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Postal Packages by Želimir Koščević

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Date: 1972

Place: Student Center Gallery, Zagreb

Curator: Želimir Koščević

Participants: undisclosed mail art works by international artists

The exhibition “Postal Packages” (1972) was a culmination of curatorial experiments that Želimir Koščević, the director of the Student Center Gallery in Zagreb, realized in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 1 In collaboration with the 1971 Paris Biennial, which was dedicated for the first time to Conceptual art, the exhibition presented the biennial’s “mail art” section to Yugoslav audiences in Belgrade and Zagreb.2 However, after taking the exhibition from Belgrade, where it was held in January 1972, to Zagreb, Koščević decided to exhibit nothing but the unopened package in which the works arrived. This disobedient gesture indicated that the role and responsibility of the curator was not merely to choose and exhibit, but also to choose to refuse to exhibit. The exhibition was accompanied with a statement in which Koščević rejected the commodification and institutionalization of Conceptual art. The fact that Conceptual art had become so innocuous to be included in a biennial, as the most conventional exhibition form, meant for Koščević the beginning of its demise:

“Unconventional, brave and provocative, conceptual art has witnessed its own history by the establishment of a special section at the Paris Biennial. There were also earlier attempts, as some museums and corporations have tried to systematize artistic concepts and reduce them to the level of catalogued data. Many artists accepted this game. The positive valorization of the Paris Biennial officially marked the end of the life of this idea which, at its core, is not foreign or unacceptable to us.”3

Instead of offering the (local, peripheral) audience insight into the latest international trends, Koščević intervened with a sharp critique of the ways in which the radical ideas of Conceptual art have been undermined by their conforming to the conventional rules of art’s institutionalization:

“Instead of participating in the further deterioration of conceptual art, instead of supporting its demise under the gallery and museum lights, we have exhibited the content of this exhibition in its genuine state. We have exhibited—we believe —the sublimate of conceptual art—the postal package as postal package. […] Art is not to be found under a glass, under a glass bell, art is facing us.”4

In the Student Center Gallery’s newspaper, documenting the exhibition, this text by Koščević was juxtaposed to an excerpt from the original statement by one of the curators of the Paris Biennial. Stressing the primacy of the idea over matter in Conceptual art, the curatorial statement presented the Envoi (“postal packages”) section of the Biennial as a prime example of the radically new, dematerialized understanding of the art object, in which the “transmitting of information has become more important than transporting goods.”.5 Koščević’s intervention—the exhibiting of “the postal package as postal package”—appropriates the original title of the biennial section and puts into question the validity of the claims made by the biennial organizers, of the primacy of information (idea) over matter. The cumbersome, unopened package placed in the center of the gallery space epitomized the true state of affairs behind the claims of the art’s dematerialization, revealing that the “transport of goods” was still the undisturbed kernel of the art system.

Document: Exhibition-statement by Želimir Koščević

Guide for the chronology (Ivana Bago: Something to think about: values and valeurs of visibility in Zagreb from 1961 to 1986)

 1 See Ivana Bago, “Dematerialization and Politicization of the Exhibition: Curation As Institutional Critique in Yugoslavia during the 1960s and 1970s,” in Museum and Curatorial Studies Review, vol. 2, no. 1: 7—37; [link].

2 The biennial consisted of several thematic sections, tracing the variety and novelty of artistic approaches and media, emerging with conceptual art. The section Envoi (Postal Packages), focused on postal communication as a new artistic medium, as well as a way of creating social and aesthetic networks, traversing the borders. See Jean-Marc Poinsot’s “La communication à distance et l’objet esthétique,” accessible on: The exhibition “Postal Packages” was first presented at the Belgrade Student Cultural Center in January 1972, after which it was supposed to open in Zagreb. See Ješa Denegri, “Sekcija «poštanskih pošiljki» sa VII Bijenala mladih u Parizu,” [The “postal packages” section from the 7th Youth Biennial in Paris], in Studentski kulturni centar kao umjetnička scena (Belgrade: Studentski kulturni centar, 2003), 2729.

3 The statement was published in the gallery’s newspaper Novine Galerije SC (Student Center gallery newspaper), (March 1972): 135. Translated from the Croatian by the author.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid. The text is in an excerpt from Jean-Marc Poinsot’s “La communication à distance et l’objet esthétique,” (See note 2).

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Lines – exhibition curated by Branka Stipančić

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Date: December 1979

Curated by: Branka Stipančić

Participants: Željko Jerman, Željko Kipke, Antun Maračić, Marijan Molnar, Goran Petercol, Darko Šimičić, Raša Todosijević

Location: Podroom—the Working Community of Artists, Mesnička 12, Zagreb

“Lines” was the second curatorial concept the art historian Branka Stipančić presented at Podroom (Basement)—the Working Community of Artists in Zagreb. Podroom, a self-organized artist space that existed between 1978 and 1980, brought together Zagreb artists associated with the “new art practice” (conceptual, performative, and process-based art of the late 1960s and ’70s in Yugoslavia).1 Most exhibitions and events were organized by artists. The two exhibitions organized by Stipančić in 1979—“Values” and “Lines”—were exceptional. They were the first two curated projects by Stipančić, a then emerging art critic and curator. For both projects, she was concerned with finding an appropriate mode of exhibition that would communicate the basic problems and meaning of the new Conceptual art to the public.

In particular, “Lines” was conceived explicitly as a didactic exhibition. In the introductory text of the accompanying catalogue, Stipančić states that she is exhibiting a “method,” a particular mode that would enable those unfamiliar with the “new art” to understand its radical departure from traditional ways of making art.2 By showing the exhibition in Podroom, the curator admitted that she was preaching to the converted, and that the exhibition would better achieve its didactic purpose in another space, such as a university.

But how was this lesson delivered (i.e., curated)? All works included in the exhibition involved a single element: a straight line drawn on a flat plane. This uniform visual identity was chosen, on the one hand, for its simplicity and the narrow range of metaphorical implications it potentially draws, and on the other, because it exposed the inadequacy and absurdity of the method of conventional formal analysis when applied to the new art. Stipančić elaborated, with humor, the likely results of such a conventional reading, if applied to the works she presented:

“By selecting artworks that resemble one another, what is revealed is the absurdity of the attempt to read the ‘new artistic practice’ by means of the existing formal, aesthetic, value-based criteria of traditional art criticism and theory. If we would proceed by such method, here we would find ten (and more, because these are merely examples) of the same visual contributions, i.e., a multitude of plagiarisms, pointing to a troubling tendency among young artists, who would seem to have found their expression in drawing and exhibiting lines.”3

Instead, new art required new tools of critical interpretation, as well as new methods of curation. Stipančić showed that the same visual element—a straight line—was in fact not at all the same, but acquired new meaning in each artistic iteration, with each change of idea, motivation, process, and context. Ultimately, what was revealed was not the work as a mere visual and aesthetic fact but “the work as a specific system within the system of art and society.”4 In order to make this as explicit as possible, Stipančić decided to exhibit each of the artworks with an accompanying text written by the artist to explain the particular concepts, processes, and intended meanings pertaining to the work. The most comprehensive and theoretical text “What Are Lines?” (1977) by Raša Todosijević explained the artist’s continuous engagement with the line-form since 1973, as a way to question “art by means of art.” Stipančić’s concept could be considered a translation of Todosijević’s artistic process into a curatorial one, into questioning the meaning and function of exhibition by means of exhibition.

Document: Branka Stipančić: Lines (1979)

Guide for the chronology (Ivana Bago: Something to think about: values and valeurs of visibility in Zagreb from 1961 to 1986)

1 For an account of Podroom, see Ivana Bago,  “A Window and a Basement: Negotiating Hospitality at La Galerie Des Locataires and Podroom—the Working Community of Artists,” ARTMargins, vol. 1, no. 2–3 (June–October 2012):116–46.

2 Branka Stipančić, Lines, exhibition catalogue (Zagreb: Podroom, 1979).

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

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