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Project RastkoHistory of Serb culture
TIA Janus

Miroslav Fruht

Applied art and design

Chapter from the book
"The history of Serbian Culture"
The history of Serbian culture  


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The rich folk art of Serbia has been diligently developed through the trades which, in turn, were being perfected for centuries. It was and continues to be an inspiration and source of stimulation for the creative imagination of artists of applied art.

The tapestries of Pirot with their originality and harmoniously combined colour coordination and ornamentation, the folk pottery of the Morava region, the tradition of skilled and talented weavers from the regions of western Serbia, and other artistic trades -- all have played significant roles in establishing the continuity of Serbian cultural development.

Folk art's richness of forms, the variety of materials accompanied by powerful colour schemes and ornamentation have been a moving stimulus for the affirmation of applied art. Applied art's first artists appeared in Serbia in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The final decades of the last century and the early part of this century were filled with the work of certain individuals, and each of them made significant contributions to the development of applied art in Serbia, or even to its history. They were people from similar professions: Mihailo Valtrovic (1839-1915), an archaeologist and art historian; Vladislav Titelbah (1842-1927), a painter; Dragisa Milutinovic (1843- 1900), an architect; and Dragutin Inkiostri Medenjak (1866- 1942), a painter, decorator and even "designer" in the modern sense of the word. Each of them worked in a certain domain and each left lasting traces on applied art.

Valtrovic was an architect who introduced certain novelties into an important field of applied art, and that was the decorative plastics on iconostases. Valtrovic drew up the plans for the iconostasis in the Serbian Orthodox church in Curug, thereby placing a new accent on this branch of art. This was primarily a split with the previous conceptions of ecclesiastical art in Vojvodina, a revival of the Byzantine style in its neo-Byzantine variant, the origins of which are to be found in Serbia.

Vladislav Titelbah, a painter, graphic artist and researcher, dedicated himself with great interest to the gathering and study of elements of folk art, having a tendency to draw individual aspects of applied art closer to every day life. Titelbah was attracted to the discovery of the past, and his creative work was imbued with medievalism and with the presentation of culture as it existed in the Serbian medieval state. He thus presented the ornamentation, traditional costumes, decorations and jewellery, weapons and furniture of the various social strata in the Middle Ages, from the Zupan down to the common soldier.

Dragutin Inkiostri was an artist, an applied artist, with his whole being; he left the deepest impressions on this art form. Inkiostri's creative opus encompasses many fields in applied art, from large compositions of interior architecture and decoration, designs for furniture, jewellery and weaving, and even designs for the covers of children's books.

Inkiostri's style was opposed to the Secession, which was largely dominant in central Europe, but he could not help but take something from it, even if it was only the clear sharp colour scheme, framed in folk forms. His decorative work often borrowed figural motifs which then took on symbolic or allegorical meanings. Inkiostri used elements of Serbian folk art, retaining the role of colour, and also elements of impressionism, which had started to appear in the academies at the turn of the century.

One of the most important events in the history of applied art in Serbia was the Exhibition of Decorative and Industrial Art in Paris in 1925. Miroslav Krejcik drew up the plans for the Pavilion as a work of modern architecture. The decorative elements of the Pavilion were entrusted to a painter, Dusan Jankovic.

After the First World War, art was increasingly oriented toward Paris as the centre of world art. Therefore, it was understandable that applied art took the same path after the Paris exhibition.

An architect named Branislav Marinkovic was especially interested in interior architecture and applied art. He believed that folk motifs and ornaments should not be copied, but that they should be used for inspiration in the creation of new decorative elements.

Decorative painting had many representatives who dealt with secular and ecclesiastical artwork. Some of them were in the group "Oblik" ("Form"), inclined toward expressionism and linked to the central European centres of Prague and Cracow (Jovan Bijelic and Petar Dobrovic were the most prominent among them). Others were members of the group "Zograf" ("Iconographer") and their goal was to establish ties with Serbian medieval art. In this second group, important places were held by Zivorad Nastasijevic with his frescoes in the church of the Assumption in Pancevo, Vasa Pomorisac with his large composition The Building of Skadar, and Milo Milunovic with his frescoes in the church at Prcanj. Nastasijevic's frescoes are reminiscent of the atmosphere of Italian Gothic and early Renaissance, and they are thematically close to Serbian medieval art. Pomorisac's work is close to the concepts of decorative artwork, with a feeling for resonance in the colour scheme. Milunovic's style lies between solidness, which likewise recalls tones of the quattrocento, and clarity of idealistic formulation. In this period, a significant place in applied art was held by Mihailo Petrov, who did the graphic work on editions for a large number of famous publishers. Solid form, with artistic expression in the spirit of the abstract, characterises Petrov's work, and this style is present in all of his other works as well.

After World War II, schools were organised and professional associations were formed. The Academy of Applied Arts was founded in Belgrade in 1948, and it later became the Faculty of Applied Arts and Design. Special secondary schools for applied art were founded in Novi Sad, Prizren and Nis. At the beginning of 1953, the Association of Artists of Applied Art of Serbia was founded, as were Provincial associations in Novi Sad and Prishtina, which contributed to the advancement of applied art in Serbia.

In the field of interior architecture, individual architects achieved acclaim in their harmonious synthesis of the functional and aesthetic demands of interior design in many public buildings. Milan Minic did the interior of the Serbian Parliament building, and also that of the Belgrade City Council. Momcilo Belobrk designed the interior of the Yugoslav Drama Theatre, using basic materials of original construction and structure. Aleksandar Saletic did the entire inside of the "Sava Centar", creating a truly functional and modern interior.

Decorative plastics in this period were freed from their traditional role, which they had retained from ancient times. Thus, many Serbian sculptors chose to create decorative and useful objects, plaques, medallions and the like. Nebojsa Mitric is most prominent among these artists, for he is an artist of far-reaching imagination, a master of line and form, who made his mark on our times with the high quality of his art.

Before World War II, decorative art had its techniques (the fresco) and its motifs (ecclesiastical and secular); after the war, mosaics and other techniques were introduced in greater number. The mosaics of Mladen Srbinovic are of extremely high artistic scope, placed in the state-room of the Municipal building in Krusevac; these mosaics have motifs from the Kosovo Cycle, done in a style which is between decorative and artistic, with a sublimated symbolism. Petar Lubarda created a monumental composition in the Executive Council Building of Serbia with a resonant colour scheme of abstract form. Monumental artwork, usually figural and presented in the spirit of realism, is exhibited in the "Metropol" Hotel in Belgrade, in the vitraux of Vasa Pomorisac, and the intarsias of Branko Bosic and Bosiljka Kicevac.

A remarkable number of Serbian artists, worked with tapestry and decorative cloth materials, and their works have been exhibited and have taken prizes in Paris, Helsinki, and other world metropolises. Ninela Pejovic won a gold medal at the international exhibition in Busto Arsizio (Italy) for her tapestries, for their original styling of lively colours and for their weave. The painter Desa Tomic Djurovic, inspired by the motifs of Serbian medieval art, has done numerous creations in the field of decorative cloth materials which are to be found in the interiors of public buildings.

Ceramics has a long-standing tradition in folk art, with the works of an outstanding number of artists; it experienced a revival with the founding of the Academy of Applied Arts and the through the lectures of Ivan Tabakovic, a renowned painter who also worked with ceramics. He won high international acclaim, such as the gold medal at Cannes in 1956, in Ostend and Prague in 1962, and a big award in Paris in 1967. Beside him, acclaim was awarded, at these and other international exhibitions, to Milos Nedeljkovic (Faenza, 1968) and Velja Vukicevic Mladic (Faenza, 1992).

After World War II, set design and theatre art, along with costume design, were all invigorated. Miomir Denic, Milenko Serban and Vlada Marenic brought the sets of Serbian theatres up to a European level, a fact which was affirmed in performances of Serbian theatres in London, Moscow, Paris and other major world centres. Serbian costume designers, Milica Babic, Miroslava Glisic and Dusan Ristic to name a few, enhanced the beauty and suggestiveness of the roles of many actors and opera singers through the costumes they created, with taste and imagination, for both classical and modern theatre.

In applied graphic arts, which require serial production by their very nature and purpose, and which can be classified under graphic design, valuable achievements have be made, especially in the field of playbills and posters. Mihailo Petrov, Mateja Zlamalik and Dragoslav Stojanovic-Sip laid the foundation for the bill as a discipline in a pedagogical sense; as artists they have penetrated deeply into the artisticgraphic plan with their sophisticated expressions of style, colour scheme and composition. In recent years, significant contributions have been made by Saveta and Slobodan Masic with their creation of posters using the harmonious conciliation of photographs and graphic techniques, for which they have received numerous awards such as the gold medal at the "International Biennial of Graphic Arts" in Brno in 1978.

Packaging design and product presentation have been undertaken by two artists, Matej Rodici and Biljana Rakic. The former took first prize at Padua in 1974 and the latter won a medal for design at the world showroom of innovations "Eureka 91" in Brussels. Creations in individual fields of graphic design have been done by Eduard Zehovina, Radomir Vukovic, Aleksandar Pajvancic and Milos Ciric. Because of the originality of their ideas and the harmonious sublimation of all requirements, their works have been placed and published in many foreign books in this field, including those where the selection criteria are very strict.

Industrial design appeared in Serbia just after World War II, and it came to full tempo a little over two decades ago. To achieve affirmation in industrial design, numerous conditions must be met, which are not always easy to establish. Thus, in Serbia the road to affirmation was a long one, accompanied by quite a lot of difficulties. However, in spite of that, the practice of industrial design is increasingly accepted by industry all over Serbia, so that good results in this domain are being achieved with more and more frequency.

At many exhibitions such as the "October Showroom" in Belgrade and annual exhibitions of the Association of Artists of Applied Art and Design of Serbia -- but also at the international fairs in Belgrade, Novi Sad and Leskovac -- Serbian industrial designers have proven that they are in touch with the state-of-the-art and with world trends, and that they are producing high quality, competitive products. They have achieved high acclaim for their remarkable creations in recent years - especially at the "October Showroom" and at the fairs in Belgrade - Vladimir Najdovic (the design of the bus "Ikarbus"), Branko Ladavac (furniture for the "Marko Radovic" Company in Podgorica), Slobodan Vukic (bathroom fittings for "FASAU" in Uzice), and Zvonimir Stankovic (his telephone for EI "Pupin", Zemun). Among these designers, one must also mention those who create fashions for the clothing industry, such as Andjelka Slijepcevic and Mirjana Maric, whose styles have brought world-wide acclaim to Serbian clothing design. Other designers have also achieved international recognition, since many of them show, in style and in total creative expression, all the specificities of Serbia, and the tradition in which the creative imagination of harmony in form and colour is an inherent part.

The industrial development of applied art and design in Serbia, and the results which have been achieved up to the present, testify to the fact that they are an undeniable part of world culture as well, that they are permeated with world trends. All of this indicates that future development can be viewed with optimism, along with progress in all creative forms among the Serbs. Both the artists of the applied arts and the designers and their works are inseparable parts of that progress.

// Projekat Rastko / The history of Serbian culture //
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