Petra Vacková: Confronting Reality of Compromised Potentiality / How the Case of the Prague Biennale Came to Symbolize the Unresolved Tensions Between Eastern Europe, looking up to West, and Western Europe, Looking Down at East.

Mentor: Alena Alexandrova

Independent reviewer: Boris Buden

Arnhem, June 2011


Biennials or large scale international exhibitions so to speak are spreading like a wildfire throughout Europe and beyond. Their presence thus concerns all of us. Existing under variety of names the biennial exhibitions behave similarly in that they impose the same old rigid format on the recognized pluralism of today’s contemporary culture. Looking at the case of the Czech Republic, where newly introduced Prague Biennale complicates the local situation, I hope to cast a light on the ideological character of biennial exhibitions that follows the paradigm of Western canon. Organized with the good intentions to create dialogue between cultures, but failing such an impossible task, the international exhibitions exemplify the incoherencies of the Western democratic mission. Detailed analysis of the specific case, the Prague Biennale and its failures, provides a closer look at the persisting tension between the still-divided Eastern and Western Europe. I claim that as a Western product, the today obligatory biennials impose limitations on our understanding of art and artists coming from the East. I believe that it is precisely these artists who deserve our undivided attention and closer examination. Having a direct experience and knowledge of different forms of government, i.e. communist and democratic, the Eastern European artists often propose new interpretation of contemporary reality and its social structure in relation to its past.


The thesis is a serious demonstration of writer's ability to identify an acute problem of contemporary artistic production and articulate its intrinsic interconnections with a broader cultural and historico-political context. It is based on an exemplary case study, which is well chosen and thoroughly analysed. In juxtaposing modus operandi of the global (Western) Art System with the practice of its local (East European) implementation the author has perfectly succeeded in disclosing not only the mutual limits but also the hegemonic effects of this relation. Although it is very subjectively written – at some moments in a passionately polemical style – the thesis is grounded in a persuasive argumentation that is consequently elaborated and transparently presented. It is not lacking adequate theoretical references either. This piece is a very good example of how a scholarly thesis can still provide the quality of what once was called "ideology critique" without necessarily violating the standards of academic writing. However, there is room for improvements. I suggest, for instance, to depersonalize polemical aspects of the thesis. This would strengthen the claim to objectivity without weakening socio-critical accents of the text. B.D.

Boris Buden, a writer, cultural critic, and translator. He studied philosophy in Zagreb and received his PhD in Cultural Theory from Humboldt University, Berlin.