Ješa Denegri

The Historic Avant-Gardes, Neo-Avant-Gardes and Post-Avant-Gardes

across the Art Space of Yugoslavia in the 20th Century

The private collection of Marinko Sudac was presented for the first time at the exhibition The Peculiarities of the Margin – Avant-Garde Art in the Region 1915-1989 at the Gallery Centre in Varaždin, Croatia, held in March-April of 2005 and later enriched with new acquisitions. It is the only one collection which systemmatically and expertly collects – and currently displays to the public for the second time, now in Novi Sad (Serbia/Vojvodina) at the Musem of Contemporary Art – the specimens of art productions which in terms of their language- and media-using features, which implies the ideological and political repercussions of those features, can be incorporated within the complex of historic avant-gardes, neo-avant-gardes and post-avant-gardes of the latter half of the 20th century on the art space of the former Yugoslavia. Namely, departing from the theoretical postulates applied in the history of visual arts and the history of literature, it is possible to establish a complex of phenomena which – surpassing by far any single typological concept – includes a number of problem phenomena that, covering nearly a whole century in retrospect, constitute a cluster of mutually kindred (in terms of spirit and ideas) artistic positions. The positions have been those kept aside, on the fringe, borders, margins, refraining from and resisting the central paradigms of the early, moderate, high and late modernism that ruled over the same period of time and within the same cultural milieux. Thus, in relation to that central corpus of modernist style formation, these ’peculiarities of the margin’ turned out to be, by their language and operative radicalism and their overall view of the world, alternatives to dominating mainstreams and matrices in the 20th-century art within the milieux where they occurred; to a great degree, they overlapped with a group of phenomena for the designation of which a new concept was recently proposed and introduced through one of the possible procedures of interpretation – that of ’the other line’.

From the historical period of the first half of th 20th century, this collection contains extremely rare specimens of the avant-garde periodicals, ranging from Zenit published in Zagreb and other editions of the Zenitist movement, via Ljubljana’s Tank, Belgrade’s pre-Surrealist and Surrealist publications, to some rare autonomous art works by the authors contributing to those periodicals and several Yugoslav students of Bauhaus; all of these materialized through the then innovative experimental techniques such as collage, assemblage, photography, photo-montage, posters and other kinds of graphic design, comic etc. This implied technical operations of multiplication of art products of a new urban medial visuality within the frame of not only innovative formal approaches but also politically progressive and committed positions of the members of diverse streamlines within the complex of domestic historic avant-gardes.

The group of neo-avant-garde phenomena shortly succeding the second world war, those born in a time of partial liberalization in the cultural/artistic life of Yugoslavia when a dominant role was played by moderate modernism (’socialist estheticism’), included the apostates from the prevailing climate such as lonely individuals (like Antun Motika whose first experiments date from early 1940’s), followed by the EXAT-51 group which in early fifties programmatically defended abstraction while at the same time advocating unification of the so-called ’pure’ art, applied arts, design and architecture – thus foreshadowing and at its kernel forming a domestic branch of the international movement of New Tendencies (Nove tendencije) which had its executive and organizational center in Zagreb during the 1960’s. On the opposite pole from this basically constructivist position, yet with like neo-avantgarde label, there were the first examples of scepticistic, solypsistic and nihillistic moods in a circle of authors that gathered in the Gorgona group in late fifties and those who related to them – radical Informel artists of Zagreb and Split and some works of several like-minded artists in Vojvodina at the beginning of the sixties.

The next tide of innovative phenomena on ex-Yugoslavia’s art scene occurred in late 1960’s; comprising some mutually kindred phenomena, this complex cluster was known under the names of New Art Practices or New Art of the Seventies. They were widely subdivided depending on diverse operative procedures which had some features shared in common such as conceptualization of the artistic procedure, dematerialization of an object of art which became reduced to the pure concept, accompanied by direct or indirect politicization of the artist’s behaviour. To that we must add the scope of the procedures of articulation: from the artist’s body in the temporary actions inside or outside art galleries to the application of still or motion photography, i.e. still camera or video-recorders. The protagonists and representatives of the New Art of the Seventies – whose works make a good portion of the Sudac Collection – are, in addition to several older artists, members of the generation which was formed within that social and spiritual climate around the year 1968 and who gathered together in groups such as OHO, Penzioner Tihomir Simčić, Crveni peristil (Red Peristyle), Bosch + Bosch, Kôd. (, Belgrade's informal group of six authors, the Zagreb-based 'six', Tok (Flow), Verbumprogram, Grupa 143, Autopsia, as well as numerous individual figures that came from under the wings of the said groups, or autonomous authors (a number of these made significant achievements and achieved worthy international reputation.

The three historic stages and three typologies in terms of art language – the avant-garde, the neo-avant-garde and the post-avant-garde – when placed into a line of temporal and problem-raising continuity, open a multitude of issues dealing with the nature and the meaning of art, with the character and the behaviour of the artist in the local/regional milieux that made up the 20th-century Yugoslavia’s art space. What they shared in common was re-examination of the previously established notions with regard to the questions: What is contemporary art? What is the contemporary work of art? Who is the contemporary artist as a social and a cultural being? How is the contemporary art related to the concurrent social and political circumstances in the respective milieux? Unlike the modernist work of art, formally completed and esthetically compact, the avant-garde work of art is by definition experimental, fragmentary, often interdisciplinary and multimedial, turned – in terms of meanings and messages – toward a utopian optimal futuristic projection; or, it has critically set itself to oppose the concrete contemporary realities of life which it cannot change to any large degree yet refuses to accept them. The historic avant-gardes and the ensuing neo-avant-gardes and post-avant-gardes imply a super-national and international networking and intertwining of artistic languages, events, contacts and experiences; they possess and emit constant activity, vitality, commitment, passion of human existence built into the incentives to the occurrence of such artistic outputs. As the time was passing, those outputs underwent a deserved historical evaluation, and it is increasingly evident today that it is these artistic poductions that make the crucial art heritage within their own cultures and their own ages.

The exhibition The Peculiarities of the Margin takes a well-justified position in the program policy of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Novi Sad: it shows and confirms the fact that within this collection of Yugoslav scope there are – indispensably placed so to fit in organically – numerous artists from a series of next-in-line generations whose origin and ’battlefield’ has been on the geographical and cultural territory of Vojvodina. In that respect, this exhibition is a logical extension of the significant event Central European Aspects of Vojvodina’s Avant-Gardes 1920-2000: Border Phenomena and the Phenomena of Borders (Centralnoevropski aspekti vojvođanskih avangardi 1920-2000: Granični fenomeni, fenomeni granica), organized by the same Museum in September 2002; the current event supplies additional arguments to its predecessor in support of re-evaluation of those historical gains which, starting from this geographical and cultural area, managed to accomplish timely and equal-in-achievement participation in broader regional, national, super-national and international streams and processes.

Translated from Serbian by Angelina Čanković Popović