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The three exhibitions – Simultaneity of promotion and historization of New Art Practices (From Alternative Spaces to the Museum and Back)

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The Examples of Conceptual art in Yugoslavia

Dates: March 3–22, 1971

Curated by: Biljana Tomić and Ješa Denegri

Participants: OHO Group (Marko Pogačnik, David Nez, Milenko Matanović, Andraž Šalamun), Ljubljana; KOD Group (Mirko Radojčić, Slobodan Tišma, Miroslav Mandić, Slavko Bogdanović, Peđa Vranešević), Novi Sad; E Group (Ana Raković, Čedomir Drča, Vladimir Kopicl, Miša Živanović), Novi Sad; Dragan Srečo, Ljubljana; Braco Dimitrijević, Zagreb; Goran Trbuljak, Zagreb.

Location: Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade

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Young Artists and Young Critics 71

Date: 1972

Curated by: Jadranka Vinterhalter, Nikola Vizner, Slavko Timotijević, and Jasna Tijardović

Participants: Slobodan Milivojević-Era, Zoran Popović, Raša Todosijević, Gergelj Urkom, Miroslav Antić, Radovan Hiršl, Vladimir Jovanović, Boško Milenković, Branimir Mijušković, Marina Abramović, Neša Paripović, and Group E from Novi Sad, Group Bosh+Bosh from Subotica, and group A3 from Belgrade

Films by: Zoran Popović, Slobodan Milivojević, and Slavko Matković

Location: Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade

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Documents on Post-Object Phenomena in Yugoslav Art 19681973

Dates: June–July 1973

Curated by: Ješa Denegri and Biljana Tomić

Participants: OHO Group (Marko Pogačnik, David Nez, Milenko Matanović, Andraž Šalamun, Tomaž Šalamun, Nuša and Srečo Dragan), KOD Group (Mirko Radojčić, Slobodan Tišma, Miroslav Mandić, Slavko Bogdanović, Peđa Vranešević), Novi Sad; E Group (Peđa Vranešević, Vladimir Kopicl, Mirko Radojičić), Miroslav Šutelj, Ljerka Šibenik, Mladen Galić, Ante Kuduz, Josip Stošić, Boris Bućan, Dalibor Martinis, Sanja Iveković, Braco Dimitrijević, Jagoda Kaloper, Gorki Žuvela, Goran Trbuljak, Bosh+Bosh Group (Slavko Matković, Balint Szombathy, Laszlo Kerekes, Laszlo Szalma), Slobodan Milivojević-Era, Zoran Popović, Raša Todosijević, Gergelj Urkom, Marina Abramović, Radomir Damjanović Damnjan, A3 Group.

Location: Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade

 

The exhibitions The Examples of Conceptual Art in Yugoslavia, Young Artists and Young Critics 71, and Documents on Post-Object Phenomena in Yugoslav Art 19681973 took place between 1971 and 1973 in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, the most prestigious state institution of art. The three exhibitions can be seen as as a way of both promoting and systematizing (historicizing) the work of individual artists and artist groups operating in the context of Student Cultural Center (SKC) in Belgrade, or in other alternative youth centers in former Yugoslavia. In addition, these exhibitions displayed the interconnections, interdependence, and mutual dialogues happening between the official and alternative art scenes in former Yugoslav space, proving that alternative art was not being developed in isolation from the “general public” as a kind of dissident activity, but was precisely part of the same “public sphere,” as the critical, shifting voice of younger generations of artists.1 In that sense, this chapter of the selected exhibition chronology could also fall under the title From Alternative Spaces to the Museum and Back.

The first exhibition, The Examples of Conceptual art in Yugoslavia, took place in the Salon (gallery) of the Museum of Contemporary Art from March 3–22, 1971, and was curated by Biljana Tomić and Ješa Denegri. Conceptualized as an overview of the early examples of New Art Practices in the former Yugoslavia, the exhibition introduced Conceptual art to Belgrade cultural institutions for the first time. Precisely from this reason the exhibition was mainly structured around the issues of promotion, education, and information. It can be observed that the presentation of the Conceptual art scene in the Museum of Contemporary Art preceded three experimental exhibitions in SKC, which happened in the summer and autumn of the same year (Drangularijum, At Another Moment, and Objects and Projects). However, the SKC projects were always developed through the exchange within the editorial board of the gallery,2 which included the participation of Denegri and Tomić, among other artists and critics. Aside from her later SKC activities, Tomić was one of the most active exhibition makers and freelance curators who collaborated with the Tribune of Youth in Novi Sad and the Atelier 212 – BITEF program in Belgrade. Both institutions were promoting ideas of New Art and theory, including experimental film and performative practices.

Denegri, who was at the time working as young curator in the Museum of Contemporary Art was also involved in the independent exhibition practice as one of the main critics following the development of the scene of New Art in Yugoslav cultural space. In his catalogue text entitled “For the Possibility of One New Artistic Communication,” Denegri, in his particular art-historical manner, opens out the referential field for a better understanding of Conceptual art. He finds these references in the artistic tendencies of the historical avant-gardes of 1920s and ’30s (more specifically in Malevich’s abstraction, and in the nonaesthetic operations by Man Ray, Picabia, and Duchamp). The next historical moment overlaps with the experiments with immaterial in the radical modernist art practices of the 1950s and early ’60s (i.e., the work of Yves Klein and Piero Manzoni), which Denegri links with the contemporary theory on the dematerialization of art practice by Lucy R. Lippard. Finally, according to Denegri, the primary structures by Donald Judd and the theory of anti-form by Robert Morris were the last historical stages preceding the Conceptual art, bringing us back to the beginning of his text that opens with the quote from Sol LeWitt’s famous essay, “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art.

Tomić writes the curatorial statement comprising three conceptual arguments that comment on the processes through which ideas transform themselves into distributional forms (communication) and, consequently, into value (symbolic and financial capital):

idea = work of art = communication / idea = art = value / idea = utopia = reality

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The second exhibition witnessing on simultaneity of promotion and historization of the New Art Practices opened in February 1972 under the descriptive title Young Artists and Young Critics 71. As part of the regular program, annual presentations of new artworks by the latest generation of artists were organized at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Artists were usually selected by members of the museum’s curatorial council.3 This exhibition, however, was not curated by museum council members, but by four young critics broadly associated with SKC: Jadranka Vinterhalter, Nikola Vizner, Slavko Timotijević, and Jasna Tijardović. They selected eleven artists and artist groups, mostly strong proponents of New Art.

The then director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Miodrag B. Protić (himself a painter of geometrical abstraction), stated in the official introduction to the show’s accompanying catalogue: “We consider that bringing together young critics and young artists and facilitating their mutual collaboration fits the main intentions of the Museum: to truly discover new impulses within the youngest generation of artists and critics and enable the articulation of contemporary moment in its full force. […] This novum is not visible merely in the artworks, but also in the texts of the exhibition curators. And since this connection existing between the artistic piece and the intellectual comment by the critic of the same generation can be nothing else but fruitful collaboration, Museum considers the facilitation and support of these links as its responsibility and its obligation.”4

In contrast to the previous exhibition, curated by Denegri and Tomić as a self-initiated, authorial project, the exhibition Young Artists and Young Critics 71 was part of an official museum program. Compared to The Examples of Conceptual Art, the second exhibition was more heterogeneous and less “strict” in terms of the discourse of Conceptual art proper. It presented a variety of work by young artists of the time, and included installations, performances, experimental films, text-based works, conceptual materials, minimal and hyperrealist painting. Despite transgressing the “purity” of New Art in the exhibition plan, the curators emphasized some of the important changes in the language and the art form in the catalogue texts, in a similar educative manner as Denegri and Tomić had done for The Examples of Conceptual art.

Jadranka Vinterhalter stated that contemporary art stepped outside of the colored surface of painting and expanded into space and time, which requests from the observer not only a visual perception of the art piece but also a mental perception and engagement of the thought. Nikola Vizner emphasized that one of the main characteristics of the exhibition resided in the use of ephemeral materials, which meant that the upkeep of the artworks as “objects” existed only for the duration of the exhibition process—the majority of the work was dismantled (dematerialized) together with the exhibition. He also underlined four main characteristics of the exhibited artworks: “a) The artworks do not have a value per se, the value is created in the process of realization b) The ephemerality stresses the significance and value of the moment, of the present tense c) Reproductivity becomes the goal of the artwork d) The artwork does not request the physical presence of the author.”

In her catalogue text, Jasna Tijardović interpreted the exhibited artworks and revealed her views on contemporary exhibition practice. She wrote: “The exhibition should not serve as a confirmation of existing values, but should hint at the new ways of artistic behavior. It should be an experiment. […] The goal of exhibition is not in presentation of particular development or in sharing a certain style-characteristics of individuals or groups, but in becoming an expression of the present moment situated between the art and life.” Slavko Timotijević focused on the change in the position of the artist at that time, quoting the member of the KOD Group Peđa Vranešević, who claimed there was a shift in focus from the primacy of the artwork itself to the primacy of the person behind the work. Timotijević concluded that “the artist ceased to be just the ‘Hand of God’—the one who invokes and reinvigorates the memories—becoming instead, through the power to execute out of ideas, the very God itself.” All the remarks, as to be expected, overlap with the radical change in production of art in which conceptual proposition by an artist often resembles God’s creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”).

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Finally, the third exhibition, was curated by Denegri and Tomić and presented in the Museum of Contemporary Art between June and July 1973 under the title Documents On Post-Object Phenomena in Yugoslav Art 19681973. It was actually the first elaborate art-historical summary of New Art in a Yugoslav context, which preceded the two similarly comprehensive surveys of art of the 1960s and ’70s: the famous exhibition New Art Practice in Yugoslavia 19661878, curated by Marijan Susovski in the Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb in 1978;5 and the equally significant and much referenced 1983 exhibition New Art in Serbia 19701980, curated by Denegri and presented in three institutions, the Museum of Contemporary Art – Belgrade, Gallery of Contemporary Art – Zagreb, and Art Gallery – Prishtine.

Document: The summary of Denegri’s curatorial text, written for the catalogue of the exhibition Documents On Post-Object Phenomena in Yugoslav Art 19681973


1 More detailed comments on the complex relations of “the alternative” and “the official” sphere in the socialist Yugoslavia of 1960s and 1970s, especially in relation to the exhibition politics of Student Cultural Center (SKC) can be found in my introduction text to the exhibition chronology, “The Student Cultural Centre (SKC) as the Art Scene.”

2 The board of SKC was not an official body, but a spontaneous one. It included artistic community gathered around the gallery—artists, critics, and curators—who influenced the program by making suggestions and through discussion. They called themselves Redakcija (“redaction”). In contrast to other galleries and museums, in Yugoslavia and also abroad, where the program is planned well in advance, SKC had flexible programing. Although the programs were planned ahead, it was also possible to realize an idea for an exhibition or a discussion within the couple of days, instead of waiting for another year. The gallery, therefore, maintained certain responsiveness toward the flux of ideas and the actuality of social and artistic events.

3 Stated by Kustosko veće Muzeja savremene umetnosti – Beograd (Curatorial Council of Museum of Contemporary Art) in the press release for the exhibition (my translation).

4 All of the following quotations in this section are taken from the accompanying exhibition catalogue to Young Artists and Critics 71, published by the Museum of Contemporary Art in February 1972.

5 The introduction to the exhibition catalogue of New Art Practice in Yugoslavia 19661878 can be read here.


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AUTOBUS – A3: Action and Anonymous Attraction (Street Happenings and Rock Culture)

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Date: 1972-1973

Participants and organizers: A3 – Risto Banić, Mladen Jevđović, Dobrivoje Petrović, Nenad Petrović, Jugoslav Vlahović and Slavko Timotijević

Location: Belgrade, Zagreb, Novi Sad, Skoplje

The actionist exhibition Autobus by A3, performed in the Belgrade city center in 1973, presents one of the early examples of performative street action within the New Artistic Practices, affiliated with Student Cultural Centre – Belgrade (SKC). The A3 – The Group for Action and Anonymous Attraction worked together between 1970 and 1974 and its members were Risto Banić, Mladen Jevđović, Dobrivoje Petrović, Nenad Petrović, Jugoslav Vlahović and Slavko Timotijević (who joined later in 1972, and, as the only art historian among the members of the group, became important for the articulation and positioning of A3 exhibition work).

The A3 group have been less interested in the context provided by the Gallery of SKC; the space of their operation were rather the streets and city public space, or, in their own words – “the life itself”. Timotijević wrote: “The goal of the group was to produce attraction by means of a sudden, unexpected action”. The group always insisted on their intentionally marginal positioning and ephemeral works and actions, signing up as alternative or amateur actors on the scene of New Art and considering their work as part of broadly understood “rock culture”. The latest conclusion may also stem from the fact that the two members of the group – Dobrivoje Petrović and Jugoslav Vlahović – participated in the controversially perceived installment of the musical Kosa (Hair), taking place in Atelier 212 in 1970 (in which some of the actors occurred naked on the stage for the first time in Belgrade’s theatre) and played in different music bands of the time.

The action Autobus assumed the construction of wooden scaled model of a bus (200x400x150cm), which was handheld from the inside and “driven” by the walk of its passengers, while rolling on small wheels on the front and back. The point was to produce a social event or attraction by engaging “casual passengers” in ludistic dialogue and estranged behavior. Some of the casual participants of the action commented on the bus as a “hippie vehicle”, mocking its DIY structure and the look of artists, while others ironically prized this “ecological ride” due to its natural ventilation (being without glass on windows), the possibility of stretching the legs on the way to work and for the absence of the gas pollution. Participants were exhibited to each other, their comments were immaterially exhibited “in the air” of the city.

Autobus is a skeleton of the off the wall idea, a nutshell within the social idiocy of perfect industrialism and technocratism. By material unfinishedness and ideatory perfection Autobus enables involvement of its participants in the realization of the idea […]This is anti-autobus of the Traffic Enterprise A3, a children’s toy, the dream of children’s megalomania and manifestation of the desire for air-conditioning of the people during the summertime. Autobus offers freedom, enables creation of various versions of the idea, depending on the level of participation. By avoiding the possibility of one definite classification, the way to realization of the project is secured by the Tolerance. AUTOBUS IS TOLERANCE. As difference from static interventions in the urban space Autobus realizes as estranged appearance, visual unexpectability in the spatial circulation.

(exhibition statement of the A3 group)

Slavko Timotijević connects the work of A3 – The Group for action and anonimous attraction with the various forms of rock music, alternative theatre, fluxus mass culture, happening and street action: “It is the fact that the members of A3 have always been well informed about rock music and had a lot of conversations on that matters – we did rely on the sensibility brought about by rock culture. We didn’t have to play music in order to be a rock band. We were the rock band by itself.”


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