The SCCA was an autonomous regional program of the Open Society Institute (OSI). The network was established in Eastern Europe during the early nineties by the American philanthropist, stock investor, and political activist George Soros. The SCCA was an institutional mechanism of the post-socialist transition or normalization, and its primary role was the modernization of the artistic discourse in the former socialist countries and the republics of the former USSR. The Soros centers sprouted from a small program called “Soros Foundation Fine Arts Documentation Center” which was established in 1985 in the Budapest Mûcsarnok (Kunsthalle), as part of a cooperation between the Mûcsarnok and Soros Foundation Hungary. In the early nineties, under the directorship of Suzanne Meszoly, this program was renamed “Soros Center for Contemporary Art” and following Soros’ suggestion it was implement it other Eastern European countries. In 1992, in addition to the already existent SCCA Budapest, the OSI opened five more offices in Bratislava, Moscow, Prague, Tallinn and Warsaw; in 1993, there were established offices in Bucharest, Riga, Vilnius, Kiev, Ljubljana, Zagreb and Sofia. From 1994 to 1999 more centers were opened in St. Petersburg, Belgrade, Chisinau, Sarajevo, Odessa, Almaty increasing their number to 19. A short overview of the history of SCCA network is available online at C3 and SCCA Zagreb. For a more detailed discussion on the impact of the SCCA network, as well as on the relation between these institutions and the discourse of transitology, see my third Chapter of “Transition in post-Soviet Art: “Collective Actions Before and After 1989” and “Transition of the Soros Centers to Contemporary Art.”

The Soros Centers for Contemporary Art (SCCA) Network supports the development and the international exposure of contemporary art in Eastern and Central Europe, the countries of the former Soviet Union, and Central Eurasia as a vital element of an open society. Each SCCA stimulates its country’s contemporary art community by providing artists, arts professionals and organizations with opportunities to develop projects, participate in contemporary art exhibitions, access information, and develop contacts locally and internationally. The SCCA network links all of the SCCA offices, facilitates communication and information exchange between them, offers educational opportunities and professional training network-wide, and promotes artistic collaboration throughout the region. “SCCA Network” (brochure) published by Open Society Institute Budapest, 1998.

 


In spite of a common history and strategy the centers differed markedly from each other, something that was expected and accepted. The logo of the SCCA network represented a black square cornered by four smaller ones, which seemed that they had detached from the main square. The central black square – suggestive perhaps of Malevich and of the Eastern Europeans’ contribution to the high modernist canon – was often modified by the local SCCA offices in order to emphasize the specific contexts in which each center operated. Although the centers were built according to one model, and directed from one central office, following the recommendations provided by a common international board of advisors, as well as complying with the budgetary pattern established by the OSI central office, there were certain differences that transpired on various levels: the operating budgets, the number of staff, the direction of activities. These differences were conditioned by the local contexts and the particular program that each office was determined to address. Some regarded their mission in more narrow artistic terms, whereas others set broader goals which were formulated in terms of “fighting totalitarianism, AIDS, crime, or minority rights.”[1]


Critics of the SCCAs often asked, as did the Romanian art historian Erwin Kessler: “What is the main task of the Soros Centers for Contemporary Art – to detect and sustain artists, indifferently of the genres and the techniques in which they choose to express themselves, or to reformulate the current aesthetics and to re-dimension it according to some (imported) ‘standards’ that are in used in the contemporary world?”[2] Many would agree that the answer is in fact stated in the second half of this question, for most of the SCCAs, especially in their initial phase, directed their main efforts and resources toward promoting contemporary art, which at that time was primarily recognized according to such new genres, techniques and forms of expression as installation, performance, video, and computer art. The activities of the centers aimed at a rapid modernization of the arts, resembling in this regard similar processes taking place in other fields (from banking to commerce and agriculture), processes that may be accurately described, to return to Jürgen Habermas’ understanding of transition, as a process of “retrieval” and of “catching-up” with the West.

This was especially evident in the annual exhibitions organized by many centers, where the contemporary art shown in the gallery simultaneously introduced the spectator to the art of performance and installation as well as to the latest products of Western consumer electronics, communications and information technologies. Contemporary Eastern European curators and artists worshiped the new media and communication technologies, regarding them as democratizing tools, much in the same way as the Western radical counter-cultural movements had seen revolutionary potential in new technologies several decades earlier. But in order to promote a more democratic art and culture using the new technologies the artists had to appeal to foreign foundations and contemporary art centers such as the SCCA, for these were the only institutions that could lend or rent out expensive equipment. This situation is again reminiscent of that in the West, where artists frequently had recourse to well-funded private organizations or university programs in order to be able to make use of such revolutionary technologies as film, video, or computers.[3]

It may be relevant to mention in regard to the SCCA program the term “Soros Realism,” which was coined by Miško Šuvaković in order to critique the ideology of several large scale exhibitions organized in Europe during the 1990s and the early 2000s. Some of these exhibitions were launched with the financial and logistic support of the Soros Centers for Contemporary Arts (SCCA), which at that time played an important role in both Eastern and Western European artistic scene.

This effectively brought to the creation of a formula for 'the genesis' of a work that has a go and that receives theoretical and financial support. The ontology of artwork attains a recognizable morphology: (a) new media (trans-national) + (b) local (regional) themes = (c) presentation 'of' erased traces of culture.

That is why I used on one occasion - and without any irony whatsoever - the term Soros Realism to mark the artistic productions that are being supported by SCCAs. This term literally refers to the art: (a) that has function (see i-iv), (b) that has a relation of presentation and representation towards a concrete reality of society and culture (see formula /a/+/b/=/c/), and (c) that has an 'optimal projection', which means a positive social exchange project (emancipation, education) which is being represented 'through' the work of art.

Soros Realism is not a Realism in the sense of return to the Realism of the paranoid nationalistic type, which emerged, in most Post-Socialist societies in the 80s and the 90s. It is neither a brutal variation of Socialist Realism that has established the canons of expression in the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s in the East. Contrary to that, it is a soft and subtle uniformisation and standardisation of Postmodernist pluralism and multiculturalism as a criterion of enlightened political Liberalism that has to be realised by European societies at the turn of the century. A concrete benefit of such approach is the shifting from 'the limited' (purely elite) emancipation borne both by the high art and the alternative, to an all- encompassing social emancipation within the frame of local culture. For instance, the theories of Post- structuralism and the values of Liberalism that have the character of 'academic' or 'museum-like', and certainly of 'intellectual minority' discourse, now become 'through' art the discourse, taste and value of the 'normal' culture of the emerging middle-class intellectual stratum and its public opinion (doxa). The concrete deficiency of such an approach to art is the establishing of 'the average overview' which realises artistic and aesthetic goals as culturally determined effects. In other words, the art of the young, the marginal and those in transition acquires 'its own' mobile reservation of promised prospects of survival and realization. "Soros Realism" by Miško Šuvaković in THE IDEOLOGY OF EXHIBITION: ON THE IDEOLOGIES OF MANIFESTA.

To be continued.



[1] Larisa Muravska. Assessment/mapping of activities of the Soros Centers for Contemporary
[2]
Erwin Kessler, Cearta (Bucuresti: Nemira, 1997), 123.
[3]
See Adler, Judith E. Artists in Offices: An Ethnography of an Academic Art Scene. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1979.)