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Drangularijum – Ready-Made Exhibition or Peoples’ Curio Cabinet

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Date: June 22–30, 1971

Participants: Marina Abramović, Josif Alebić, Bojan Bem, Radomir Damjanović Damnjan, Bora Iljovski, Stevan Knežević, Stojan Kovačević-Grande, Slobodan Milivojević-Era, Milija Nešić, Dušan Otašević, Neša Paripović, Zoran Popović, Radomir Reljić, Halil Tikveša, Raša Todosijević, Gergelj Urkom

Art critics and curators (authors of catalogue texts): Bojana Pejić, Biljana Tomić, Ješa Denegri

Catalogue design: Raša Todosijević

Editor of Visual Arts Program of SKC: Dunja Blažević

Location: Student Cultural Center (SKC) gallery, Belgrade

Drangularijum (meaning the collection of small and curious things, Trinketarium, drangulija = a trinket) was one of the constitutive exhibitions from the early history of the Student Cultural Center (SKC) gallery in Belgrade that determined the future work and orientation of the space. The exhibition was significant in terms of its break from the dominant exhibition practice in local art institutions, which normally followed the modernist canon of the great-artist-and-his-work and celebrated the work of art “made by artists’ hand.” Instead, Drangularijum offered a “ready-made exhibition,” a display of already existing objects that were in a different sense—intimate, conceptual, or humorous—linked to the context of artistic life. The artists were invited to exhibit “things” that were dear to them. This idea was the collective conceptual proposition developed during the sessions of the gallery’s Redakcija (redaction, or the editorial board of the gallery). Answering the call to artists to “contribute anything that represented themselves and their own creativity or work,” quite a diverse selection of objects were brought into the gallery and made into an exhibition.

The collective and experimental character of the project makes it difficult to clearly locate the identity and authorship of an exhibition curator, in the contemporary sense of the term. According to some, the idea came from Raša Todosijević; according to others, Zoran Popović was unofficially the central proponent of the project. Curators and art critics Jerko Denegri, Bojana Pejić, and Biljana Tomić wrote in the accompanying catalogue, explaining the exhibition concept—so it can be said that they articulated how to read the show, while Dunja Blažević operated as the editor of the gallery program, having a crucial influence to the general tendencies of the gallery.

Drangularijum fostered a research-based and experimental exhibition practice in the newly opened space for young cultural practitioners. Pejić wrote in the exhibition catalogue: “The conception of Drangularijum is not new. Similar exhibitions do happen in the world, and there are now some individual attempts here as well. Drangularijum does not want to be new and original. It is just the first seriously organized presentation of this kind in our city. […] It should have happened much earlier if we haven’t been under the pressure of financing all the time. […] Drangularijum is a challenge. It is an attempt to introduce uneasiness or provocation in the static atmosphere of Belgrade gallery life. […] Drangularijum does not want to show anything beautiful, characteristic or likeable. Drangularijum does not cuddle your gaze or warm your heart.”1

The exhibition exposed the new character of artist: not the artist as creator, but as the personality behind the work (with no desire to fetishize personality, artistic life, or life itself). Drangulija (a small and curious thing) was the mediator of this new approach. Denegri wrote: “Instead of emphasizing the privileged position of artistic work with the help of the artificially built scale of aesthetic values, what happens nowadays is direct manifestation of artistic motivation from occasional transient and intense moments of human behavior. […] These tendencies lead towards the proximity, almost to equalization of artistic and life content—the art will survive only if it manages to conquest the maximum of reality, which is still outside of art. […] The artists who accepted participation in this exhibition have accepted at the same time the challenge of checking and investigating their own professional and social status.” 


1 All quotations in this section are from the accompanying exhibition catalogue to Drangularijum.


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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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Objects and Projects – Exhibition of the ‘Belgrade Six’ (Collective Practice and Individual Authorships)

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Date: October 9, 1971 (exhibition opening)

Participants: Marina Abramović, Slobodan Milivojević – Era, Neša Paripović, Zoran Popović, Raša Todosijević, Gergelj Urkom and Evgenija Demnijevska

Location: Student Cultural Center (SKC) gallery, Belgrade

The exhibition Objects and Projects by its very title demonstrates the shift from object-based art to project-based art, characteristic of the new paradigm of contemporary art. Together with Drangularijum and At Another Moment, it represents one of the first exhibitions of New Art realized within the SKC gallery space. Held in 1971, it was also the first exhibition to present the work of the so-called Belgrade Six artists1—Marina Abramović, Slobodan Milivojević-Era, Neša Paripović, Zoran Popović, Raša Todosijević, and Gergelj Urkom. They participated in the SKC collective and communitarian life embodied in the work of the gallery’s editorial board (Redakcija, or redaction), but they also pursued individual artistic carriers. This tendency was supported by the same generation of critics and art historians who profiled the work of Belgrade Six artists within the classical discourse on “grand authors,” this time the representatives of New Art Practices.2

Programmatically and ideologically, the Objects and Projects differs from the rather horizontal and participatory form of “playful collective practice” manifested by the exhibition Drangularijum, presented just a few months before. It makes the shift from an inclusive model of experimental exhibitions by young artists gathered around SKC gallery toward a more professional, individualistic, and conceptually articulated form of New Art. This shift mirrored the attitudes and ambivalences inscribed into the “experimental institutionalism” of SKC since the very beginning. In my introductory text to this exhibition chronology I examine this specific modus operandi where simultaneity of horizontal and vertical forms of organization blur the possibility for more experimental exhibitions to be clearly situated on either side of the binary opposition between institutional versus self-organized. This ambivalent situation is also captured in the documentary photographic material of the SKC artistic community (analyzed in the introductory text), which is simbolically, in terms of cultural representation, connected to two different modes of presentation of art and institutional practice exemplified by Drangularijum and Objects and Projects. The collectivity of te SKC artistic community is represented in Milan Jožić’s famous photo of people “who used to be there” (in SKC), “who used to be that institution” (the photo is reproduced in the introduction text). The second photo by Jožić, made during the same session, represented the six most distinguished artists in the eye of art critics and curators of the time—the photo of the Belgrade Six (the photo can be found among the images accompanying this article).

A larger selection of photographs from the opening and closing of the exhibition Objects and Projects can be found in the archive of SKC here.


1 The name “Belgrade Six” is the mirror-term of the name of the group of Six Artists – Zagreb, which is established little before and named as the group of Six Artists by artists themselves. The term “Belgrade Six” is coined by the critics who probably aimed at connecting alternative art scene of Belgrade and Zagreb and establishing visible parallels in contemporary art developments in the two biggest centers of culture in Yugoslavia of the time. The term “Belgrade Six” operated among the local critics and art historians both colloquially and formally. As difference from Zagreb’s group of Six Artists the term Belgrade Six is used without the prerogative of the “group,” rather, it signified “the generation of individual artists.”

2 Starting the first historicization of the New Art Practice in Yugoslavia, the Belgrade Six Artists appear as the main protagonists of the SKC art scene in both critical writing and historical exhibition records. We can trace this history from the Documents on Post-Object Phenomena in Yugoslav Art 19681973, curated by Ješa Denegri in the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1973 (its summary can be read here), to more elaborate exhibitions such as: New Art Practice in Yugoslavia 1966-1878, curated by Marijan Susovski in the Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, 1978 (the introduction can be read here), or New Art in Serbia 19701980, curated by Ješa Denegri and presented in 1983 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, and Art Gallery, Prishtina.


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Oktobar 75 – An Example of Counter-Exhibition (Statements on Artistic Autonomy, Self-management and Self-Critique)

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Date: October 1975

Participants: Dunja Blažević, Ješa Denegri, Goran Đorđević, Vladimir Gudac, Bojana Pejić, Zoran Popović, Jasna Tijardović, Slavko Timotijević, Raša Todosijević, Dragica Vukadinović

Location: Student Cultural Center (SKC) gallery, Belgrade

The Oktobar events at SKC1 presented vital moments of linguistic-political forming and development of New Art Practices2 in Belgrade during the first half of the 1970s. SKC gallery was regularly organizing alternative Oktobars” as a sort of oppositional, counter-cultural activity to the official art event called October Salon, which contained the conventional (bourgeois) prerogative of a salon, and was following l’art pour l’art (“art for art’s sake”) trends of late modernist aesteticism. At that time, October Salons were being held annually at the Modern Gallery located in a former garage on Masarykova Street, opposite to the SKC building and in a sense, SKC’s Oktobars literally operated as a sort of “door-to-door” counter-salon.

Oktobar 75 was (self-)organized as a participatory project in which the community of cultural workers—art critics, curators, and artists gathered around SKC gallery—decided to publish a series of individual critical statements on the concept of self-managing art. For the opening night, the gallery was left empty: the only “object” was small table, with a pile of stapled A4-size publications with the designed print Oktobar 75 on the front page (the print can be seen among the pictures accompanying this article). In other words, what makes this project a counter-exhibition is the very decision by SKC’s artistic community to not to show the artworks as objects of contemplation, but to use the gallery space to present their individual statements and texts that comprise the hectograph notebook, Oktobar 75.

The topic of art and self-management corresponded with the ideological program of Workers’ Self-Management that was part the official state politics of socialist Yugoslavia, initially developed by the prominent politician, economist, and intellectual Edvard Kardelj.3 However, counter to all possible “literal” translations from the sphere of politics to the sphere of art and vice versa, the issue of self-management art in the Oktobar 75 debate didn’t remain closed within the circle of ongoing discussions about workers self-management in state institutions and in the production sector, which were often occupied by bureaucratic questions. It is equally worth mentioning that the Oktobar 75 debate hasn’t been considered a straightforward, frontal critique of the state (cultural) apparatus on behalf of an alternative art practice. The issue of self-management actually evolved here into the larger debate on the politicization of cultural activity, and the experimental change of the language of art with the emergence of the new paradigms of Conceptual art and New Art Practice.

Many of the texts published in Oktobar 75 explored the relationships between the autonomy of art and artistic engagement in specific ideological and institutional constellations along the line of political division of the world into the socialist East and the capitalist West, and their dominant ideological worldviews about what art should be and what culture should represent. Taking into account the specificities of Yugoslav self-managed society, but also its shared viewpoints with sometimes Eastern, sometimes Western ideologies, the real cultural political target of Oktobar 75 became the bourgeois institution of art and its preservation within “the official” institutions of culture, mostly located centrally in Belgrade, as the capital of former Yugoslavia. Socialist self-management was applied rather generally and routinely in the actual practices of various artistic associations and public cultural institutions. The institutions at the time enjoyed the program of a “relative autonomy of culture” and the official state policy can be described in terms of a generalized modernist tendency that was often defined as socialist modernism in the field of visual art. The Oktobar 75 collection of statements showed how nominally progressive socialist modernist tendency advocated by the Yugoslav state in the very practice proved itself as the conservative one. Oktobar 75 directly criticized the aspect of art management that neutralizes the political through the use of abstraction and modernist abstract forms, enclosed into the traditional bourgeois structure of the “admiration of precious objects.” Let’s hear some voices of the original participants of the event.

 

Oktobar 75 (excerpts)

Art should be changed! As long as we leave art alone and keep on transferring works of art from studios to depots and basements by means of social regulations and mechanisms, storing them, like stillborn children, for the benefit of our cultural offspring, or while we keep on creating, through the private market, our own variant of the nouveau riche or Kleinbürger, art will remain a social appendage, something serving no useful purpose, but something it is not decent or cultured to be without.

THE SELF-MANAGING SYSTEM OF FREE EXCHANGE AND ASSOCIATION OF LABOUR THROUGH SELF-MANAGING COMMUNITIES OF INTEREST REPRESENTS A NEW NON-OWNERSHIP RELATIONSHIP that examines and revises the existing models of artistic work and behavior.

Dunja Blažević, curator of the SKC gallery

The ballast of the past is such that we, who have different social circumstances today, and therefore greater possibilities for ANOTHER ART, are incapable of understanding correctly society’s need for art. Even though we have perceived that the classical antagonism of class provenance concerning the division into two “types” of labour should be overcome, even though art has the status of an equal-footing phenomenon in society, that same art, endangered and confined for centuries, is showing its old class face again.

Only when we really come to understand that art is a SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE ACT, the same as any other social act, shall we be able to say that art has finally been released from its decorative authority.

Bojana Pejić, associate curator of SKC

A continual wish for a total autonomy of art is nothing else but its effort to attain a self-conscious and efficient functioning within the framework of its own language.

It is only when functioning as a critique and self-analysis of its own language that art is capable of raising the issue of the analysis and critique of social practice and demanding its change.

Art that celebrates victory stops fighting.

Raša Todosijević, artist

Art must be negative, critical, both towards the external world and in relation to its own language, its own (artistic) practice. It is pointless and hypocritical to be engaged, to speak and act in the name of some humanity, of mankind, political and economic freedoms, and to remain passive on the other hand in relation to the system of “universal” artistic values, the system that is the basic prerequisite of the existence of artistic bureaucracy, and therefore of the outrageous robbery perpetrated by star artists.

Zoran Popović, artist

The alternative October events at SKC, as we may conclude from the reading of excerpts from the statements of the participants of Oktobar 75, have functioned not only as a response of one exhibition to another one (i.e. the larger October Salon exhibition), or as an act of confrontation between the “official” and “alternative” cultural spheres, but also as an effort at building a different perspective on art and artistic activity, which is based on the processes of democratization of the production and reception of art. Art critic and curator Jasna Tijardović, who advocated different informal and anti-disciplinary behavior in the gallery space,4 metaphorically named this new, democratic practice of art the utopia of hectographs,5 which for her became a brand mark of the art of SKC, and of many other critical approaches within Conceptual art. The utopia of hectographs would thereby encompass all of those artistic forms that emerged from the student protests and the corpus of “poor art,” which refused to be a social luxury or a precious object, striving instead to become a reflection of one’s (political) position or the attitude.

Oktobar 75—a declaratively critical counter-exhibition—can be seen as a window for looking at one of SKC’s many “characteristic faces” cohabiting its permeable institutional walls. It shows the “face” of the critique of the Yugoslav socialist state from the leftist, Marxist positions that emerged in the circles of the student protests of 1968 with the slogan (which is tautological at the first glance): fighting socialism with socialism. That characteristic face of criticism can be recognized in the institutional politics of SKC’s first director, Petar Ignjatović, and the artistic politics of Dunja Blažević, the first editor of the SKC gallery art program.

There are two explanations for the initiation of Oktobar 75. One is connected to a broader international climate of political art and the questioning of the legacy of late modernism. In this context I should mention the influence of the group Art & Language, who were in contact and collaboration with Zoran Popović and Jasna Tijardović, and who came to SKC in early October 1975 to organize a symposium on the political engagement of art. The seminar consequently led to the “localization” of the questions on art and politics and focusing to the practice of self-management within the community of artists, critics, and curators gathered around the SKC gallery. The second explanation is connected to Dunja Blažević’s personal and political inclinations toward rethinking the actual social transformations within Yugoslav society, and her interests and beliefs in the politics of socialist self-management. This explanation, of course, places Blažević in the position of curator of the event, with which she completes her five-year work as the head of the SKC gallery,6 after which the management of the visual arts program is delegated to the curator Biljana Tomić, who would choose a different cultural and political approach.7

According to the protagonists of the SKC scene, some of the artists and critics refused Blažević’s proposal for Oktobar 75 as “a form of collaboration with the regime in power” (since that was a time when the duty of citizens was to express their opinion about self-management as “the optimal social system” practiced in various types of institutions, from factories and schools to cultural institutions), but numerous actors of the SKC community accepted the challenge, using the theme as a starting point for exploring some fundamental issues related to the social role of art.

Oktobar 75 was documented in the form of a publicly distributed notebook—a hectographed reader with texts written by all participants on the project in the form of proclamations or statement-essays. Some of these texts were republished in the journal Književna reč, and provoked a public polemic in the official press. Moreover, some of the texts in Oktobar 75 were presented and performed (read) by their writers in the Vertovian documentary Cinema Notes by German director Lutz Becker. In the film, Becker portrays the artists, curators, and art critics as cultural workers by juxtaposing the performance of individual statements written for the reader of Oktobar 75 with other narratives or gestural expressions of various people involved in SKC, including some who had refused to participate in Oktobar 75. The film speaks of SKC as a production site, a gallery-as-a-factory that, instead of an idealistic picture of modernization and industrialization with its glorification of production and its ideology of hyper-productive work, enthusiastically produces the ideology of not-doing and not-working—the fetish of contemplation.

Documents:

The translated version of the script Oktobar 75 from the notebook in the exhibition SKC in ŠKUC: The Case of SKC in the 1970s by Prelom Kolektiv can be downloaded here: prelomkolektiv.org/pdf/catalogue.pdf.

My essay with the title “SKC as a Site of Performative (Self-)Production: October 75 – Institution, Self-Organization, First-Person Speech, Collectivization” closely examines the political intervention of the SKC in the institutional landscape and the art system of the time by using the counter-exhibition Oktobar 75 as the case study. The essay, available in both Croatian and English, was originally published in the Zagreb-based journal Život umjetnosti and can be downloaded here


1 Starting in 1972, Oktobar events took place annually over the month of October, and were diverse in format and content.

2 The term New Art Practices was introduced by art historian Ješa Denegri, who closely cooperated with the community gathered around SKC in Belgrade. For the further explanation of the term, see my introduction text into the exhibition chronology: The Student Cultural Centre (SKC) as the Art Scene (especially the footnote 3).

3 For better understanding of Kardelj’s position I’m quoting one of his famous statements: “As far as Yugoslavia is concerned, the choice is not between multiparty pluralism or a one-party system, but rather between self-management, i.e. the democratic system of pluralism of self-management interests, or the multiparty system which negates self-management. […] The pluralism of interests is incomparably closer to the individual and immeasurably more democratic than any form of political party pluralism which alienates society as a whole from the real man and citizen, even though it decides ostensibly on behalf of the citizen.” Edvard Kardelj, Self-Management and the Political System (Belgrade: Socialist Thought and Practice, 1981). A recent study on Yugoslav self-management available online: Gal Kirn, From the Primacy of Partisan Politics to the Post-Fordist Tendency in Yugoslav Self-Management Socialism, http://p-dpa.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Kirn-post_fordism_and_its-discontents.pdf.

4 For contextualisation of Tijardović’s position see my introduction text to the exhibition chronology: The Student Cultural Centre (SKC) as the Art Scene.

5 Jasna Tijardović, the conversation with the author conducted on the occasion of the research of Oktobar 75 in August 2012.

6 Dunja Blažević was the curator of the SKC gallery until the end of 1975. In 1976 she became director of SKC, but also participates in different ongoing programs (see the chronology on Comrade Woman conference as an examples).

7 The art and exhibition policy of Biljana Tomić can be traced in this archive through the projects of promotion of New Art Practice in the Tribune of Youth (Novi Sad), BITEF Festival (Belgrade), early exhibitions in Museum of Contemporary Art (with Ješa Denegri), participation in various SKC programs before she became the head of the SKC gallery in 1976 and later, through her exhibition projects and participation with Group 143.


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Works and Words – Early critiques of the discourse of Eastern European Art

Author:
Keywords: , ,

Date: 20-30 September 1979

Location: De Appel Foundation, Amsterdam

Curators: Frank Gribling, Josine van Droffelaar

Participating artists and critics: Aalders Franklin, Abramovic Marina, Andel Jaroslav, Attalai Gabor, Bartos Peter, Belic Zoran, Beres Jerzy, Body Gabor, Cardena Warming Up…., Demur  Boris, Denegri Jesa, Djordjevic Goran, Nusa & Sreco Dragan, Durcek Lubomir, Dziamski  Grzegorz, Erdely Miklos, Galeta Ladislav, Gotovac Tomislav, Antje von Graevenitz, Gribling  Frank, Grinberg Bucky, Gudac Vladimir, Hajas Tibor, Haka Janusz, Halasz Karoly, Havrilla  Vladimir, Hawley Martha, Hay Agnes, Hegyi Lorand, Hoover Nan, Ivekovic Sanja, Jenssen  Servie, Jaworski Cezary, Jovanovics Gyorgy, Jozwiak Jacek, Karolyi Zsigmond, Kelemen Karoly, Kern Michal, Knizak Milan, Koller Julius, Konart Tomasz, Kostovowski Andrzej, Kovanda Jiri, Harrie de Kroon, Kutera Romuald, Kwiek Pawel, Kwiek Przemyslaw & Kulik Zofia, Lachowicz  Andrzej, Leering Jean, LL Natalia, Marroquin Raul, Martinis Dalibor, Maurer Dora, Mikolajcick Antoni, Miler Karel, Mlcoch Jan, Mrozek Lech, Murak Teresa, Paruzel Andrzej, Peeters Sef, Pinczehelyi Sandor, Pogacnic Marco, Reindeer Werk, Richter Jaroslav, Robakowski Jozef, Sikorski Tomasz, Sosnowski Teresa / Zdzislaw, Stilinovic Mladen, Stembera Petr, Straus Tomas, Susovski Marijan, Szczerek Janusz, Sziranyi Istvan, Todosijevic Rasa, Tomic Biljana, Tot Endre, Ulay, Valoch Jiri, Veto Janos, Warpechowski Zbigniew, Wasko Ryszard, Albert van der Weide, Zarebski Krzysztov, Zbornik Dobra.

The exhibition Works and Words, organized in Amsterdam’s De Appel Foundation, in the words of it’s organizers aimed at “creating confrontation between artists who share a common sensibility from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia and the Netherlands. It was a manifestation which focused on the dialectical interaction of reflection and action, of works and words”.[1] The exhibition program and information on participants can be found in the original leaflet attached here, while De Appel archive provides a short description, accompanied by several images and videos. 

At the first glance, Works and falls out of the story on different aesthetical-political positions and trajectories of New Art in Student Cultural Center – Belgrade (SKC), which is the main theme of the selection of projects presented in this archive. The exhibition, presented in 1979, approaches this field of observation laterally, as it has to do with the various developments (’the works and words’) of certain artists and critics from former Yugoslavia [2] who participated in the program of SKC or who were broadly connected with the SKC ideosphere [3].

However, what is more interesting within the context of this archival presentation is that the participation of Yugoslav Artists – and protagonists of SKC scene in particular – had intervened within the conceptual framework of exhibition-in-the-process-of-making. The exhibition was initially conceived as presentation of Eastern European Art, as an event that accumulates its curiousness in the very fact that it presents the art from ‘behind the Iron Curtain’, as ‘something that is rarely seen abroad’, thus offering the presentation context that ‘covers’ the reality of singular artworks by grouping them behind the monolithic banner of dissident art. Some of the artists gathered around the SKC gallery expressed their disagreement with such idea of presentation. They perceived it as an act of ‘closing particular works by individual artists into an uniform ghetto’, and requested more equality with the Western art context by problematizing its ‘exclusive’ right to recognition of singular artistic positions. Goran Đorđević, who used to exhibit in SKC from 1973-1985[4], wrote to exhibition organizers about how such an international context of exhibiting, based on the mimicry of the cold-war geopolitical agenda, actually becomes the only context of presentation on offer for the artists coming from Eastern Europe. Đorđević’s answer to invitation letter summarized some of the critiques coming from the side of Yugoslav participants: “They (The artists from Eastern Europe) are practically forced to accept any offer since these are rare occasions when their work has a recognized artistic status, and on the other hand, this exhibition should explicitly or implicitly reaffirm the ‘unlimited’ freedom of artistic activities and ‘universality’ of cultural/artistic practice of the West. In that way the significance of such ‘ghetto’ exhibition is mainly reduced to its political dimension (dissident, exotic), while the nature of the works themselves, their character and significance, are pushed to background.”[5] After receiving Đorđević’s letter, the exhibition curators changed the initial plan; they decided to avoid framing the exhibition within the expected geopolitical agenda and joined the previously separated group of artists from Netherlands to the general selection; they also have chosen the more ‘universal’ heading – Works and Words – as the exhibition title, and dropped the term of “East European” that was prominent in previous versions and propositions. The answer by curator Josine van Droffelaar is included in the photo selection of this article, while the letter by Đorđević is reproduced among archival documents.

The story behind the exhibition Works and Words is an interesting example, or a comment on the contemporary forms of representation of Eastern Europen art in the (former) West. This story announced in a way the re-introduction of the critique of the discourse of Eastern European art in theoretical and art-historical overviews of the exhibition history and art history that emerged after 1989. As for the generation of artists gathered around SKC gallery in the 1970s, the exhibition can be observed as the indicator of some of their positions towards the “outside”, towards the context of international presentation and participation in the politics of exhibiting and framing New Art in the European and global context.

 

[1] c.f. curatorial-editorial introduction text, Works and Words (exhibition catalog), De Appel 1980.

[2] i.e.  Marina Abramović, Biljana Tomić, Vladimir Gudac, Ješa Denegri, Raša Todisijević, Goran Đorđević, Tomislav Gotovac, Vladimir Gudac, Sanja Iveković, Marijan Susovski, Dalibor Martinis etc.

[3] The term Ideosphere is borrowed from the same-titled text by Rolan Barthes. Here in particular ‘SKC ideosphere’ refers to the institutional links between the Student Centers in Belgrade, Zagreb and later Ljubljana, and their various other official or self-organised art spaces supporting the work of young artists; it also refers to the personal relations and friendships among different artists, art groups or art couples living and working in various cities throughout Yugoslavia.

[4] Goran Đorđević leaves the artworld as individual artists in 1985, or – to term it in his own words – he ‘disappears as a character from the artistic scene’.

[5] From Đorđević’s letter to the organisers of the exhibition Works and Words.


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Lines – exhibition curated by Branka Stipančić

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Keywords: , , , , ,

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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