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Hardcover | $34.95 Trade | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780262201735 | 352 pp. | 8 x 9 in | 90 b&w illus.| March 2009
Paperback | $17.95 Trade | £12.95 | ISBN: 9780262517515 | 352 pp. | 8 x 9 in | 90 b&w illus.| February 2012

The Museological Unconscious

Communal (Post)Modernism in Russia
Introduction by Susan Buck-Morss and Victor Tupitsyn


In The Museological Unconscious, Victor Tupitsyn views the history of Russian contemporary art through a distinctly Russian lens, a "communal optic" that registers the influence of such characteristically Russian phenomena as communal living, communal perception, and communal speech practices. This way of looking at the subject allows him to gather together a range of artists and art movements—from socialist realism to its "dangerous supplement," sots art, and from alternative photography to feminism—as if they were tenants in a large Moscow apartment.

Describing the notion of "communal optics," Tupitsyn argues that socialist realism does not work without communal perception—which, as he notes, does not easily fit into crates when paintings travel out of Russia for exhibition in Kassel or New York. Russia, he writes, went through an immense "optical restructuring" in the 1930s, in which viewers of art were "communalized." This restructuring (and the effect it had on Soviet cultural mentality) is the leitmotif that runs through the book, as Tupitsyn discusses such topics as the history of alternative Russian art, the communal conceptualism of the 1970s and 1980s (epitomized by Ilya Kabakov and Andrei Monastyrsky), the iconoclastic sots art movement (the best-known practitioners of which are the artistic team of Komar and Melamid), the different art worlds of Moscow and St. Petersburg (the "aesthetics of transparency" versus the "aesthetics of a blind spot"), the "creative violence" of the telesniks, and the relationships among different generations of "nonconformists." Russian artists, critics, and art historians, having lived for decades in a society that ignored or suppressed avant-garde art, have compensated, Tupitsyn claims, by developing a "museological unconscious"—the "museification" of the inner world and the collective psyche.

About the Author

Victor Tupitsyn is a critic and theorist living in New York City and Paris. He is on the advisory board of Third Text, London.


“This is a big and beautiful book, illuminating and idiosyncratic at once. ...Tupitsyn's mix of art reviews, political meditations, and personal memories provide a unique and valuable perspective on post-Soviet culture in Russia and the West.” — Alexander Etkind, The Russian Review


"Victor Tupitsyn's The Museological Unconscious offers a provocative new framework for understanding the historical itinerary that modern art took during the Soviet Union's seventy years of existence. Erudite and replete with materials collected by this important insider in the alternative arts scene, Tupitsyn's book is also a tour-de-force of visual cultural theory. Using concepts from 'communal modernism' to 'serial talk' to 'egocentric reading' to the 'museological unconscious,' Tupitsyn conducts a critical carnival that overturns our cultural and historiographic assumptions more than once in the course of this exciting study."
Tyrus Miller, Professor of Literature and Cowell College Provost, University of California at Santa Cruz

"Tupitsyn trains a fascinated gaze upon every aspect of Russian visual culture since the disintegration of the Soviet empire. He knows the individuals and the cultural institutions better than us all, and gives us, at last, an authoritative account of the inversions and paradoxes of a still largely baffling culture. The East and the West in Europe have never seemed so far apartor so close."
Brandon Taylor, Professor of History of Art and Design, Faculty of Arts, University of Southampton, United Kingdom

"The Museological Unconscious is a compelling and challenging analysis of the dynamics between Russian art practices and East-West sociocultural politics of the past sixty years by one of contemporary art's most provocative commentators. Imbued with a rare wit and humor, Victor Tupitsyn's agile intellect navigates us through the treacherous waters of cultural translation and aesthetic theory, providing liberating insights into both the aspirations and strategies of Russian artists under Soviet, post-Soviet, and Western institutional constraints and the structural complicity of contemporary art museums with the culture industry."
Jean Fisher, Professor of Fine Art and Transcultural Studies, Middlesex University

"In this long-awaited book, Victor Tupitsyn asks a highly important theoretical question: what are the optical conditions that provide the context necessary to understand a work of art? The Museological Unconscious reveals the perceptual gap between Western and Russian views of allegedly 'the same' art phenomena."
Victor Mazin, Head of the Department of Theoretical Psychoanalysis at East-European Institute of Psychoanalysis and founder of Freud's Dream Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia