Ješa Denegri, The 1970’s: Radical Artistic Views, Reduction Of the Material Object, New Media, Mental And Analytic Procedures, the Artist’s Personality And Behaviour [ENGLISH]

The 1970’s: Radical Artistic Views, Reduction of the Material Object, New Media, Mental and Analytic Procedures, THE Artist’s Personality and Behaviour

Published in: Treći program Radio Beograda, 61, Beograd, 1984

Anyone fortunate enough, closely to have monitored the birth and development of Arte Povera, to have witnessed Kounellis’ live horses and Merz’s igloos displayed at the Galleria L’Attico in Rome, in early 1969, to have listened to Beuys retelling the legend of his life, to have read and leafed through Celant’s book, with its illustrations of Land Art, Anti-Form, ‘Poor’ and Conceptual Art, and to have heard about Szeemann's  exhibition in Berne, When Attitudes Become Form, could not fail to be tempted to go along with Renato  Barilli’s prediction that future art historians, discussing the  history of  20th-century art, would divide the entire period into two halves – the  age preceding, and the age following the critical year, 1968. One was left with a truly rapturous sense of witnessing the birth of an entirely new spiritual age. All this was like the unrepeatable experience of being at the very source of some stream, which – nobody doubted – marked the start of the entire future. Today, of course, we can no  longer  share the same sense of pathos; what we are writing about here turned much too soon into yet another chapter in the  (his)tory of modern art. That history confers no privileges, and – quite rightly – does not prioritise any of its periods. Whatever has occurred in art, including the art of the late 1960’s, has settled down in the books and catalogues of an irretrievably lost past. Yet for some of us, it stays vivid in our memory, even if only as a part of that past, and had become integrated into our historical or, in this case, art historical, heritage.

I  The Framework of Time and Concepts

Today, the reading list on what was going on in art towards the end of the 1960’s and during the 1970’s is rather extensive. But the extensiveness of that list, perhaps, just adds to the difficulty we face, in attempting to give a concise account of the extremely complex configuration of the innovative art of the time and the art theory that underpinned it. For all that, it must be possible for us to include most of the salient features in an introductory survey. In order to achieve the necessary concision, we shall rely on the time chart and themes so comprehensively  tabulated by  Germano Celant, in his Precronistoria1, in which he condensed the crucial pioneering stage of the whole constellation of events into a mere three years (1966-69). Within this period,  some of the most relevant dates that are mentioned include: Lucy Lippard’s anti-minimalist exhibition (the  first of its kind), Eccentric Abstraction, in New York, 1966;  Sol LeWitt’s 'Paragraphs on Conceptual Art' in the June 1967 issue of Artforum and the same author's second programmatic text on Conceptual Art,  'Sentences on Conceptual Art', published in 1969, in the first issue of the magazine, Art & Language, launched by the artists' group of the same name; Michelangelo Pistoletto’s article, Le ultime parole famose ('Famous Last Words'), which is cited as heralding Arte Povera; then The Dematerialization of the Art Object , by Lucy Lippard and John Chandler, which led to the introduction of the global critical term 'dematerialisation of the art object', to describe the essential elements and the majority of experimental artistic practices in  the period in question. Then, in 1969, came key writings, such as Celant’s Arte povera, Morris’ Anti-Form, Kosuth’s Art after Philosophy, Wim Beeren’s Amsterdam exhibition, Op Losse Schroeven, and Szeemann's aforementioned exhibition, When Attitudes Become Form, in Berne. Finally, in 1970,2 Celant’s exhibition Conceptual Art, Arte Povera, Land Art, in Turin, marked the end of the first stage in the developments associated with the New Art and the beginning of the second stage of the  movement's expansion, which was highly dynamic at first, but then gradually  waned throughout the first half of the 1970’s, until it finally petered out at the end of the decade, only to be overtaken by the artistic Trans-Avant-Garde and the spiritual climate of Postmodernism.

The Dematerialisation of the Art Object

The term dematerialisation, launched by Lucy Lippard, is a convenient description, to cover the most essential features of a variety of innovative aspects in the  art of the late 1960’s and the 1970’s. This term indicates that the execution and completion of an aesthetic object was not the ultimate goal and purpose of artistic endeavour, and that such an operation was possible, and quite legitimate, even when it failed to result in a solid, durable, material work. Naturally, for Lucy Lippard, the term dematerialisation does not imply the full removal, abolition and disappearance of the physical and material aspects of a work of art; rather, it allows for its reduction, in favour of mental and imaginative processes and properties that are colloquially referred to as 'the idea' of a work, for which the artist then aspires to find the appropriate vehicle.3 And, in keeping with the ever-increasing openness of contemporary art, the vehicles for artistic ideas can be extremely diverse: they break away from the classic disciplines of painting and sculpture and transfer a work's centre of gravity towards the primal elements and novel technology, as well as towards the very personality and behaviour of the subject, who abandons the sheltered studio and the established institutional space of the museum, or gallery. The classifications provided by  critics, and the theoretical views and poetic statements of artists provide the new points of departure, for identifying and  naming  a number of linguistic categories under the general label of 'dematerialisation of  the art object'. According to Celant, the crucial phenomena, which were of the greatest importance for the early stages of The New Art of the 'sixties were Conceptual Art, Arte Povera, Body Art and Land Art, or Earth Art.4 Naturally, Celant was not alone, in trying to offer a valid theoretical system for categorising these diverse phenomena, but it will be convenient for us to quote from his writings here, if only for reasons of brevity, as there is little point in engaging in a more detailed discussion, at this stage. This, then, is what Celant wrote:

'The operative task of Conceptual Art is to put mental and conceptual process before the subject’s/artist’s operation so as to confirm the primariness of the concept, which makes the forms of presentation become irrelevant… A debate on the mental and theoretical processuality of art is not a manifestation of art criticism but a manifestation of art itself which now can utilize printed text, mathematics, essay, book, as well as all other instruments of philosophical and processual communication… Any reduction to a pure concept removes every interest in the object, giving up the aesthetic, employing language in the scientific and philosophical sense, according to the logic based on the theoretical postulates of Wittgenstein and Moore'.5

As for the art, for which he himself coined the attribute ‘poor’ (povera), Celant said that it was

'an art that in the linguistic and visual anarchy and in constant change of behaviour finds the greatest degree of freedom… That is art as a pure force of existence that removes any fantastic or mimetic pattern of artistic representation. An artistic endeavour is intuitive and comes out of the process of life and nature… But what further ensues is materialization of the idea or of the physical experience, materialization of mental and factual insight… The tendency is specifically Italian due to its ideological implications, overwhelmed with the accidentality of events, the present time, the real man, sustaining that any unitary and coherent debate is futile (coherence is a dogma which should be done away with), for primacy belongs to the personality of the artist and not his representation or his products.'6

When it came to the projects and procedures of Land Art, whose arenas were 'deserts, snowy vales, mountains and the sea' (although its protagonists mostly 'came from some megalopolis such as New York'), Celant said that they were characterised by

'employment of grand means in order to achieve monumental gestures or magic or megalithic signs in the wild and intact nature… In each magic or macroscopic sign there is a trace of art or presence of people who use the means of supertechnology offered by the contemporary megalopolis'.7

Finally, as far as Body Art was concerned, Celant thought that it

'responded to the dictatorship of alphabet with a word-free language, a language which via the very body of the artist eliminates linguistic exhaustiveness, concept, name, while glorifying tactility, sensuality, perception… Any debate is rejected, there is no repetition of experiences, an insight is awareness of our existence as immediate corporeal senders and recipients of signs…'8

The New Art of the 'Sixties and the Year 1968

Even the very fact that the (micro-) period of Celant’s Precronistoria (1966-69) includes the year 1968, the crucial year of revolt for a youthful generation of students and intellectuals inevitably provokes the following question: How did the nascent art of the period – i.e. the young art and the art of the young – integrate with the surrounding social and political developments? How did it respond to these events? And what was its attitude towards them? Furthermore: Was that art an integral part of the overall climate of 'The Great Refusal’ and 'the great storm of 'sixty-eight' (to cite two phrases coined by Colletti)?9 In other words: Was that art conditioned, or at least carried away, by the current ideological and political activism of the young? Or did it remain what art is supposed to be – a specific area of spiritual and imaginative activity?

Namely, it has frequently been claimed that the innovative art of late 1960’s and early 1970’s was one of the fields where the 'new consciousness' and this 'new sensibility' were manifested, along with the phenomena of the Counterculture, Subculture, Alternative Culture, ‘Cultural Revolution’, and Underground; that this art was guided and carried by the ideas of the 'New Left', and that the ideas behind it  had their origin in the heritage of critical social theory and, especially, some of the  theories of  Herbert Marcuse. There is much to be said for those claims, no doubt, and we can provide references to some quite specific passages in Marcuse’s writings, where he pleaded the cause of changing contemporary art and its role. Thus:

'The radical character, the "violence" of this reconstruction in contemporary art seems to indicate that it does not rebel against one style or another but against "style" itself, against the art-form of art, against the traditional "meaning"  of art'10

Furthermore, it is quite certain that Marcuse’s famed postulates of the priority of creative fantasy and the playfulness of the individual over the pragmatic and production-related demands of society, of the spiritual autonomy of the individual, of the emancipation and assertion of our sensory faculties, of our powers of critical thought, and of a concrete form of utopia (plus many others), were shared by the adherents of The New Art of the late 'sixties and the 'seventies – regardless of whether their indebtedness was ever explicitly acknowledged. Thus, viewed from a radical ideological standpoint of the time, this art was manifested not only as a symptom, but  also as a prime cause and motivation for the moods and processes which came to be identified, in a highly influential book, published in 1968, by the Marcusean term, 'prophesying an aesthetic society'11.

However, each  form of artistic expression, including The New Art of the late 1960’s, possesses some quite specific features of its own, in terms of language, medium and technique; it corresponds to the immanent issues of art and not, primarily or solely, to the momentary challenges of the social climate and the ideologies it produces. Hence, Barilli was right when he emphasised that all the crucial innovative phenomena in the art of that period (Arte Povera, Land Art, Body Art, Process and Conceptual Art) emerged before, and not after, the watershed date established by the year, 1968. This leads to the conclusion that the art did not result from the emancipatory movement that was unleashed by the events of 1968, but anticipated it, in certain important respects.12 It is also well-known that the protagonists of The New Art, the majority of whom might be described as being politically on the left, generally avoided making any commitment to the parties and groups that were active on the political scene and, especially, refrained from joining their ranks. On the contrary, they consciously, and consistently, defended the independent position of the artist and the autonomous nature of art – a most striking example of this, being provided by their attitude throughout the tempestuous events at the opening and closing of the 34th Venice Biennale, in 1968. Those who could not help forming political groups were often faced with a decision to abandon their artistic activities, either temporarily, or in the longer term, or even forever. They paid a high price for what Argan once named their own fervour, or the fallacy of their 'political infantilism'.13

The political quality of the New Art around the year 1968 did not mean that artists immediately changed their orientation, or gathered under the wings of organisers, or institutionalised political forces. The political character of their art was manifested through their behaviour, public gestures and attitudes, advocating and accentuating the autonomy of the artist, as a critically-aware individual, who was  opposed to the ruling criteria of society (i.e. those sections of society that were implicated in art and culture, as well). By this means, they avoided the trap of a superficial politicisation, into which the preceding ‘New Figuration’ artists had fallen, by trying to paint representations (for which there was a critical subtext, if the truth be told) of actual political and social events. In the case of the latter, we now only remember their inefficient use of painting to make a demagogical impact, considering the fact that a painting is a privileged (and marketable) aesthetic object. In order to avoid falling into the same trap, the New Art of the late 1960s needed to invent a fundamentally new mode of politicisation, by making a transition from the art object (a painting or a sculpture) to the actual behaviour of the artist, and 'speaking in the first person', as exemplified in Beuys’ project for 'social sculpture', in his appearances and speeches in front of audiences and in the mass media, in his teaching practice,  and in his work with young artists. From the end of the 'sixties onwards, the artist was completely aware that his  life and work was placed within the dominant 'art system', made up of the network of galleries and museums, the market and the mass media. The only political act left at the artist’s disposal was a strategy of subversion directed against the art system, like that exercised by Daniel Buren, in provoking the context  within which art was exhibited and offered for public promotion (galleries and museums, being the privileged institutions of power). There was also Hans Haacke, who researched the origin of significant and expensive art works, as a way of unmasking the true motivation of those who saw them as a means to acquiring social prestige or material wealth. Engaging in an artistic activity, in ways such as this, became a kind of critically orientated metalinguistic exercise. This kind of art no longer peddled the naïve story about ‘inspired creation’, but turned into an endlessly cunning, even perfidious, game of paradox; now armed with irony and self-irony, it was liable at any moment to betray those who pretended to be, or even sincerely were, well disposed towards it. These young artists, instead of confronting the world, whose reality they did not accept, and of which they did not wish to become an organic part,  sought out a position on the sidelines, from which they could view things from an angle, with the aim of trying to exacerbate the crisis within the existing system. Hence, the New Art of the late 'sixties was bound to represent a particular kind of critical ideological or political practice, even when it explicitly refused to be treated in that way: there was simply no alternative to this, given the world it had inherited, and idealistically set out to change, in an exercise that quickly proved futile, though not without an effect on its own identity.  

Prophesying an Aesthetic Society

Profezia di una società estetica is the title of a book, written and published by Filiberto Menna in the midst of the upheaval of 1968. The title may also be regarded as an ideal catch-phrase, to describe the prevailing mood of the time, in the international circles frequented by the representatives and advocates of The New Art. In this text of his, Menna undertook an historical reconstruction of the 'eudemonistic line of modern culture' –  that is, a line that established the ideal of 'extended aestheticism', with the implication that art and life might once more be brought closer together and  ultimately reconciled. For that ideal, he found antecedents in German Romanticism, via radical (Baudelairean and Rimbaudean) early Modernism and the historic avant-gardes, – leading up to the New Art of the moment (1968). That line, in Menna’s opinion, was basically opposed to the enduring myth of technological progress that was shored up by the prevailing institutional policies and wider professional circles. Contrasting with this was a vision of the road to the liberation of both the individual and society, through imposing an ‘aesthetic perspective' which would herald the transition from authoritarian and repressive social relations to free ones. In the area termed by Menna 'the aesthetic dimension of existence', an important, even decisive, role was envisaged for art itself: it was the role that had previously been attributed to art by the protagonists of the historic avant-gardes. And it was in the wake of the above that Menna saw the position of The New Art in those days, though he was aware of the fact that this position was utopic, and belonged to the realm of predictions and prophecies, rather than based on any real prospect of being able to implement his ideal of an 'aesthetic existence', or an 'aesthetic essence of existence'.  In the chapter bearing the rather characteristic title, 'The Rights of Imagination', Menna put forward the following, optimistic picture of the situation within and around The New Art that was born in the climate of 'The Great Refusal' of the 'sixty-eighters':

'Young artists reject the concept of Art as a privileged domain and propose, with fresh enthusiasm, a total integration of art and life. Their ideology is nothing else but this new and more openly aesthetic dimension to which they sacrifice the very execution of the final art-autonomous objects, the objects that are purchased, taken home and enjoyed-in within the grasping privacy of the bourgeoisie. If they happen to have to construct something, they prefer to realize structures and ambiences in order to immediately attract the spectator and usher him to a real-life situation. These artists work overwhelmed with eagerness, they take over the forgotten ambitions of the previous generation that had believed their own intervention should be limited to the assertion of formative processes. Today, the emphasis lies elsewhere: for the young artists (and not for them only), imagination has resumed supremacy.'

And, further:

'In this process, the artists’ profession is undergoing a radical reinterpretation on the grounds of the premises provided by the avant-garde and the Modernist movement. As a domain separated from life, art is losing every significance and every value. In these utopian models of existence, what eventually matters is what Mondrian and Wright aspired to, and that was art’s transition into an all-embracing aesthetic quality, into the beauty of life-living. The idea of the Art’s death is revived, yet this time it differs essentially from the Hegelian death of the Art. For, the Art is not directed toward the process of sublimation in the Absoluteness of the Spirit, it tends toward the process of dispersion and life’s dissolution. Going as far as to death, certainly, yet now not one of Reason but one of Life.'14

Technologically Generated Images: Photography, Film, Video in the Art of the 'Seventies

What characterised the art of the 1970’s, along with the switch from producing art objects to a focus on the very subject, or personality, of the artist, was the utilisation of the new media made available by technological developments. The range of possibilities for producing images and representations by way of these media was considerably extended by artists working at that time.  Of course, the introduction of technically generated and multiplied images into the sphere of high art had taken place long before that: here, it will suffice to recall the various processes involved, in turn, by the historic avant-gardes, up to Pop Art and, especially, Mec Art,  where photographic techniques lay at the very heart of the language employed. The initial reason for a more intense use of photography, film and video in the art of late 1960’s was linked to the mediatory, or documentary, function of these media: namely, it became necessary to capture those forms of artistic behaviour that did not lead to the production of a stable, material work, but took the transient form of Body Art and artistic actions outside the context of the gallery space, in an urban or rural setting. Owing to their seeming objectivity and impersonal quality, these technical media became ideal tools for capturing, and then replicating, the effect of the artist’s presence, in the 'first person singular'. For it was by means of these technical devices that the portrait, appearance or gestures of the artist were presented to the viewer, in the guise of a photographic film or video representation – even in cases, where the artist him- or herself might not be physically present. However, the role of technology is not limited to transmitting images; it turns into an autonomous field and is identifiable in a variety of independent  disciplines that have  prompted critics to  invent new terms, such as ‘artists' photography’, as distinct from ‘art photography’, ‘artists' film’, ‘artists' video’, and so on.15 'Artists' photography’ has numerous sub-genres, termed ‘analytical photography’, ‘structural photography’, ‘narrative art’, ‘story art’, etc. Akin to all these modes and techniques of using photography as an artistic medium are the metalinguistic and self-referential qualities of the artistic language itself – to be counted among the direct, or indirect, gains of conceptual art – that supplant the referential qualities of realism and narrative, and documentary or live photography. Thus, the analytical approaches deriving from the experiences of Conceptual Art and characteristic of the 'Primary Painting' of the time, as well, were first to penetrate the area of photography and then move on into other areas of technologically generated media, such as film and video. Video, in particular, became one of the most popular techniques for artists associated with the whole range of The New Art Practice from the late 1960s onwards, up to the end of the 1970s.

New Painting Art in the 'Seventies

The phenomena collectively labelled 'The New Art of the 'Seventies’ emphatically, and almost programmatically, declared their character, as extra-painterly or anti-painterly practices. Namely, to the protagonists themselves, painting was a typical example of an aesthetic object that had been alienated from the behaviour and very person of the artist. Yet in spite of that, certain modes of painting that shared a  spiritual and ideological kinship with the  post-object phenomena of The New Art of the 'Seventies did survive in this climate, which was so antipathetic to painting, as an artistic discipline. That is to say, the question raised during the 1970’s was not one of whether to paint, but one of how to paint – as Douglas Crimp, one of the advocates of The New Painting in those days, thought. The critical terms which were most often used with reference to the painting of the 'seventies, when it became an issue of current relevance, were ‘Fundamental Painting’, ‘Analytical Painting’ (analytische Malerei), ‘New Painting’ (nuova pittura), ‘Pure Painting’ (pura pittura), and ‘Painting-Painting’ (pittura-pittura);16  the terms circulating among Yugoslav artists were ‘Primary’ and ‘Elementary Painting’.17 From the very wording employed, one can see that the basis for this last type of painting implied the inherent qualities of analysis and reductiveness, while the operative principle was tautology. The look and the meaning of such painting spoke for its ultimately non-iconic quality. All this confirms that, at the very heart of the New Painting of the 'Seventies the basic, constituent elements of painting as medium underwent analysis and segmentation (e.g.  the kind and format of the support; techniques that were essentially dependent on the size and shape of the brush; the thickness of the paint; the way in which the paint was applied, and so on).  And it was all those properties that went on to define the affinities, in principle, between this kind of painting  and the overall analytical spirit of other forms of art that were dominated by mental and conceptual qualities. This relationship of Conceptual Art to The New Painting was what Filiberto Menna insisted on, in one of the crucial texts on the subject, 'Reflections on Painting' (Riflessione sulla pittura, 1973):

‘Conceptual Art and the New Painting conduct their research in one and the same basic direction, although employing procedures marked by their particular specificities. Their common denominator lies in the greater attention they pay to the issues of language and in their shared interpretation of the artistic activities as a quite special and autonomous practice. The artist adopts an analytical and self-reflexive attitude, shifting his procedure from the immediately expressive or representative plane to the metalinguistic level, engaging in the debate on art and its specific linguistic instruments at the very moment in which he makes art… The analytical postulates of the Conceptual Art and the New Painting are closely related to what has been defined as a Structuralist adventure in the 20th century, and especially so to the linguistic Structuralism in practicising and interpreting art.’18

Although the essential characteristics set out in the above passage define the character of  'The New Painting' as the last word in artistic autonomy, and one of the final stages in the evolution of the 'analytical line' in modern art, surveyed by Menna in his book of that title,19 The New Painting also occupied one of the most extreme positions in the internal ideological debates that characterised the radical art scene of the mid-1970’s. Arguments in support of this can be found in Brejc's writings, where he claimed that 'the autonomy of the painter in Primary or Process Painting, as compared to the earlier artistic procedures and the establishment of painting art’s symbolic language, does not signal any hermeticism and l’art pour l’art-style surety in theory and Optical Minimalism but evidences the necessary request of the political reality of our time for critical verification of the means available to the artist'.20 The artists belonging to the French group, Supports-Surfaces, and even more so the outcasts from that group, who banded together around the magazine, Peinture Cahiers Théorétiques, in 1973-4, were notably clear in their attitude to this. Apart from the texts on these issues in the original language, Yugoslav readers who may be interested in following this up will find more on the subject in the translated writings of Marc Devade.21

II  Context: the Yugoslav Art Space

The New Art of the 'Seventies in Serbia has to be considered within a broader geographical context and its own natural cultural framework, provided by the Yugoslav art space – i.e. the territory covered by the 'Second Yugoslavia' – for the simple reason that this was the reality of a unitary socio-political setting, which also, of course, embraced all aspects of cultural and artistic life. At the time, there also undeniably existed a number of local micro-scenes, too, in the cities of Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia – in Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade, Novi Sad, Subotica, and wherever life (including cultural activity) carried on, in the usual way.  However, The New Art of the 'Seventies was characterised by a notably intense cooperation between all these centres, which was characterised by exchanges  of exhibitions and promotional activities, numerous professional and personal contacts between the protagonists, and  frequent opportunities for getting together individually, or in groups. The factors accounting for this included the facts that the exponents of The New Art of the  'Seventies shared a firm internationalist view of the world; that they looked  upon the art they were involved in, as an international, European, worldwide phenomenon, with a shared language; that all of them hailed from, and grew up in, a milieu of global-scale media culture; that most of them had witnessed, or been direct, or indirect, participants in 'The Great Refusal’ of 1968; and that,  since they formed a striking minority in their own environments, in relation to the dominant streams in art, it was natural for them to associate with like-minded people from neighbouring milieux, who shared a similar outlook and mentality. For, within their own environments, all these people  were forces of critical opposition to the locally established Moderate Modernism and ‘Socialist Aestheticism’, and felt themselves to be the heirs to the  historical avant-gardes and participants in current avant-garde phenomena; finally, as young people, they were not in the least bit nostalgic about the local patriarchal routines and concerns, as they had all been educated in – and their artistic identity had been formed off the back of – contemporary urban alternative culture.

During the period of intense artistic development that characterised the 1970s – and quite near to the end of this phase – the Gallery of Art, in Zagreb, mounted the first up-to-date and, up until now, only retrospective survey of The New Art Practices 1966-1978. This engaged in a scholarly examination of all the principal issues that had been raised on the overall artistic scene of the 1970s, and in the individual centres where the impact of the New Art had mainly been felt – in Ljubljana, Zagreb, Novi Sad, Subotica and Belgrade. This choice of individual cities was determined by the particular nature of the art that had been produced in each of them – namely, the leading exponents of The New Art, including a number of artists' groups, in each of these cities, and the considerable differences between one artistic situation and the next. 22 This meant that the task of preparing an historic analysis of The New Art of the 'Seventies necessitated looking separately at the situation in each of these centres, in turn.23 In the present-day circumstances, it would be impossible to imagine that there was such a thing as a 'New Yugoslav Art' of the 'Seventies, since what used to be different manifestations of a shared sensibility have, since 1990, become incorporated into the corpus of the national cultures of Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia, as aspects of these different countries' separate art histories. This is now a matter of fact, which should be accepted, as such; it is only through the reminiscences and emotions of the erstwhile exponents of The New Art of the Seventies from across the whole of former Yugoslavia that the story of those frequent encounters, close ties, professional contacts, joint exhibitions and kindred goals may live on, though for how much longer is anyone's guess.

Nevertheless, as long as the overall Yugoslav art space of the 1970’s existed and functioned, there was frequent cooperation between the protagonists of the then 'new' art from these different centres. Here, it  will suffice to recall any one of the  numerous appearances of the  OHO Group; or the early one-person exhibitions of Braco Dimitrijević and Goran Trbuljak, in Belgrade (Gallery 212, Gallery of the Youth Hall/Dom omladine) and Novi Sad (Youth Forum/Tribina mladih); the participation of a number of Ljubljana’s and Zagreb’s artists in events at the BITEF Theatre Festival, or the April Encounters at the Student Cultural Centre in Belgrade; or the exchange exhibitions of Serbian artists in Zagreb. These latter, for example,  included: Rasponi 73 (‘Spans’, with Bosch+Bosch from Subotica, and Zoran Popović performing his Axioms, while Ekipa A3 (‘Team A3’) staged their 'Ploughing' action (Oranje) in Ilica Street; then came three solo exhibitions of Damnjan at the Gallery of Contemporary Art, in 1970, the Students’ Centre, in 1974, and Galerija Nova, in 1977; Marina Abramović, with her performance, Rhythm 2, at the Gallery of Contemporary Art, in 1974; an exhibition of Primary Painting, with Damnjan-Todosijević and Urkom, at the Gallery of Contemporary Art , in 1975; a screening of films by Zoran Popović at the CEFFT – Centar za fotografiju, film i televiziju, in 1978; plus the frequent contacts maintained by Todosijević, Popović and Paripović with the Zagreb-based ‘Group of Six’. And these were merely some of the most important events and activities.24 In spite of their position outside, and far removed from, the support of major institutions, when it came to presenting  Yugoslavia’s art abroad, a number of  the ‘New Artists’ would intermittently be included in the selections which toured European cities: for instance, the Conceptual groups from Novi Sad went to the 1971 Biennale des jeunes, in Paris, and there were exhibitions such as Aspects 75 – Contemporary Yugoslav Art, in Edinburgh and Aspekte 75 – Gegenwärtige Kunst aus Jugoslawien, in Vienna (both, in 1975), Tendenzen in der jugoslawischen Kunst von Heute in Berlin, Nuremberg and Dortmund (1978), and Tendenze dell’ arte jugoslava d’ oggi in Rome and Genoa (1979). These artists took part in these events with mixed feelings of embarrassment and appreciation of the promotional benefits. Their awareness of the threat of being assimilated into the dominant art system mingled with a hope that validation of their work might partly, at least, improve their generally rather precarious modes of existence.

The New Art Practice

The concept of 'The New Art Practice’  comes from the title, 'Une nouvelle pratique artistique', of the last chapter in Catherine Millet’s essay,  'Conceptual Art as Art Semiotics … ' (published in translation in the magazine Polja, 156, Novi Sad, in February 1972), but originally referred to the stripped-down Conceptualism of LeWitt, Kosuth, Art & Language, and their followers.25 In Yugoslavia, the term was introduced and applied (at the suggestion of author of the present text) in the title of the exhibition, The New Art Practice 1966-1978 (Nova umjetnička praksa 1966-1978) at the Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, in 1978, whilst in the catalogue for this exhibition, in its first printed version, it appeared as the title of the introductory essay, 'Issues concerning the Art Practice of the Past Decade' (reprinted in the present publication under the title, 'Issues concerning "The New Art Practice" of the 1970’s').26 At one point, the term seemed suitable enough to cover all the highly diverse phenomena of the New Art of the 'Seventies in Yugoslavia; due to their strikingly heterogeneous character, however, it did not seem justifiable, either then or later, to use the narrower term, 'Conceptual Art', since this was far more specific in its application, even though it was, indeed, used in this way, initially. Coining the  term, 'The New Art Practice' (nova umjetnička praksa), made it possible to embrace the following meanings: the word ‘new’ (nova) tells that this was an innovative, neo-avant-garde phenomenon, which differed in its essence from all the preceding currents in the country (Moderate Modernism, Art informel, New Figuration, Neo-Constructivism, etc.); the word ‘art(-istic)’ (umjetnička) is aimed at removing any doubt about the legitimacy of art being the subject matter (and not, as its opponents used to say, ‘outsider art', ‘non-art’, or ‘anti-art’); finally, the word ‘practice’ (praksa) explicitly emphasises the fact that the meaning refers to the full range of artistic processes, actions, happenings and events, and to the artist’s behaviour, rather than to any final, completed aesthetic objects (paintings, sculptures) or sacrosanct techniques and genres in the different artistic disciplines which had prevailed up until then. Within the domestic context, the term ‘practice’ (praksa) was also reminiscent of the philosophical term, praxis, which could indicate activism, efficiency, socially critical awareness, and political commitment, and fitted in with the radicalism and militancy of the artistic phenomena to which the term referred. The concept, 'The New Art Practice’, started to circulate in the colloquial jargon of art critics soon after it was launched and used for the first time, due to its openness, comprehensiveness, and intentional, positive, indeterminacy. It remained in use for a long time, usually with the additional qualification of 'the 'Seventies', in order to make it possible to acknowledge and emphasise the fact that a number of ‘new practices’ subsequently emerged in contemporary art, though they naturally had a different origin, character and meaning. The term was eventually abandoned, when the first retrospective exhibitions were staged, in favour of the following headings: 'Innovations in Croatian Art of the 'Seventies'27 and 'The New Art in Serbia, 1970-1980'. 28

The Artist speaking in the First Person Singular

The concept alluded to in this sub-title was first thought up and introduced into current critical terminology on the occasion of the exhibition of that name, held at the Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, in October 1975. This exhibition featured documentary photographs of artists’ actions and performances, ranging from Happenings to Fluxus, New Realism, Body Art, Performance Art and other modes of artistic intervention that were free from mediation by material objects, of any kind. The selection included the following Yugoslav artists: Marina Abramović, Radomir Damnjanović Damnjan, Braco Dimitrijević, Slobodan Milivojević Era, David Nez, Zoran Popović, Raša Todosijević.29   The thesis behind the idea of 'The Artist Speaking in the First Person Singular' was conceived at a time, in the mid-'70s, when the atmosphere around and within The New Art Practice became conflictual, and it coincided, almost exactly,  with the publication of Oktobar 75. Owing to the mood that slowly infiltrated the art scene at the time, the meaning and aim of the idea of  ‘the artist speaking in the  first person singular' was not exhausted in the notion that the artist became the principal actor, or protagonist, in propria persona. (Barilli claimed that 'in the artistic behaviour, emphasis should be laid on the personality of the artist… – his physical and psychological personality, his spirit and body – whereas the traditional approach… favoured the art work').30 Moreover, what was explicitly advocated, and stressed, was the artist’s need to present himself in an extremely subjective and individualistic way, as a person who, by his choice of life-style, and his political (anarchist, extremist, radicalist) stance, irreconcilably confronted both the entire art system, governed by the demands of the market and the social system, shaped by the dominant ideology. Finally, the concept of ‘The Artist Speaking in the First Person Singular', in this modified sense, was included in the title of the essay, 'First Person Speaking: Spotlighting the Artist’s Individuality in the New Art Practice of the 'Seventies' (Govor u prvom licu – isticanje individualnosti umetnika u novoj umetničkoj praksi sedamdesetih godin), included in this book, in which descriptions were given, with chapter and verse, of the examples of behaviour, performances, actions and other personal appearances of artists, such as (in alphabetical order) Marina Abramović, Zoran Belić, Damnjan, Slavko Matković, Milivojević, Paripović, Popović, Vladan Radovanović, Bálint Szombathy, Todosijević and Gergely Urkom.31

The Other Line

The phenomenon of The New Art of the 'Seventies in former Yugoslavia was at one point included in the context of ‘The Other Line’, which is a term implying (in the view of this critic) avant-garde, neo-avant-garde and radically Modernist models of art language and artistic behaviour, within Yugoslavia over a period of time extending from the early 1920’s to the beginning of the 1980’s.32 It is precisely because that time span was so long that the term, ‘The Other Line’, was unable to encompass all the linguistically related artistic phenomena that were linked to it by elements of stylistic coherence. Nor was the term grounded in a strict theoretical basis, since it was basically a polemical working proposition, which aimed to differentiate between the artistic phenomena it addressed and all the  variants and divergences from what was generally regarded, at the time, as mainstream art. As a rule, the New Tendencies were lumped together in people's minds with the various local forms of Moderate Modernism, with its different stylistic genres and sub-genres. As a corrective to any notion that the terms 'other' and 'another' might be too restrictive in the present context, it is worth recalling that they have repeatedly cropped up in the context of various kinds of art criticism; and that critics would continue to have recourse to them, whenever they  wanted to contrast this kind of art with the art of their own milieu, however ostensibly broad, or narrow.  The best known examples of this kind of approach have been provided by Michel Tapié, with his notion of Art informel as 'another art' (Un art autre) and Pierre Restany, with his idea of 'the other face of art' (L’autre face de l’art), which implied an artistic heritage stretching back to Duchamp, in a line from Dadaism to New Realism.33

Material for the formation of the corpus of ‘The Other Line’ was provided by a series of retrospective exhibitions, held toward the end of the 1970’s, which brought about a re-evaluation of Zenithism, and of the domestic contributions to Dada and Constructivism during the inter-war period, as well as of Geometric Abstraction, Radical informel, Monochrome Painting, Neo-Constructivism, and Minimal Art.34 It was the harbingers of change, whether early or more recent, direct or indirect, that served as reference points for the representatives  of The New Art of the 'Seventies in former Yugoslavia. The exponents of The New Art saw themselves and their work as spiritually related, and close, to the preceding avant-gardes and neo-avant-gardes. Thus, a picture came to be built up under their own eyes of some of their own historical heritage, to which they could legitimately refer, in answer to frequent accusations that the whole New Art of the 'Seventies in Yugoslavia was merely a momentary excess, or even a 'Western import', which had no roots in the domestic art scene, or in the wider domestic context. In contrast, the idea of ‘The Other Line’ championed full and equal rights, and even – why not? – prioritised a radical breakthrough in Yugoslavia’s art and culture; the idea never concealed the possibility that this could only offer a partial approach to the country's artistic inheritance, and it never denied its polemical stance and attitude towards concurrent tendencies that were, more or openly, opposed to the standpoint of ‘The Other Line’. Thus, the critical thesis of ‘The Other Line’ accentuated the differences, and even provoked splits within the seemingly compact modern art scene in the country. In doing so, it revealed a hint of neo-avant-gardist exclusionism, but its very extremism, in turn, brought in its train a certain reluctance, on the part of the majority, to admit it into the artistic milieu it had engaged with. These tensions lost some of their traction, and even their plausibility, in the 1980s, when the twilight fell on avant-gardist and neo-avant-gardist claims to exclusivity, in keeping with a growing acceptance of postmodernist and trans-avant-gardist pluralism. The imperative to innovate retreated before the legitimisation of all phenomena, including many of those with the prefixes ‘retro-’ and ‘anachro-’. Finally, the disintegration of what had been the Yugoslav art space, in the early 1990’s, has probably effectively put an end to the utility of the term, ‘The Other Line’, as a working tool; for, in the new, drastically altered, circumstances, the arguments that might have sustained the continuing validity of this term have largely been invalidated.


1      Germano Celant, Precronistoria 1966-1969 (Minimal Art, pittura sistematica, Arte Povera, Conceptual Art, Body Art, arte ambientale e nuovi mediums), Centro Di, Firenze, 1976.

2      G. Celant, Conceptual Art, Arte Povera, Land Art, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Torino, 1970.

3      Lucy Lippard, 'Dematerijalizacija umjetnost', published within the thematic section, 'Anti-umetnost, ideologija, revolucija', S.Mijušković, ed., Ideje, 6, Beograd, October 1969, pp. 107-120; originally in Art International, 2, XII, Lugano, 1968.

4      G. Celant, 'Konceptualna umetnost – siromašna umetnost – land art – body art 1966-1969', Student, 30, Beograd, 1976; originally published  as 'Conceptual art – arte povera – land art – body art' in the collected essays, Situazioni dell’ arte contemporanea, Roma, 1976, pp. 157-169.

5      Sol LeWitt, 'Paragraphs on Conceptual Art', Artforum, New York, VI, 1969; L.. Lippard, 'Ultraconceptual Art', Art International, Lugano, III, 1968; S. LeWitt, 'Sentences on Conceptual Art, Art & Language, 1, New York, V, 1968; Joseph Kosuth, 'Art after Philosophy', Studio International, X-XII, London, 1969; Catherine Millet, Textes sur l’art conceptuel, Galerie Templon, Paris, 1972; Ursula Meyer, Conceptual Art, New York, 1972; Ermanno Migliorini, Conceptual Art, Firenze, 1972; Klaus Honnef, Conceptual Art, Köln, 1972; translated essays (into Serbian) by Kosuth, LeWitt, C. Millet, Art & Language et al., published in the thematic issue of the magazine Polja, 156, Mirko Radojičić, ed., Novi Sad, II, 1972.

6      G. Celant, Arte povera, Milano, 1969; G. Celant, La povertà dell’ arte, Galleria De Foscherari, Bologna, 1969; Arte povera più azioni povere, Salerno, 1969; Tommaso Trini, Nuovo alfabeto per corpo e natura, Domus, 470, Milano, 1969; Renato Barilli, Arte povera, Milano, 1975; G. Celant, Coerenza in coerenza, Milano, 1984; thematic issue of the magazine ArtStudio, titled Regards sur l’ Arte povera, with contributions by G. Celant, B. Blistène, B. Corà, et al.

7      Robert Smithson, 'Entropy and the New Monuments', Artforum, New York, VI, 1966; S. Tillich, 'Earthworks and the New Picturesque, Artforum, New York, XII, 1968; Pierre Restany, 'New York '70', Domus, 487, Milano, 1970; Gillo Dorfles, 'Arte nel paesaggio e sul paesaggio', L’Uomo e l’Arte, 7, Milano, 1971.

8      Thematic issues of the magazines Avalanche, 1-2, New York, 1972 and Artitudes, 3, Paris, 1973; H.G. Habert, Körpersprache, Graz, 1973; Lea Vergine, Il corpo come linguaggio, Milano, 1974; G. Dorfles, La Body Art, Milano, 1975; Max Kozloff, 'Pygmalion Reversed', Artforum, New York, XI, 1975; translations in Vladimir Kopicl, ed., Telo kao subjekt i objekt umetnika, Novi Sad, 1972.

9      Lucio Colletti, 'Ideologije od ‘68 do danas' (Le ideologie dal ‘68 a oggi'), Kulturni radnik, 1, Zagreb, 1981, pp. 124-190. For more on the ‘New Left’ see: Massimo Teodori, Storia delle nuove sinistre in Europa (here, in Croat translation); from the extensive literature on the year 1968, we would single out: Luc Ferry and Alain Renault, 'Tumačenje maja hiljadudevetstošezdesetosme', Gradina, 5-6, Niš, 1987, pp. 210-232.

10    Herbert Marcuse, Kraj utopije i Esej o oslobođenju ('The End of Utopia and An Essay on Liberation'), Zagreb, 1972; on Marcuse’s views of culture and art: U. Homes, 'Izazov razumu? ('Challenging Reason?'), Treći program Radio Beograda, 4, Beograd, Winter 1970, pp. 111-171; U. Meyer, 'Erupcija antiumetnosti' ('The Eruption of Anti-Art'), Ideje, 6, Beograd, October, 1979, pp. 97-106.

11    Filiberto Menna, Proricanje estetskog društva, Beograd, 1984, original Profezia di una società estetica, Roma, 1968, Second ed., Roma 1983.

12    Renato Barilli, 'Il ‘68 e le arti visive', Informale, oggetto, comportamento, Milano, 1979, pp. 100-105.

13    G. C. Argan, 'Pagare il ‘68', in Occasioni di critica, Roma, 1981, pp. 120-122.

14    Same as Note 11, p. 130 and pp. 191-192

15    Basic references include the following: On photography: F.M. Neusüss, Photography as Art – Art as Photography, Kassel, 1979, or,  in German, Fotografie als Kunst – Kunst als Fotografie, Köln, 1979. On film: W. Herzogenrath, Film as Film 1910 bis heute, Köln, 1978. On video: I. Schneider & B. Korot, Video Art, New York, 1976; G. Celant,'Video as Artwork', in Offmedia, Bari, 1977; S. Bordini, Video arte – Tracce per una storia, Roma, 1995 (in Serbian translation, as Videosfera, ed. Mihajlo Ristić, Beograd, 1986).

16    The most significant exhibitions of the New Painting in the first half of the 1970 included: Surfaces/Supports, Paris, 1970; La riflessione sulla pittura, Acireale, 1973; Geplante Malerei, Milano, 1973; Analytische Malerei, Düsseldorf, 1975; Elementary Forms of Contemporary Painting and Drawing, Amsterdam, 1975; Fundamental Painting, Amsterdam, 1975; I colori della pittura, Rome, 1975.

17    J. Denegri, 'Pred jednom novom pojavom: primarno slikarstvo, Život umjetnosti, 21, Zagreb, 1974, pp. 53-62; T. Brejc, Primarno, elementarno, procesualno: alternativni modeli aktuelne slikarske prakse, exh. cat.,  5th Triennale of Yugoslav Fine Arts, Beograd, 1977, pp. 33-34; Primjeri primarnog i analitičkog slikarstva u Jugoslaviji 1974-1980 (introductory essays by J. Denegri, V. Kusik, T. Brejc), exh. cat., Fine Arts Gallery, Osijek, 1982.

18    F. Menna, 'Za jednu analitičku liniju moderne umetnosti: umetnost i razmišljanje o umetnost', (essay trans. from exh. cat., La riflessione sulla pittura, Acireale 1973), publ. in: Student, Beograd, February 23, 1977, p. 11.

19    F. Menna, La linea analitica dell’ arte moderna, Torino, 1975.

20    T. Brejc, Primarno, elementarno, procesualno: alternativni modeli aktuelne slikarske prakse, exh. cat., 5th Triennale of Yugoslav Fine Arts, Beograd, 1977, p. 33.

21    M. Devade, 'Beleške o ideološko-političkoj situaciji u slikarstvu', Ideje, 6, Beograd, 1979, pp. 121-127; M. Šuvaković, 'Marc Devade (1943-1984): Slikarstvo je nemo', Moment, 9, Beograd, 1988, pp. 7-10.

22    Nova umjetnička praksa 1966-1978, ex. cat.,  Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, ed. M. Susovski, with prefatory material by J. Denegri, T. Brejc, D. Matičević, N. Baljković, I. Biard, M. Radojičić, B. Szombathy, V. Radovanović, J. Tijardović, S. Timotijević, R. Kulić / V. Mattioni, Group 143, with ample documentation.

23    For the situation in Slovenia, see exh. cat.,  OHO Group, 1966-1971, introd. T. Brejc, ŠKUC, Ljubljana, 1978; also exh. cat., OHO group, introd.  I. Zabel, Modern Gallery, Ljubljana, 1994, with ample documentation.  For the situation in Croatia, see: Inovacije u hrvatskoj umjetnosti sedamdesetih godina, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, 1982, with prefatory material by D. Matičević, M. Susovski, D. Bašičević, Ž. Koščević, with ample documentation. For the situation in Serbia, see exh. cat., Nova umetnost u Srbiji 19709-1980: pojedinci, grupe, pojave, Museum of Contemporary Art, Beograd, 1983, with prefatory material by J. Denegri, J. Vinterhalter, S. Timotijević, V. Jovanović, M. Savić, J. Tijardović, and ample documentation (LJ. Stanivuk, Z. Gavrić).

24    For detailed information on those ties, see: 'Dokumentacija', section in the exh. cat., Nova umjetnička praksa 1966-1978, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, 1982, pp. 70-106.

25    C. Millet, 'Konceptualna umetnost kao semiotika umetnost', Polja, 156, Novi Sad, II, 1972; original text in the magazine VH, 101, 3, Paris, 1970, reprinted in the book, Textes sur l’art conceptuel, chapter 'Une nouvelle pratique artistique', ed. D. Templon, Paris, 1972, pp. 22-23.

26    J. Denegri, 'Problemi umjetničke prakse posljednjeg decenija, exh. cat., Nova umjetnička praksa 1966-1978, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, 1978, pp. 5-13 .

27    Inovacije u hrvatskoj umjetnosti sedamdesetih godina, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, 1982.

28    Nova umetnost u Srbiji 1970-1980: pojedinci, grupe, pojave, Museum of Contemporary Art, Beograd, 1983.

29    J. Denegri, 'Umetnik u prvom licu', Umetnost, 44, Beograd, X-XII, 1975, p. 105.

30    R. Barilli, 'Ponašanje', Ideje, 6, Beograd, 1979, p. 135; in the original: R. Barilli, 'Il comportamento, in the book of collected essays, Situazioni dell’ arte contemporanea, Roma, 1976, pp. 94-101.

31    J. Denegri, 'Govor u prvom licu – isticanje individualnosti umetnika u novoj umetničkoj praksi sedamdesetih godina' ('Speaking in the First Person Singular: Spotlighting the Artist’s Individuality in The New Art Practice of the 'Seventies'), exh. cat., Nova umetnost u Srbiji 1970-1980, Muzej savremene umetnosti, Beograd, 1983, pp. 7-13.

32    J. Denegri, 'Razlog za drugu liniju' ('The Reason for The Other Line'), exh. cat., Jugoslovenska Dokumenta 89, Sarajevo, 1989, pp. 13-20; by same author: 'Teze za drugu liniju', Quorum, 1, Zagreb, 1991, pp. 167; by the same author: 'Umetnost oko '68: druga linija', written in 1980, Projeka/r/t, 7, Novi Sad, 1996, pp. 70-75.

33    Michel Tapié, Un art autre, Paris, 1952; Pierre Restany, L’autre face de l’Art, Paris, 1979.

34    J. Denegri, 'Tri istorijske etape – srodni vidovi umetničkog ponašanja', Umetnost, Beograd, 1979, pp. 27-42; by the same author: 'Druga linija – posleratne godine'. Treći program Radio Beograda, 58, Beograd, 1983, pp. 53-94.

Anyone fortunate enough, closely to have monitored the birth and development of Arte Povera, to have witnessed Kounellis’ live horses and Merz’s igloos displayed at the Galleria L’Attico in Rome, in early 1969, to have listened to Beuys retelling the legend of his life, to have read and leafed through Celant’s book, with its illustrations of Land Art, Anti-Form, ‘Poor’ and Conceptual Art, and to have heard about Szeemann's exhibition in Berne, When Attitudes Become Form, could not fail to be tempted to go along with Renato  Barilli’s prediction that future art historians, discussing the  history of  20th-century art, would divide the entire period into two halves - the  age preceding, and the age following the critical year, 1968.

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