheit, Kunst in Europa seit 1945), Berlin: Deutsches Historisches Museum and Sandstein Verlag, 2012.
• “When Film and Author Made Love: Reconsidering OHO’s Film Legacy” in Kino! #11-12,Ljubljana: Kino! Society for Expanding Film Culture, 2010, pp. 128-154.