Reality(ies), Fiction and Utopia in the Art of France, West Germany, East Germany and Poland between 1960 and 1989


Reality(ies), Fiction and Utopia in the Art of France, West Germany, East Germany and Poland between 1960 and 1989

The ERC-funded project “To Each His Own Reality. The Notion of the Real in the Fine Arts between 1960 and 1989 in France, West Germany, East Germany and Poland”, is organising an International Meeting in Paris at the Centre Allemand d'Histoire de l'Art on 11, 12 and 13 April, 2013. This meeting will be structured around three Research Workshops bringing together established researchers, postdoctoral researchers and PhD students, focusing on the themes of Reality(ies), Fiction and Utopia. During the initial months of the project, collaborative research carried out by art historians and philosophers and the comparison of the viewpoints of these researchers from different backgrounds highlighted the plurality in our understanding of the real – and reality (or realities) – and the need to reduce the risk of misunderstandings in interpretation through a process of defining and positioning material, as much in terms of historiography as geography and the artistic discipline concerned. Conceived as a work-in-progress, each workshop will be organised around discussions and debates, with the aim of comparing and analysing participants' different understandings of reality and exploring the pertinence of a plural definition of the term.



The question of reality emerged as an omnipresent theme in art between 1960 and 1989. Representing reality was defined as a goal by Marxist-Leninist theory and Socialist Realism, which artists chose to disregard, reject or sought to comprehend by reinterpreting, circumventing or subverting it. It was also the focus of a questioning of the arts that led to an interaction between art and life, as in the work of the Fluxus movement, as well as a concept explored by Conceptual and Institutional Critique practices, and the subject of artworks that invite the viewer to take part in a phenomenological reflection. Social, political and aesthetic meanings are intertwined. Our definitions of the real are shaped by the diversity of historical heritage, possible interconnections, different interpretations of the avant-garde movements and the aims assigned to art by critics and artists. Subjects such as the role of the individual, his relationship with the collective and perceptions of society and utopia (which are often different, even conflicting) all fuel artistic practices, and we must fine-tune their definitions in order to better understand the different facets of reality in a Europe divided by the Iron Curtain. Although officially the Eastern and Western blocs had conflicting perceptions of the world, there is a need to study the distinctions between particular countries, artistic practices and historical periods. While we observe significant differences between these contexts, certain convergences can be identified in common aspirations shared by artists and expressed in artworks. It is for this reason that these workshops will bring together researchers from different disciplines and geographic regions to analyse this plurality of perspectives.



With the aim of encouraging dialogue, each of the three workshops will associate the notion of reality with another term that both represents its opposite and indirectly defines the particular reality in question:


This workshop will examine the meaning of the term “reality” according to whether it is used in singular or plural form by artists, critics and theorists in contexts in which its definition is either imposed or freely interpreted. It will address the implications of the imposition of a single definition versus the possibility of choice (singular or plural definitions), with the idea of evoking the various aspects of “reality” as compared to “realities” in artistic, political, aesthetic, phenomenological, sociological or psychological contexts. Perceptions of realities instead of one reality can involve very different approaches. Subjectivity can come into play, with the belief that each experience is unique, but also an awareness of a diversity of possible interpretations, which is more objective in terms of empirical knowledge. Reaching beyond the confines of an established reality also requires a desire for openness, a search for freedom. Yet is it not a fundamental aspect of reality to be considered as a single entity, in the sense of relying on an outside authority to establish what is or is not accepted as “real”, beyond individual viewpoints and their inevitable variations? Conversely, what implications does this have for the desire to view reality in relative terms? Indeed, is it not the work of artists to explore this tension between a given reality and embracing other systems of meaning that offer a potential for plurality?


In this workshop, we will consider the notion of reality in relation to fiction. Fiction and reality are commonly seen as opposite concepts, understood in terms of their difference, or otherness. However, this difference is not absolute, and any form of fiction can be composed of reality, and can even generate it. At the same time, all forms of reality exist because they also depend on arbitrary elements related to fiction, myth, symbolism and the imagination. We like to see fiction as a tool that is capable of capturing reality through the use of enunciation (cinema, literature, theatre) or assemblages of forms (light, colour, compositional devices, materials, movement), which are artificial and bring us a new understanding of this reality, which would otherwise remain multiple and formless, and therefore incomprehensible. In spite of its ability to reveal things, can fiction not also be used as a means of domination by creating and propagating myths? Do all artifices, once constructed, inevitably become real, and as a result, dangerous? The use of artifice in fiction subverts the information we receive directly from the world around us, reaching beyond it to another perspective which does not express reality in terms of social consensus, an established order or even an illusory fact, but aims to represent "true" reality, which cannot exist outside this process of representation. We will therefore examine the connection between fiction and truth, fiction and knowledge, and consequently between reality and truth, posing the questions: Is fiction actually a tool that allows us to distinguish reality from truth? What are the heuristic qualities of fiction?


The dialogue between notions of reality and utopia is a central theme of the Cold War period. The meaning of "utopia" underwent significant changes over the years, particularly on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain after the death of Stalin. The meaning of “reality” is not the same when utopia is conceived as a future social and political ideal to be achieved through commitment, as when it embodies the failure of a system of government, or when equated with an ideal that is not intended to actually exist. Ideas of reforming, transforming, taking action and rendering things visible raise different issues according to the relationship between utopia and reality. Interpretations of the aims of art (autonomy, formalism, protest, subversion) must be defined differently according to the particular environment studied. Is reacting to the here and now considered to be at odds with artistic practices that regard themselves as autonomous? How do such practices propose to exert an influence (or not) on the world? Was this contrast not calcified within the context of the Cold War through the polarisation of avant-garde and academic systems of representation, of the practices of East and West, thereby conveying a political message? This workshop aims to explore the different points of view raised by these questions.

While there will obviously be some crossover in topics discussed, the workshops will highlight the wide range of viewpoints that provide insight into the plurality of these realities. Presentations in English, French or German shall be of 25 minutes duration. Travel and hotel expenses will be covered by the project. Six weeks prior to the workshop, each guest speaker is required to submit a source text or reference artwork, which will be circulated to all participants to serve as a set of core documents to guide discussions. All proposals (comprising an abstract of 2,000 characters, including spaces), which address the notion of reality in artistic practices between 1960 and 1989 in France, West Germany, East Germany and Poland, whether approached from a historiographic point of view, as an analysis of artistic exchanges during this period or a study of specific artworks, must be submitted complete with a title (provisional if necessary) and accompanied by a short biography by electronic mail to Mathilde Arnoux or Clara Pacquet no later than 15 October, 2012.



  • Clélia Barbut (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3/Laval, Québec): “Le fantasme de réalité dans le cadre de l'art corporel : tiraillements entre réels du corps et du social dans les pratiques de G. Pane et M. Journiac”
  • Maria Bremer (Freie Universität Berlin/ERC-DFK): “Réalité(s) de la nature et horizon de l'artiste. Paul-Armand Gette à la Documenta VI de Kassel en 1977”
  • Christianna Bonin (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): “Restored but Incomplete: The utopias of modern preservation in East and West Germany”
  • Paula Burleigh (CUNY, Graduate Center of the City University of New York): “Fortresses of war: Bunker architecture as utopian space? (Parent/Virilio)”
  • Sophie Cras (Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne): “Le Nouveau Réalisme : du réalisme socialiste au réalisme capitaliste”
  • April Eisman (Iowa State University): “When fiction changes reality: The impact of Christa Wolf's Kassandra (1983) on women artists in East Germany”
  • Cornelia Escher (ETH Zurich): “Reality, utopia and planning in the work of the Groupe d'Etude d'Architecture Mobile (1958-63)”
  • Dorota Felman (Warsaw University): “Controverse Gombrowicz-Dubuffet : La peinture, plutôt l'aubier ou la cigarette ?”
  • Simone Frangi (curator at the DOCVA Milan): “Die Befragung der Realität: The shock of the real and the strategy of return in artistic and philosophical works from around 1972”
  • Constanze Fritzsch (Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt /ERC-DFK): “Carlfriedrich Claus et la ‘Sprache als Bild der Wirklichkeit’”
  • Séverine Gossart (Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne): “À chacun son ready-made. Réalité/Réalités du ready-made dans les années 60”
  • Vanessa Grossmann (Princeton University/ENS): “Utopie gestionnaire : communisme municipal à Ivry-sur-Seine, et l'architecture de Renée Gailhoustet et Jean Renaudie (1962-1986)”
  • Aline Guillermet (University of Essex/Whitney Independant Study Programm New York): “18 Octobre 1977 : la réalité entre peinture d'histoire et ‘image-déchirure’”
  • Nadine Helm (CUNY, Graduate Center of the City University of New York): “The life of the dead: West German sculpture and the politicization of action in the 1960s”
  • Agata Jakubowska (Poznań University): “Parental meanings in the KwieKulik duo's Activities with Dobromierz”
  • Antje Kramer (Université Rennes II): “Vivre ou laisser mourir l'Histoire – les stratégies discursives de la Figuration narrative”
  • Lucie Picandet (Université Paris 8): “Syberberg: fictions de la mémoire”
  • Lucia Piccioni (INHA, EHESS, Paris): “Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti relit Karl Marx: l'autonomie de l'art comme ‘utopie’ ?”
  • Agata Pietrasik (Freie Universität Berlin): “Restaging the avant-garde: Henryk Berlewi's return to abstraction”
  • Barbara Piwowarska (independant curator, Warsaw): “‘Open Form’ and ‘social sculpture’ as expanded definitions of ‘realism’ and ‘reality’: Warsaw and Düsseldorf in the 1960s-1980s”
  • Daniel Podosek (Université Paris 8): “L'acte photographique comme effet éthique d'un état d'exception (Bohdziewicz)”
  • Jennifer Watson (Johns Hopkins University Baltimore): “Realism and representation in Arman's Accumulations and Poubelles”
  • Angelika Weißbach (Berlin): “‘Das ist der Anfang der Überwindung des falschen Bewußtseins!’ Die Türen-Ausstellung im Leonhardi-Museum in Dresden (1979)”



Gitta Ho, “Jedem seine Realität(en). Réalité(s), Fiction, Utopie dans l'art des années 1960 à 1989 en France, RFA, RDA et Pologne. Internationale Tagung, Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte, Paris, 11.-13. April 2013”, in Kunstchronik, issue 8, August 2013, p. 390-394

Person in charge

Mathilde Arnoux

Dr. habil. Mathilde Arnoux

Research Director / Head of French Publications (Series Passages and Passerelles)
Phone +33 (0)1 42 60 41 24

Dr. Clara Pacquet

Research fellow