Yevgeniy Fiks: Communist Conspiracy in Art Threatens American Museums
Temple Gallery, Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia
Curated by Stamatina Gregory
September 8 – November 6, 2010
In the late 1940s, Michigan Congressman George A. Dondero was an avid participant in the burgeoning McCarthy movement, a widespread cultural phenomenon characterized by the heightened fear, suspicion, and prosecution of suspected Communist sympathizers in the US. Creatively surpassing his contemporaries in the witchhunts for Red infiltrators, he became best known for his claims that the whole of modern art was a Communist plot hatched to bring down the West.
In this exhibition, named for a scrap of Dondero’s alarmist rhetoric, artist Yevgeniy Fiks operates within the mythical space of the conspiracy theory. Instead of mounting a retroactive resistance to the reactionary claims of the past (a project repeatedly undertaken in self-defense by artists, critics, and institutions since the 1940s and 1950s) he instead assembles evidence for those claims, piecing together names, quotes, and archival photographs to reconstruct a forgotten history of radical alignment and commitment to artistic agency.
Presented in the minimalist language of conceptual art, these prints, drawings, objects, and installations reduce artists and their works to specific identifying fragments: names, signatures, singular utterances, or snapshots. Here, the iconic visual language of familiar figures of Modernism—Stuart Davis, Fernand Léger, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock—is stripped away, leaving only bare markers of Party affiliation in a gesture that ironically mirrors the operating tactics of conspiratorial rhetoric.
In Dondero’s speeches, two of which have been re-recorded by contemporary actors and presented here in a sound installation, the toxic workings of Modernism itself are both withheld and aggrandized, their power evoked, but never exposed. Even figurative drawings by Picasso and Léger, faithfully reproduced by Fiks, were chosen not for their style or allegorical construction, but for their revelation of sympathies with martyrs of the Communist movement: among the depicted are Americans Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, executed in 1953 for conspiracy to commit espionage, and Nikos Beloyannis, who was executed in 1952 after re-establishing the then-criminalized Communist Party in Greece.
Fiks’ installation isolates and reconstructs a moment in the twentieth century in which two sides of a bitter ideological war equally acknowledged art as legitimate and potent weapon of revolution. Through gestures of subtle addition and radical subtraction, he continues his ongoing project of exploring the complex, but fundamental relationships and strange equivalencies between Communism and Modernism.
Communist Tour of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
October 15, 2010, 5:30 pm
A performance by artist Yevgeniy Fiks, taking the form of a tour of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s permanent collection, uncovers connections between Modern artists and the twentieth century Communist movement. Meet in Gallery 161, first floor (Resnick Rotunda), at the entrance of the Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries.
This program is supported in part by the Friends of Temple Gallery, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We would like to thank Adelina Vlas, Assistant Curator for Modern and Contemporary Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, for her support.
Communist Conspiracy in Art Threatens American Museums Film Series
In conjunction with Communist Conspiracy in Art Threatens American Museums, we’ll look at three different genres tied to Communism and the Cold-War themes: pro-Soviet films from the early 1940s, Red Scare films from the 1950s and 1960s, and recent works by filmmaker Jim Finn. All screenings will take place at Temple Gallery, Tyler School of Art, at 12th and Norris Streets, Philadelphia and begin at 6 pm.
For exhibition and program documentation, see the Temple Gallery website.