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Project Rastko


Sava Stepanov
Some Examples from the Art of Vojvodina

Višnja Petrović, Slika / Painting, 1996.

Unobtrusively and quietly the process of a renewal of the principles of modernism appeared in the Yugoslav art of the '90s. After a triumphal rule of the art of the eighties and neo-expressionist new image painting where, as Misko Suvakovic remarked, "painting existed as a screen of the mimetic, manniristic and eclectic representation of narrative fragments", a clear reductionist tendency slowly developed. The first steps were made in the eighties, within the tissue of the subjectively euforic neo-expressionism. Geometrism (expressionistic geometry, neo-geo, geometry) revived the idea of order and rationalism. All of this was largely related to the thesis of Italian critic Germano Celant regarding the art of the nineties: "after the fluster of neo-expressionism, the art again refers to logic and the philosophy of art through a reduced participation of the personal". This phenomenon Celant called "neo-conceptual". Due to this very statement we are able to recognize in a part of the current Yugoslav art a discreetly revived modernism and its revivalist spirit.

The painting of the '90s reawakens the problem of painted surface (a plane, two-dimensional surface) as a constitutive element of the pictorial authenticity painting shares with no other visual art. This problem turned into the focus of attention after the neo-expressionist painting had been consistently reduced. The reduction of form, the controlled gesture and emotional outburst, the rationalistic behaviour and a sensibilized minimalism – these were the main features of an entirely different standpoint from the one dominating the painting of the preceding decade. The artists who were most persistent in this reductionist idea achieved a "pure" plastic result. This process of "cooling" off the expressive tensions had its distinguishing marks – it most frequently ended in a fascination with materials and constructions. This would turn many artists of the nineties to form as an ontological substance of art itself. In Yugoslavia it brought about an unexpected flourishing of sculpture – the sculpture of condensed form. However, the reduction of form, although echoing the minimalist constitution of an art product, was in no way a "straight-line" evocation of the views of authentic minimalist artists from the sixties and the seventies. Present-day authors, each in his or her own way, have experienced postmodernism and its characteristic "permeation with significant subjectivism" (Benito Oliva). Therefore, their works do not have the "industrial" precision and depersonalized effect. Under the tightly strung membranes of the new minimalist forms, under the even layers of paint in a painting – there is a certain tension, a "trace" of the artist's hand and his/her personality.

Dragan Jelenković, Hommage Yves Klein, 1994.

Of course, an important factor in these tendencies in Yugoslav art was the situation in the early nineties. The changes that took place here also changed our destinies. The predominant feeling of insecurity and desolation caused by an epochal crisis (the fall of socialism, dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the new regional divisions and the creation of new states, a brutal and exhausting war, economic break-down, isolation from the world community and a number of other misfortunes) required that artists and art itself – be resolute.

As Menna wrote in his essay "Aesthetic ideology", art had right to its own autonomy, not for the sake of isolation, but in order to offer its own model to other expertise and practice. Denegri noted that the artist from the end of century was an integrated artist whose aim was not to be detached or out of system, but conversely to strive toward achieving an even stronger position within the system – "the end-of-century artist wants to be a specialist in the field of art, a specialist in the production of art". Such a viewpoint created an atmosphere where everything was possible, even an imperative reaffirmation of some essential principles of personal expression.

The art from the beginning and toward the middle of the ‘90s often and clearly showed signs of weakness and a slackening of the all-encompassing eclectic undertakings of postmodernism, and the return of the artist to those conceptual views that stressed and defined the autonomy of form (sculpture) and surface (painting) as the primary elements of expression, but also as discursive categories within the system of visual arts. This renewed concentration on the purity and authenticity of visual thinking could signify a specific ethical standpoint, an exceptional consideration for the art and its functions, an attempt of artists to secure and save their expressive effectiveness and dignity.


Slikarstvo monohromije / Monochrom Painting, 1995.

When he wrote on minimal art Jerko Denegri concluded that "as a style of a certain time, the sixties in fact, it cannot reappear in the forms it has already asserted; however, if one looks upon it as an attitude art assumes in fighting for the autonomy of its own language, the historical effectiveness of minimal art will never be by-passed. Furthermore, it is an attitude probably necessary whenever art itself gets saturated with its various exaggerations and when it once again feels the longing for clarity". The text was written and published in the magazine Polja (Novi Sad) in January of 1991 and today it sounds as a prophecy. At this moment minimalism is a significant tendency in our art. It first affected sculpture, where rationalistic and subjective principles meet and unite. This also affected the creation of a (neo) constructivist discourse which the contemporary artist opposed to the dominant principle of destruction (economic to ethical, physical, war destruction) in a society living its crucial changes. The stability and purity of that position (most easily observed with young sculptors like Petrovic, Krgovic, Apostolovic, Joksimovic, Pantelic, Skulec, Rakic, Jelenkovic, Mirjana Djordjevic, Ilic) has been confirmed in simple, pure, precisely defined plastic solutions where form has the superior immanence and primacy. In painting, minimalism has begun with a group of painters (Pilipovic, Dimitrijevic, Naskovski) who come close to some fundamental postulates of modernism through their reference to the spiritual example of Mondrianian concept of painting.


Former surveys of new art in Vojvodina have primarily been records of concepts manifested in the area of classical painting, those concepts fashioned on landscape painting and a Konjovic-like subjective transposal of the seen into a picture.

In the last two-three years, however, retrospective exhibitions, critics and books have made a significant revalidation of the so called second line (the term used by Jerko Denegri) in the art of Vojvodina. This line comprises rationalistic attitudes toward art, the phenomena conceived in Vojvodina toward the end of the '60s: a specific painting of the matter, forms of geometrism and geometry, minimal art, conceptual art... This second line would, in the art of the eighties and the nineties, "blend" as a constant fact with what was happening on the main artistic stage of Vojvodina in the last two decades.

The postmodernist need to reexamine the very (history of) art, and a new standpoint caused by the characteristic sensibility of the art of the '90 with its expressed desire to revive the principles of modernism facilitate new considerations, reappraisals and conclusions.

In that sense, in December 1995 the Gallery of the Union of the Visual Artists of Vojvodina (in Novi Sad) hosted the exhibition Examples of Monochrome Painting in Vojvodina. This modest exhibition was to indicate a certain line of minimalist and monochrome production which had sporadically, quietly and impersistently existed in the visual arts of Vojvodina. It is necessary to make a new reconstruction of that line since at the present moment a number of authors have appeared who are trying to reaffirm (in the spirit of the nineties) the ontological characteristics of painting by returning to the purity of the pictorial surface (Dragomir Ugren, Visnja Petrovic, Ratko Kulic, Olivera Maric, Milica Mrdja Kuzmanov, sculptors Pantelic and Jelekovic with their "constructed" monochromatic pictures).

The forms of authentic minimal and monochrome painting emerged in Vojvodina thanks to Mira Brtka, who completed her artistic education in Rome in the sixties and matured as painter in that city. She took part in the ongoing artistic happenings in Italy as a member of the international group called "Illumination". In her work she departed from the final consequences of informel, then removed the deposits of the substance in painting and "arranged" them in discreet geometric orders; at one moment, in 1965, she turned entirely to white monochromy. So her painting approached minimalism at the time when minimalist tendencies were revealed in the world. As early as 1971 Mira Brtka exhibited her paintings in Novi Sad (Contemporary Art Gallery) and Belgrade (Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art) and thus brought a truly fresh spirit into the current visual arts context.

Mileta Vitorovic reached monochrome and minimalist pictorial solutions in the eighties, by a persistent and consistent reduction of all the elements of the painting to the simplicity of a circular scheme. Vitorovic arrived at geometry by way of landscape representation – in a stylization of motifs, geometrization. In this artist's opus the geometric concept never attained the distinguishing radical degree of understanding geometry one finds in rationally founded concepts. However, Vitorovic was certainly in the '70s and the '80s the oldest devotee of geometric minimalism in Vojvodina, and made then a number of striking monochrome paintings.

Verbumprogram (Ratomir Kulić i / and Vladimir Mattioni), 1995.

Immediately after the pseudo-group Verbumprogram was founded in 1974, its members Ratomir Kulic and Vladimir Mattioni engaged in the so called new artistic practice – investigations in the medium and nature of cognitive in art. In 1975 Verbumprogram turned to the problems of painting, both of pictures and the medium. "One should bear in mind that it is not about an elementary approach to procedure, but about stabilizing a medium with its procedure", wrote Kulic and Mattioni about their paintings made before 1978. The paintings created in the Verbumprogram workshop in the eighties contained the same analytical, rational and minimalist spirit. In a series of paintings called Achromia (1985-1987), produced in the manner of a radically understood minimalism, Verbumprogram achieved a convincing cycle of monochrome paintings – all within the framework of their essential goal to realize the artistic practice "as a strict articulation in the language of art, as an art of the art, as a kind of meta-art".

Dragomir Ugren, Skulptura / Sculpture, 1995.

A monochrome and minimalist pictorial concept is latently present in the paintings of Dragomir Ugren. This author has had a constant tendency toward reduced forms, toward an analytical procedure and rational construction. In his latest works (1994-1994) Ugren has attained a drastic purification. His "paintings" are far from the classical concept of this medium – they are simple, elongated and monochromatic surfaces placed on the wall (or floor) in combinations searching for "ideal" relationships among surfaces and colours of geometric schemes created by adding a number of monochrome surfaces. In that way Dragomir Ugren endeavours to reach a sublime purity of plastic thinking.

The monochromy of Visnja Petrovic's paintings is "superficially" defined by their foundation made by depositing paper mass on the vast surface of a chipboard. The visual quality of that affected surface (the paper mass is deposited manually and the very act determines its plastic features and appearance) is created by means of minimal interventions in drawing or paint and the delicate geometric composition discreetly emerges from the background, from its sensitively affected structure.

Certain "pictorial" solutions have been made also by two sculptors, Zoran Pantelic and Dragan Jelenkovic. Departing from the area of sculpture and full form, they arrive, following the principles of reduction, to products of dominant surfaces that can be identified as faces of paintings. Those specific picture-objects, of course, are not issues of a pictorial action. They are constructions whose formal features echo paintings and the effectiveness found in the structure of a painting regardless of the fact that quite specific materials are applied (Pantelic uses ceramic tiles and Jelenkovic coloured plexi-glass). Picture-objects with these authors, like with Ugren and Verbumprogram, originate in the principle of construction (not constructivism) indicated both as an attitude and a message. This principle defines the relationship of artists to the world and the time we live in, when yet another, quite opposite, destructive principle is predominant. Therefore this should be understood as possibly desperate attempts of artists to assert themselves in a more suggestive, sublime and concrete way, to "prove" their own sensibility, their poetic inclination, their own aesthetic and ethical standpoints.

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