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Project RastkoHistory of Serb culture
TIA Janus

Miodrag B. Protic

Painting and sculpture in the twentieth century

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


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The period after 1950 in Serbian art was characterized by the processes of continuity and discontinuity.

Miodrag B. Protic, Great Constellation, 1976, Museum of Modern Art, Belgrade

Continuity was mainly personified by the painters of the pre-war generations, who were still in top form. After the collapse of Social Realism and the split with Soviet Union, they actualized variants of Colourism and Expressionism: Konjovic condensed his landscapes of Vojvodina into an effective, distinctively expressive code; Zora Petrovic achieved strong persuasiveness of plasticity by means of "aesthetic ugliness" and vigourous acts of painting; Bijelic touched Action Painting with an "abstract landscape". The echoes of Poetic Realism and Intimist painting continued to live in a new stylisation. However, they were made lyrically dynamic (Radovic, Milosavljevic, Gvozdenovic) or structural in a slightly geometrical way (Lj. Sokic).

Mica Popovic, Foundation, 1963, Museum of Modern Art, Belgrade

The discontinuity, too, was primarily personified by the followers of the same generation, who were the dramatis personaeof the moment, and afterwards by young authors. Above all, Petar Lubarda (1907-1974) gave a historical exhibition in 1951 and began the reversal. He reduced legends from national history and Montenegrin epic landscapes to a new model of autonomous painting and to polysemantic, glaringly coloured metaphor. Milo Milunovic (1897- 1967) belonged to the Mediterranean spiritual climate as well. In spite of his sonority of line, his blue and dark red colours, he preserved his Cartesian essence. An extremely productive turning-point was accomplished by Ivan Tabakovic, by means of "radial" painting, the unification of scientific knowledge and the metaphysical act, and the oneiric poetics of the "encounter with consciousness".

Miodrag Bata Mihailovic, East Wind, 1963, Museum of Modern Art, Belgrade

Young people gathered around several artistic groups - "Samostalni" ("The Independent"), "Jedanaestorica" ("The Eleven"), "Decembarska grupa" ("The December Group"), "Medijala" and a group of painters of the Informel - in which remarkable creative personalities and the poetics of geometrization, fantasy, figuration and various types of abstraction were developed.

Mladen Srbinovic, Master from Kurbinovo, 1972, Museum of Modern Art, Belgrade

After the Expressionism of colour and gesture, geometrisation was formulated among young authors in the "Decembarska grupa". This formulation began as figurative, then turned into the associational ("an abstract landscape") and finally into the abstract (Lazar Vozarevic, 1925-1968, Mladen Srbinovic, 1925-1992, Stojan Celic, 1925- 1992, Miodrag B. Protic, b. 1922). The "experienced" way of rendering nuance to every centimetre was disputed for the first time, by the conception of the surface, the pure and the "decorative". Illusionistic spatial depth was replaced by a topological and superficial one. Frontality and symmetry, a regulative centre and a new concept of the subject were usually achieved in canvasses of large dimensions. All this eased the later transition (in sixties and seventies) to abstraction as a formal minimum, which aimed at a spiritual maximum; the renewal of the inheritance of Constructivism and Suprematism; an aspiration toward the absolute, toward order, harmony and proportion, as the signs of moral values. The actualization of the medieval Byzantine and folk tradition with its archetypal symbols was made easier as well (Lazar Vozarevic, 1925-1968, Mladen Srbinovic, b. 1925, Lazar Vujaklija, b. 1914, Aleksandar Tomasevic, 1912-1968). In the same group, Zoran Petrovic (b. 1921) anticipated the Informel, Milos Bajic, (b. 1917) Abstract Expressionism, and Aleksandar Lukovic (b. 1924) the oneiric story.

Radomir Reljic, Homo volans, 1963, Museum of Modern Art, Belgrade

Fantastic and magic art, the ideas of which were partially displayed by Belgrade the Surrealist painters in the period of 1930-1932 (the "miraculous", "impossible", etc.), was established with exhibitions of Boba Jovanovic, 1924, Mario Maskareli, 1918, Milan Popovic, 1915-1969, and Igor Vasiljev, 1928-1954. Afterwards, it found shelter in "Medijala", which was attracted by myth, other-worldliness and Nachseite of life and art. Relying on the narrative course of Surrealism (Mundus est fabula), its members decisively stood against the aesthetics of the Modernism of the sixth decade. Besides Dali, the ideals were again the old masters and plastic systems of the past. The idea of reviving "integral painting" was, in practice, a synthesis which was conceived as collective and literary, and not as intensive or artistic. Esoteric and illogical visions were "realistically" and logically painted. Those ideas were most systematically developed by Leonid Sejka, 1932-1970, as much as in his painting as in his texts (Tractate on Painting). From the world of "rooms within reach of a volcano" he passed over into the white, pure expanse of his "rubbish-heaps" soon before he died. Some of the most distinguished representatives of modern figuration have come from that circle (Dado Djuric, b. 1933, Vladimir Velickovic, b. 1935, Ljuba Popovic, b. 1934 - now in Paris, and Radomir Reljic, b. 1938). The painters of symbols have stood out as a specific facet of Magic Art: Radomir Damnjanovic, b. 1936, Branko Miljus, b. 1936, Radovan Kragulj, b. 1934, denoting, at the same time, a transition toward a new figuration and, paradoxically, toward new tendencies.

Dusan Otasevic, On Venus's Hill, 1970, Museum of Modern Art, Belgrade

From the various types of figurative and associative, painting often crossed into the corresponding field of the abstract. Except for episodes after World War I (Mihailo Petrov, 1902-1983, Jovan Bijelic, Ivan Radovic), the abstract was manifested in Serbia only after 1950. In the boundaries of the first, anti-geometric, intuitive trend, the first Action Painting appeared already in 1951, in the group "Jedanaestorica": Abstract Expressionism, a lyrical abstraction in which the external physical gesture became the equivalent of internal spiritual movement. The aesthetics of rapidity and risk changed the relation toward object and the perceivable in general, as well as the classic psychology of creative process. The creative process became an impulse of internal energy and the unity of gesture, the sign and act of painting (Milorad Bata Mihajlovic, b. 1923, Petar Omcikus, b. 1926, Milos Bajic, b. 1915, Djordje Ivackovic, b. 1930 and others). The Informel trend came somewhat later, at the end of the sixth decade. It dissolved form and reduced painting to ashes and a bed of cinders, seeking then for the cosmic sparks of the world in it, and not avoiding even materials which are not used in painting (tin, rope, burlap and plaster). It sometimes gave a hint of certain concepts of phenomenology and Existentialism, and partly of the Dadaist and Surrealist heritage (Branko Protic, b. 1931, Mica Popovic, b. 1923, Zoran Pavlovic, b. 1932, Zivojin Turinski, b. 1935, Lazar Vozarevic, Filo Filipovic, b. 1924, Vladislav Todorovic, b. 1933, Vera Bozickovic, b. 1920 and others). The Informel trend also changed "its own" figuration (Zoran Pavlovic, Mica Popovic, who turned to "scenes", figure and still life around 1970, preserving "Spanish" black and white articulation).

Dado Djuric, Merry-go-round, 1955-1956, Museum of Modern Art, Belgrade

In the coordinates of such complex experiences, Dragos Kalajic (b. 1943) was the first one to enter the domain of Pop Art, narration and the signs of the urban world. Dusan Otasevic brought painting close to the relief and, more and more often, to the constructed object, lit up by turnabout and humor. The same is achieved by Milica Stevanovic, b. 1933, but in a different, analytical way. Each in his own way. Predrag Neskovic, b. 1938, Bojan Bem, b. 1936, Dragan Mojovic, b. 1942 and Bora Iljoski, b. 1942, who carried on with the geometrisation, as well as others who joined the datum together with the concept and dreamlike charge.

Lazar Vozarevic, Pieta, 1956, Museum of Modern Art, Belgrade

In any case, around 1970 Conceptual Art was strongly manifested in Belgrade and Novi Sad. The concepts of artist and art were reformulated, in both the "mystical" and "tautological" circles (Marina Abramovic, Damnjan, Vladan Radovanovic, Zoran Popovic, Rasa Todosijevic, Urkom, Nesa Paripovic and others). The group "143" (in Novi Sad, group "KOD", group "E") was characterised by a mixture of contestation, a "culture in a negative position" (a reflex of 1968), neo-Dadaism and an examination of the idea of art (Art as idea as idea). The physical quality of work was essentially diminished ("incorporeal art"), as was the shaping process. The bounds between different media were mitigated or obliterated. Photographs, diagrams, texts, mathematical formulas, surveys, plans, and so on were used, with a belief in Kossuth's concept that the general idea of art is more important than the idea of the individual arts.

Leonid Sejka, Warehouse, 1970, Museum of Modern Art, Belgrade

A reaction came around 1980, when the iconoclasts were replaced by iconodules and incorporeal art by the corporeal. This was the period of post-Modernism, of the trans-Avant-garde, "emptiness", "deconstruction", "equation", "retro-position", return, neologism and of everything which has characterised the end of our century and millenium (Mileta Prodanovic, b. 1959, Miki Djordjevic, Aleksandar Djuric, Nada Alavanja, b. 1952, Tahir Lusic, b. 1949, Milos Sobajic, b. 1945, Cedomir Vasic, b. 1946, and others).

Ljuba Popovic, St. Sebastian Exhumed, 1961-1962, Museum of Modern Art, Belgrade

After everything which has been said here, it can be concluded that several permanent problems are perceivable in the Serbian painting of the twentieth century, which were formulated and attempts were made to solve them in almost every decade. These issues are: the autonomy of that art, its originality and mission, its domestic and international reception, a narrower, dogmatic and beforehand given definition of national art; there is also the other, open definition, which is not defined a priori, according to a given pattern, but is established a posteriori. Its relation toward social circumstances and historical moment was characterized by attraction or repulsion and their tense interdependence. Yet, in spite of the frequently tragic restrictions, it can not be denied that the ideas which were in accordance with epoch and general development strengthened, while the others, in opposition, gradually declined.

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