by curators Gerald Matt, Andreas Stadler

Twenty years ago, who would have dared to hope that the dictatorial regimes of Central and Eastern European communism would be swept away one after the other in the wake of mass protests? Within a few years, democratic constitutions and market economy structures were introduced. However, this process also led to conflicts over the directions for the future and the interpretation of the past.

The annus mirabilis 1989 represents a historical turning point from the perspective of ideology, geostrategy, culture, and mass psychology. Eric Hobsbawm’s “short twentieth century” came to an end. Even if most of the dividing lines within Europe have been dissolved by now, many borders still haven’t disappeared in people’s minds. Nationalistic ideologies and xenophobic and racist movements have surged alongside European integration and globalization. While new neighbors – long separated by the Iron Curtain – have begun to learn about each other, they have also started to experience new problems of migration and acculturation. The selection of videos and films for 1989: The End of History or the Beginning of the Future? was guided by asking how artists have reacted to all these changes.

The fall of the Iron Curtain is more than a historical concept. It was an event that changed the personal lives of millions of Europeans. This is why individual approaches, survival strategies, and personal stories during and after the years of upheaval form a central part of the exhibition.

Another major thematic focus is the exploration of language and images. Material from the Cold War era is deconstructed to reveal the manipulative character of TV and reporting. At the same time, old and new buzzwords, communist symbols of suppression and their semantic change, and post-communist language in general are questioned and critically analyzed.

Of particular relevance to the show are the many controversial legacies of communism. Politics of memory play a major role not only in public discussions, but also in culture, lifestyle, and commerce. Many artists provoke debate about the authoritarian system of spying and denunciation and examine how this legacy is being interpreted today.

Finally, a third area of the exhibition is dedicated to visions of the future. In this context, the purported end of history is revealed as an illusion of our new era, an era shaped by capitalism, standardization, and the functionalization of humanity, based on similar structures of exercising power and maintaining the status quo as before.

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