Umetnost na kraju veka

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Project Rastko


Jesa Denegri

Zoran Naskovski-Dobrivoje Krgović, Kompozicija I / Composition I, 1995.

Strategies, probably an overambitious concept for the work of a critic; a more appropriate and modest attitude would be to talk about individual positions, choices, orientation in certain concrete artistic happenings of the first half of the nineties. The nineties, the last decades in the history of this century, the period which will remain in this part of the world marked with numerous fatal events of direct and indirect consequences affecting even the realm of the visual arts. As we know so well, there was a dissolution of the cultural organism which had been, until recently, called the area of Yugoslav art, a complex organism, naturally decentralised and yet closely interconnected within its segments through a number of events, through working and personal relations, mutual intentions to enter broader (European and universal) artistic developments. Both the real and the symbolic farewell to this area took place at the end of the preceding decade, during the second Dokumenta in Sarajevo, in 1989 (the third event was then already under preparations, but would never take place). The real ashes of Sarajevo represent the symbolic cremation of a previously common realm of art, common to several generations who had thought it quite normal to live and work in an atmosphere of continuous contacts, exchanges, differences. On the ruins of those fruitful processes, at least in the field of the arts, some new periodic tables for this part of the world were formulated in the early nineties, established on the basis of the new state communities and their cultural circles. All of this has brought about certain important changes with landmarks yet to be found in ideas, concepts and notions of art and criticism, but also with regard to the organisational and institutional network of artistic life. What follows in this text is a kind of record, inventory, a reduced balance-sheet of views and tasks this critic has been able to outline and complete within the drastically altered circumstances of the first five years of the current decade.

A Modern Project of Art[1]

Nikola Pilipović, Novi Beograd / New Belgrade, 1994.

In taking account of his own actions and taking part in contemporary debates on the idea of Modernist Art, Filiberto Menna published in 1989 a paper entitled Il progetto moderno dell' arte, a kind of his intellectual testament to restore and defend the meaning of the concept of project as a product particular to the modern/avantgarde culture and art. In the Italian criticism this concept stems from Argan who believed that a project, contrary to a resignation to fate, signified a conscious and rational action, with a strong and clear reason and plan ("a project is the meaning, the aim, the passion for living", he would say). What else but all of this should serve as a model in these historical circumstances in which similar ideals had been drastically shattered or completely destroyed? To plead for a modern project in art does not in any way assume preferences for certain current tendencies in art, least of all is it a revindication of a once dominant moderate Modernist aestheticism. However, in its final consequence, it represents an inclination toward the art which has inherited the experience and ideas of an open approach to experiments in avantgarde and neo-avantgarde traditions, instead of an art satisfied with internal linguistic experiments which breed typical Postmodernist retro phenomena. The translation of Menna's paper (Moderni projekat umetnosti – Modern Project in Art) appeared in 1992, published, of course, intentionally, with expectations of its possible intellectual and operational effectiveness in the local circumstances of the moment. For this critic it was an acceptable theoretical and spiritual landmark in front of the current doubts and dilemmas, similar in its significance to the two previous texts of the same author, in other situations and some other time – "Proricanje estetskog drustva" (Predicting an Aesthetic Society), 1968 and "Analiticka linija moderne umetnosti" (The Analytical Line of Modern Art), 1975.

Project Mondrian[2]

Aleksandar Dimitrijević, Mondrian 1994, 1994.

Three artists – Aleksandar Dimitrijevic, Zoran Naskovski and Nikola Pilipovic – gathered together twice (Gallery of the Cultural Centre, Pancevo and the Gallery of the Students Cultural Centre, Belgrade, in 1992) around the project Mondrian 1872-1992, formally tied to the 120th anniversary of the artist's birth, but actually conceived as a much deeper event. Namely, Mondrian's work Composition II owned by the National Museum in Belgrade, exhibited in the city for a long time, was a challenge to the three Belgrade artists to create their work as an answer or a commentary not only to the particular picture, but to a total contribution of the spiritual and moral legacy of the great opus of Mondrian's. Project Mondrian had a two-fold aim and effect. First, symptomatically the artists from this part of the world recognised in Mondrian, a typically Dutch painter of universal acclaim, their own spiritual predecessor, claiming the same right to his legacy as all other world artists who had done that, for generations, directly or indirectly. The conclusion of this act is that: artists working in Belgrade today, lay claim to the universal heritage of Modernism, and not only their own regional tradition. Furthermore, Mondrian's Composition II, for a long time present in the central museum of this country, has been integrated into the local cultural heritage as much as any work of a local author of importance from the historical period of Modern art. And, secondly, what is particularly important, artists from this part felt Mondrian to be close to them, and necessary, at the time which, together with everything else deadly and negative, brought into the field of art a surge of an extreme localism and an ideologically indoctrinated false patriotism. These artists tried to find a counter-response to this in the qualities and virtues of the spiritual, both sensitive and rational, even utopian ( since "utopia is" – Argan asserts – "in the contemporary historical situation still the most concrete of all moral values"), therefore, in all that is essential, as specifically embodied in Mondrian's work. For the three Belgrade artists, Mondrian was not only the cause and challenge for a characteristically Postmodernist operation (citation, rewriting or repetition with variations) but – as an artist of the highest degree of concentration, dedication to his artistic profession and the values of art – he served as a real spiritual model and ethical stronghold, in a word, as an example they wanted to honour. Two years later, in their individual shows, Dimitrijevic and Pilipovic on the one hand, and Naskovski and Dobrivoje Krgovic, on the other, within the series of exhibitions called Experiences from Memory (National Museum, Belgrade 1994-1995) the above mentioned artists showed an obvious and considerable change in their relationship toward their previous interpretations of Mondrian's legacy: first of all, an absence of any utopian aura, already suggested in the sensibility of their earlier paintings. However, the very fact that the great example of Mondrian's art, not only with its formal but particularly its spiritual features, was an exceptional incentive for the artists from this region, was a sign of their confidence in the autonomous nature of art in a situation which represented a direct or indirect danger to the very nature of art.

The Early Nineties[3]

Mirjana Đorđević, Bez naziva / Without Title, 1996.

Critics are simply unable to wait for a hot artistic situation to calm down, end, spend itself; this can only be done by a historian who performs his task of precise interpretation and evaluation from a distance. Even before the conditions became ripe, impatient critics had already initiated the first introspections of this century's (then, just begun) last decade of domestic (Belgrade) art: the exhibition entitled Early Nineties: the Yugoslav Artistic Scene, in its three present segments (Belgrade, Vojvodina, Montenegro) was to perform the task of first soundings regardless of the fact that experience has proven that the current state of art changes rapidly and will have been greatly different by the time the decade has ended.

In an intensive working atmosphere opened by the preceding decade, numerous relevant positions were evident in Belgrade, in the practice of the early nineties. We have already got acquainted with the position of the artists connected to the project Mondrian. The next important micro-entity was the status of the new sculpture on the borderline of the two decades, where diverse personal interpretations of the protagonists brought about condensed yet in no way minimalistic or neo-constructivistic forms, most frequently done in modest handy materials (wood, terracotta, scrap metal, rubber, glass...). The sober imagination of the artists and their very precise and refined performance technique formed plastic wholes of extremely sensitive harmonic relations whose compositions spoke of an inclination toward creating intimate micro-projects within the meaningful stratum of the work. A few younger artists showed a tendency toward reduced geometric modules executed by means of contemporary technologies (to the extent possible in these circumstances and this environment) and organised in installations invading the entire exhibition space. On the other hand, much larger than these extra-pictorial operations was the production of painters who fostered the already rooted inclination toward scenes, narration and anecdote, often in the classical categories of portrait, self-portrait, urban exterior scenes and motives transposed from mass media models, now imbued and filled with the moods, even psychoses of these difficult circumstances. The Early Nineties exhibition demonstrated that the then as well as the present alarming state of the overall crises of the milieu did not shake the foundations, did not hurt or damage the awareness of the nature of contemporary artistic languages, of their immanent autonomy. That awareness was not only saved but also strengthened, particularly by the energy of young artists, those who did not have any other choice but to begin then, to continue and sustain, at all costs, their artistic activity.

The Priority of Form and the New Spirituality of the Art of the Nineties[4]

Ivan Ilić, Bez naziva / Without Title, 1995.

The request for the priority of form in the art of the early nineties could remind one of the twenty years older request of Greenberg for "the necessity of formalism" (in his text "Necessity of Formalism", 1972). There the leading American representative of high Modernism propounded the "standards and levels of quality" in the then current artistic production in which such standards and levels were no longer justifiable and supportable. Greenberg also made an additional essential remark: "The quality, the aesthetic value, originate in inspiration, vision, "contents", not form". The demand for the priority of form in our art of the first half of the nineties was also not devoid of the priority of the meaning and content of a work of art, the priority found in the term new spirituality as a characteristic and a model, necessary more than ever before in the present overall critical situation. The concept of new spirituality, therefore, has no stylistic features, it permits very broad linguistic solutions, and basically assumes a condensed, sober, discreet, contemplative plastic discourse as shaped in the practice of young artists from the beginning of the nineties in simple natural or industrial materials (new sculpture) or relatively developed technological procedures (technospiritual art). In all of the solutions where one can discern or recognise the art of this new spirituality one deals with the art inclined toward a concentrated representational thinking, with the art which keeps and protects its own autonomy, finally, with the art which wants to be (and really is) simply valuable and full of quality, pure and sound, contrary to the flood of diverse phenomena to which the falsely understood notion of pluralism has opened the doors ajar. To remain (and survive) outside the ruling artistic system is no easy task for a number of artists, particularly the young ones, and primarily for financial reasons, which provoke ethical dilemmas and resistance. However, it is encouraging that the majority of these artists make their choice and resolutions by evading the global critical situation, avoiding concessions or compromises, maintaining the important demand for a new spirituality in art, demonstrated in the priority attributed to form as the fundamental fact which has supported both the language and the discourse of plastic arts throughout the history of Modernism as well as today.



1 Filiberto Menna, Moderni projekat umetnosti (Modern Project in Art), Press Express, Beograd, 1992 (translation by Dejan Ilic, afterward by J. Denegri). By the same author: "Odbrana modernog projekta" (A Defense of the Modern Project), Moment 23-24, Beograd 1992 (1995); "Obnova modernog projekta" (A Revival of the Modern Project), Dizajn 20-24, Beograd, 1992; "Nezavrseni projekt" (An Unfinished Project), Pobjeda 9791, Podgorica, March 1993; "Aktualizacija modernog projekta" (Making the Modern Project Relevant), Kosava 17, Vrsac, May 1994.

2 Dimitrijevic-Naskovski-Pilipovic, catalogue prefaces for the exhibitions in the Cultural Centre, Pancevo, April-May 1992, and the Gallery of the Students Cultural Centre, Beograd, November-December 1992; "The Theme Mondrian", Rec 10, Beograd, June 1995.

3 The Early Nineties: the Belgrade Artistic Scene, catalogue for the exhibition The Early Nineties: the Yugoslav Artistic Scene, Novi Sad, Galerija savremene likovne umetnosti, August-September 1993; "The Early Nineties", Pobjeda 10005, Podgorica, October 1993; "The Art of Meagre Times", Projekat 3, Novi Sad, July 1994; "Belgrade: the Art of the Nineties", Eterna 1, Beograd, Spring-Summer 1994; "The Artistic Scene of the Nineties: Expecting a Total Revival", Zlatno oko 1, Novi Sad, September 1994.

4 The priority of Form and the New Spirituality of the Art of the Nineties, catalogue of the First Yugoslav Biennial of the Young, Vrsac, July-August 1994; "The Priority of Form and the Revived Spirituality in the Art of the Nineties: Mirjana Djordjevic and Ivan Ilic", Transkatalog, 2-3, Novi Sad, Summer 1995; Ivan Ilic, ed. Studentski kulturni centar, Beograd, November 1994;"Technospiritual", Rec 15, Beograd, November 1995.

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