Nikolas Drosos: A Tale of Two (University) Cities

L'Amphion (1937/1952), Henri Laurens, Ciudad Universitaria in Caracas. Photo: Photographer unknown. Source:

L’Amphion (1937/1952), Henri Laurens, Ciudad Universitaria in Caracas. Photo: Photographer unknown. Source: http://collections.nlm.nih.gov/catalog/nlm:nlmuid-101439125-img

A Tale of Two (University) Cities: The Modernist Campuses of Mexico City and Caracas in the Imaginary of Socialist Eastern Europe

This project examines the Eastern European reception of two iconic projects of Latin American modernist art and architecture, the university campuses of Caracas and Mexico City. Both made extensive use of murals, reliefs and free-standing sculptures, quickly becoming prominent examples of the “synthesis of the arts:” the integration of art into architecture that was a popular trope in mid-century artistic discourse. Yet the two campuses followed distinct strategies: while the Mexican example focused on “national” motifs from the country’s pre-Colombian heritage, its Venezuelan counterpart featured mostly abstract works by an international group of artists. The varying reception of the two campuses within different socialist European countries in the 1950s, where the “synthesis of the arts” was thriving at the time, reflects the distinct cultural policies that emerged within the increasingly fragmented Eastern bloc following the de-Stalinization of 1956: while the Mexican example was lauded in Poland and the USSR, it was the Venezuelan project that became popular in Yugoslavia. This paper interprets these complex alliances against the political and artistic shifts of the time, and examines how Eastern European artistic debates in the wake of Stalinism were often projected onto images that originated far from divided Europe.

Nikolas Drosos is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies at Columbia University, New York. He received his PhD in Art History from the City University of New York in 2015. His dissertation, entitled “Modernism with a Human Face: Synthesis of Art and Architecture in Eastern Europe, 1954-1958,” examines the theory and practices relating to the “synthesis of the arts,” the integration of art into architecture, in the Soviet Union, Poland and Yugoslavia. He holds a MA in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, and a BA in Archaeology and Art History from the University of Athens, Greece. He has been the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship, a Chancellor’s Fellowship from the City University of New York, as well as the 2013-2015 Chester Dale predoctoral Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


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