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Comradeship: Reading Zdenka Badovinac in New York

Posted on February 14, 2020

Carlos Kong, a core participant of the Comradeship Reading Group, reflects on the program and the publication, Comradeship: Curating, Art, and Politics in Post-Socialist Europe.

Comradeship: Reading Zdenka Badovinac in New York

For the past year, a group of New York-based curators, artists, writers, gallery directors, and art historians have assembled to host monthly public discussions at ICI on the writings of the influential Slovenian curator and museum director Zdenka Badovinac. Our gatherings have assumed the name of the “Comradeship Reading Group” after the volume of Badovinac’s collected writings entitled Comradeship: Curating, Art, and Politics in Post-Socialist Europe, published by ICI in 2019. The reading group sessions have delved into the wide-ranging topics covered in Badovinac’s writing. Her essays not only chart her forward-thinking institutional practices over the past decades as director of the Moderna Galerija in Ljubljana since 1993, but also bear witness to the challenges of curating in rapidly changing world, from the collapse of communism and the Yugoslav Wars through the post-socialist and globalized present. The experiment of our reading group was two-fold, to immerse ourselves in the specific historical and geopolitical contexts of Badovinac’s curatorial practice while rethinking her critical insights in relation to our current work as cultural producers within the artistic landscape of New York. And true to our name, reading Zdenka Badovinac in New York produced gestures of comradeship, establishing new channels of dialogue while opening future prospects of curatorial collaboration.

Comradeship: Curating, Art, and Politics in Post-Socialist Europe anthologizes essays that Zdenka Badovinac wrote on the occasions of exhibitions, lectures, symposia, and as collaborations with artists. In doing so, the book allows for readers to grasp critical ideas that emerge directly from Badovinac’s curatorial, institutional, and writing practice. From a set of catalogue essays associated with her path-breaking exhibitions at the Moderna Galerija, Body and the East (1998), Form-Specific Art (2003), and Interrupted Histories (2006), Badovinac presents her guiding concept of “self-historicization,” where “art can become an instrument of its own historicization.” By attuning to the local histories and political imaginaries embedded within artworks produced in Central and Eastern Europe during and after state socialism, Badovinac’s curatorial practice performs the “self-historicization” that it advocates. The numerous case studies of her essays—such as on the role of a museum of contemporary art today, on institution building in during political conflict, on the art historical positioning of avant-gardes in Eastern Europe—offer a method for conceiving our responsibility towards reframing artistic practices that lie outside of art historical narratives presented in Western institutions. Her writing enabled our group to view history as an incomplete project—continuously contested, interrupted, and utopianly reimagined—and curating as a collaborative act for voicing history’s new narratives, articulating distinctive points of connection, and creating different structures of communality.

As the Comradeship Reading Group comes to a close, I think of the ways that Zdenka Badovinac’s writing enabled us to see the New York’s art ecosystem and our roles within it with new eyes, as both contrasts and similarities were productively revealed between her curatorial context in Ljubljana and our readings of it in New York. And when I think of the many conversations, alliances, friends, and modes of comradeship that emerged throughout our reading group, I can hear Badovinac’s evocative questions: “Is it our task to correct existing histories? Or is it instead to establish alternate forms of cultural production that allow for more utopian arrangements to come into view?”