Postal Packages by Želimir Koščević
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.  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. 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.”
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.”
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.”. 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)
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].
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: http://www.archives.biennaledeparis.org/fr/1971/tex/poinsot.htm. 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), 27—29.
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.
Ibid. The text is in an excerpt from Jean-Marc Poinsot’s “La communication à distance et l’objet esthétique,” (See note 2).
Place: Student Center Gallery, Zagreb
Curator: Želimir Koščević
Participants: undisclosed mail art works by international artists