Ješa Denegri, ‘The Other Line’: Articulating the Spirit of Place [ENGLISH]

‘The Other Line’: Articulating the Spirit of Place

Published in: Život umjetnosti, 50, Zagreb, 1991

The influence of a milieu on the emergence of different movements in 20th century art is a subject of endless debate. Once engaged in a discussion of the pros and cons, it does not take too long before one realises that the forms in modern and contemporary art – and that applies to the earlier periods, as well – have not occurred at random places or random moments; on the contrary, they were created by individuals who lived in concrete historical circumstances, who worked in those circumstances, and who were constructing their identity within a specific geographic, cultural and social area. It was in a combination of all these conditions that their spiritual and artistic horizon was created, and their world view formed. The ‘when’ and the ‘where’ of the emergence of different artistic tendencies are unavoidable facts, yet this does not imply that they predetermine the specific style, or other features of a given tendency. Nor do they, in themselves, guarantee they have any particular value.  For what matters, in art – the individual work of art, and its value – falls within the scope of the artist’s individual capability (or lack of it). Needless to say, identical, or extremely similar, historical circumstances provide the background to the emergence of strikingly different forms of articulation, different approach to certain issues and different values, as well. It Is scarcely possible, to consider the particular features of the modern and contemporary art scene in Croatia, and of the artistic space it occupies, without starting out with a concrete assessment of the facts (Individuals, groups, tendencies); and that, of course, also implies some considerations of their respective value, in the context of the current art scene and the historic space it has occupied, over the short or longer term.  Thus, through a careful examination of all the relevant factors, we can easily see that this is a fairly complex milieu. And, If we take into consideration the fact that the  hub of the  entire cultural complex has always been located In Zagreb, we may easily  concur with Matko Meštrović proud assertion that: 'Zagreb is a city, cosmopolitan in character, where phenomena of utterly contrary provenance can endure and develop independently while creating a cultural setting of a very broad scope'. At the time when Meštrović launched this debate, in 1964, he detected the full range of abstract art, from its most extreme manifestations, on the one hand, that were beginning to merge with the latest international streams, to the strikingly local style of certain self-taught painters, on the other. Somewhere between these two extremes. He found that the prominent positions were a large number of individuals, who had carved out their own areas of concern and created the appropriate forms and structures for expressing these. It is probably safe to assume that over the next quarter of a century, or more, the scene gained in completeness, as well as complexity – both as a whole and in a detailed sense. Only someone taking a biased approach to what actually made up the spirit of the place would wish to seek to identify just one leading, or representative, figure, as standing out from the rest. Needless to say, any such approach would end up in a reductive view of the complexity of this milieu and focus only on limited, preconceived patterns, instead of revealing the full diversity and complexity, not to say richly pluralistic and contradictory, nature of the artistic scene, as a whole, in the way in which it had developed organically. Therefore, we shall not attribute any particular historical, or other, value to the phenomena we are about to examine and consider that we will be better advise, instead, to survey some of the developments within the complex of 20th century Croatian art that raise particular issues, in relation to the culture of which they form an organic, but sometimes contested part.  The main reason for this might be said to be the inadequate recognition, or inadequate understanding, accorded to of a minor stream (minor, in terms of the number of participants), whose protagonists – at different moments and on different occasions – aspired to radicalise the concept of art and artists’ behaviour, for the simple reason that the environment in which they asserted their claim to attention was not prepared for this, or was unwilling to accept it without further debate. So far, we have repeatedly been referring, tentatively, to the developments in question as ‘'The Other Line', using the term, 'other' to signify 'different', rather than 'secondary – i.e.  'different', or 'other',   in relation to certain artistic mentalities within the artistic milieu itself that used to have (or were thought to have) deeper roots in the characteristics of a particular genius loci.

The characteristics of ‘The Other Line’ were quite discernible in the debate launched on the occasion of the retrospective exhibition dedicated to the group EXAT-51,  and their accompanying monograph (both undertaken by Galerija Nova in Zagreb, in 1979). Writing about the exhibition after the event, and recalling the resistance the group encountered, Ivan Picelj, one of the EXAT’s founders, put the whole thing in a favourable perspective, as follows:

'In addition to all possible and impossible arguments against our painting art, one of the constantly repeated claims was that we did not belong to this milieu, while forgetting that it was in this city that Aleksić (Dada), Micić (Zenit), Sava Šumanović (post-Cubism), and Seissel (Bauhaus) had worked. Their activity, however, was buried by the burgher environment. We did not want the same destiny. To create a work was not enough. We had to defend the work. It meant confrontation.'

Milan Prelog, a contemporary of EXAT 51, who attended the exhibition, testified that  there was not only a confrontation between EXAT 51 and Socialist Realists, whose star was already on the wane, but that there had been a far more general, deep-seated sense of unease:

“The macroclimate was permeated by the traditionalist view of the art of painting and of art in general. Somebody spoke about Socialist Realism here, but it should be made clear one day to what extent the Socialist-Realist aesthetic is close to the traditional view of the painting art, and that it was easier for the traditional academicism, and the overall taste of the time, to accept realism – be it of socialist colour – than any kind of avant-garde.” 

Finally, in trying to map the points, not only of EXAT 51’s views. But of all the other also the rest of the innovative ideas that were current in those days, Boris Kelemen introduced the term, ‘The Other Heritage’ and explicitly stated that this was ‘the foundation out of which EXAT 51 and other ventures of the day sprang'.

In Picelj’s references to the forerunners there is one lapse, yet one that does not detract from the meaning of his remark: namely, Josip Seissel (who in the 1920’s took the artistic pseudonym, Jo Klek) was an artist from the Zenit circle, while the Bauhaus was, at different times of the school’s activity, attended by Avgust Černigoj and Ivana Tomljenović-Meller. This reveals that those associated with the 'International Magazine of New Art, ',,  Zenit', formed an even stronger circle, despite its small membership.  Ljubomir Micić published this in Zagreb, from 1921 to 23, then in Belgrade until 1926, during which period he passed through several different phases, most of theme, literary, but some of them connected to art, as well and consistently took up  radical positions, with an invariable instinct for maintaining close spiritual and personal relations with  kindred figures on the cultural scene of the day, in Europe, The visual arts components of  Zenit, which represent our primary interest here, were mainly confined to Mihailo Petrov’s prints and, especially, the important, though not very numerous series of  by Jo Klek/Josip Seissel, among which the 1922 collage, Pafama (with its title deriving from  the German, Papier-Farben-Malerei  = ‘paper-colours-painting’) stands out. But the design and typography of the magazine, Zenit, and some other Zenitist publications, ‘spoke’ a singular language of forms and symbols, especially during the period when their editor displayed a strong inclination for Constructivism. In a milieu where utterly novel views of the nature of art were spreading, Ljubomir Micić had been the person to lay the theoretical foundations and make the most important contributions – particularly those contained in his text, 'Toward Opticoplastic Art', (published in 1923, as an introduction to the publication, Archipenko – New Plastic Art. This it was probably the first essay by a Yugoslav author, to offer a completely clear and partisan account of some of the principal arguments in favour of apprehending a work of art as an autonomous language-structure – i.e. itself articulated in language that made no concessions to any extraneous aesthetic or ideological meanings or contents. From that moment onwards, this became the general standpoint of virtually the full range of artists we tend to classify under the rubric of ‘The Other Line’.

'No longer nature-copying, but a disciplined synthesis of natural and extra-natural elements… No longer a transported motif of an existing object, but the plasticity of the object itself as absolutely created and invented by the artist. Not the plasticity of what is seen, but the plasticity of what has been created.

 This is what Micić concluded in the aforementioned text:

'The new plastic art should be a real-life act, an experience of simultaneous optical objects that only together and by the creative will of the artist make up a work of art within a given space and in a new balance.

The above quotations should not lead us to conclude that Micić solely advocated Abstract (non-figurative, non-objective) Art, as one of the leading tendencies on the art scene of the time. To him, an autonomous work and the personality of the artist who created it exemplified the conduits through which the individual guarded and defended his integrity; this kind of integrity was also demanded, from a different, yet no less radical perspective, by Dragan Aleksić, the champion of Dadaism and publisher of Dada Tank and Dada Jazz (Zagreb, 1922), in which he – like Micić, who published texts and/or illustrations by Kandinsky, Malevich, El Lissitzky, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Lajos Kassak, Karel Teige and others, in Zenit – managed to attract direct contributions from an élite circle of international protagonists of the general tendency represented by  Tristan Tzara, Kurt Schwitters and Richard Huelsenbeck.  Having worked together for a while, Micić and Aleksić quickly separated, owing to the unbridgeable gap between their different outlooks on nature and effect of artistic behaviour. They may not have realised at the time that neither of their two different approaches stood any real chance of gaining a deeper and broader acceptance in the milieu to which they were exposed, for they were paying the inevitable price of a short existence that all radical artistic attitudes have to bear. However, the short-lived nature of their of their existence and activity – even the lack of preparation for this within the culture of their milieu – should by no means serve as a reason for devaluing their contribution, though this has so often been their fate, in the various counts that art critics and historians have given of their activity. On the contrary, one should say openly that the role that Micić, Klek and, more generally, Zenit played in the spiritual context of Constructivism – as well as Aleksić’s immersion in the atmosphere of Dadaism – mark a high point and a very precious contribution to the integration of individuals and small circles from the Croatian and Serbian milieux into Europe’s avant-garde art developments in the early 1920’s. The same can be said of the concurrent emergence of Černigoj and his circle in Slovenia. It is therefore obvious why the future proponents of some new art-related views should have referred to the general complex of Constructivism-Dada-Bauhaus, in spite of their ostensible contradictions. That is why in the discussions on alternative streams within the whole of Yugoslavia’s art – i.e. tin discussions of ‘The Other Line’ – it was these rare and singular examples that gained the attributes of models, pioneers and historical antecedents.

The typological qualities of Micić’s Zenitist and Aleksić’s Dadaist performances meant that they fell within the complex of the historical avant-gardes. This conclusion is based on the criteria established by the interpretations of the leading theoreticians of the phenomena which characterised the European artistic climate between 1921 and 1930. Namely, these two artists possessed the typically avant-gardist agonism and antagonism (Renato Poggioli’s terms); in other words, they militantly denied the existing cultural situation in their own environment. It was particularly Micić’s Zenitism which advocated the establishment of a verticality of the spirit, that predicted an optimum projection into the future, which would result in an ethical and social re-evaluation (Aleksandar Flaker’s terms). As for Aleksić, his extreme Dadaist negation of everything did not spare even the institution of art (Peter Bürger’s term). The theoreticians dealing with this phenomenon justifiably see the avant-garde as a temporally determined and clearly  delimited episode, which occurred and ended in the second and third decades of the 20th century; therefore, the later phenomena declared to be innovative,, which referred to the heritage of the historical avant-garde, are most often (though debatably) termed neo-avant-garde. Speaking of Croatian art after 1950, this term can well be used to cover the activities  of the group EXAT 51, for the following reasons: as in the case of the historical avant-gardes, it was characterised by the grouping of a small circle of like-minded Individuals, in terms of their art and ideas; their appearance in public was supported by a manifesto, through which they proclaimed their own viewpoints and also expressed resistance to a situation they could not tolerate, which inevitably led to their confrontation with their environment, regardless of whether the confrontation was triggered by the group itself or  was imposed on them, as a mechanism of self-defence. A later version of this is expressed in the opinion of Vjenceslav Richter, one of the EXAT 51 members, for whom:

'Our prime aim was not to open a confrontation with the existing practice, the existing norms of the society. We were just putting into practice some of our own aspirations, our own views, in the way we could… In fact, we wanted peaceful conditions of work, yet the ruling logics implied that the clash just had to happen.”'

 The aspirations manifested by the EXAT 51, which inevitably brought the group into conflict with their milieu (whether or not this was their intention), were tied up with the   formal and  intellectual legacy of  Constructivism, which had not  become sufficiently established at that point, as none any longer remembered anything at all about  Micić's and Klek's earlier endeavours.. For that reason, the members of the group sought to rely on the European experiences, and to adapt them to the circumstances and requirements of their own day. As for the members of the group, Matko Meštrović said that they,

'as representatives of the geometric abstract painting and as adherents of the Bauhaus ideas, emerged in 1952 with a fully elaborated art programme, comprehending the function of art within the broadest sense of transformation of the total plastic-art reality and abandonment of the traditional concept of an artist with all of his burdens – for the sake of a new type of art-creator, one capable of contributing to the growth of material culture… In the time of the just initial large-scale industrialization in the materially and technologically underdeveloped country, the broad-ranging programme of the Exatists reflected the need for a programmed cultural upswing, yet proved unacceptable due to the very absence of such growth.

 Thus, one view of the whole endeavour of the EXAT 51 is that it left something unarticulated, incomplete or, in a word, partial; and the group sought to compensate for this, largely unavoidable, deficit, in striving to comply with the demand put forward by one wing of the group, for the introduction and free exercise of abstract painting, at a time when the they were still surrounded by a climate of ideological suspicion. These, then, were the circumstances that mainly determined the nature of EXAT’s painting (over and above their other artistic accomplishments) and involved them in the polemical conflict, described by Richter. Nowadays, it is obvious that the challenge passed the tests of art history, and this was even acknowledged by the critic, Josip Depolo, who had at first been close to EXAT 51, but subsequently turned hostile:

'The works by the four Exatists (Kristl, Picelj, Rašica, Srnec) have resisted time trial as works of art, standing out today in confirmation of the talent of the then young painters…The fact that the Exatist works played a positive role does not only imply that the historical moment worked in their favour, but also that they posed an artistic challenge. History cannot build on dilettantism.'

The further consequences of the group’s appearance on the art scene on the whole were summarised by Boris Kelemen, who wrote that:

'EXAT-51 occurred at a historic moment, and it occurred just as it was. Ten years later, another historic moment happened. In the year 1961, the first exhibition of the New Tendencies was mounted, which would never have taken place had there not been the EXAT-51 and its continual activity which suffered some changes conditioned by the times”.

The link that EXAT 51 provided to the New Tendencies in Zagreb is beyond dispute, as is shown by the fact that as many as four EXATists (Ivan Picelj, Vjenceslav Richter, Vlado Kristl, Aleksandar Srnec) participated in the first two exhibitions of that international art movement, which had Zagreb for one of its European organisational and creative centres. Despite going through a whole series of mutations, the New Tendencies movement retained a focus on this single Constructivist matrix. Many of its features, such as its militant championing of its own position and wish to polemicise Its relations with  concurrent artistic practices, as well as the need that its artists felt, to produce a supporting  theoretical basis for their work, reveal that this was a typical  neo-avant-garde phenomenon o, a manifestation of  'The Last Avant-Garde', as Lea Vergine named it, in the title of the historic retrospective of the movement that she organised in Milan, in 1983. It was affected by all the difficulties and limitations which such a position (i.e. the position of a neo-avant-garde) faces, in the overall cultural and social circumstances of an affluent consumer society. It reflected an experience of society that inclined towards uncritical acceptance, rather than a collective assessment of new artistic ideas; yet this was also a society, in which wherein art and artists – despite their improved working conditions – more often lived in a mood of uneasiness, even alienation, than in a harmonious environment.

Therefore, even a movement such as New Tendencies, which was basically an activist concern, did not consist exclusively of artists, who were inclined towards a constructivist and collectivist approach: the first exhibition in 1961, in particular, drew attention to a number of stances that reflected the mood of artistic solipsism, and even negativity, so far as some of the exhibitors' attitudes and behaviour were concerned. Piero Manzoni was an extremist champion of the negative approach. One of the two participants from Zagreb in the first New Tendencies exhibition was the EXATist, Picelj, whose example symbolically represented the link between EXAT-51 and New Tendencies. Knifer was the other: he was a painter, who, at that very moment, set out on his grand, uninterrrupted adventure of painting 'meanders', which he himself interpreted as  a kind of programmatic 'anti- painting', and which took on a life of their own, for all that they bore the hallmark of a certain kind of  formal geometry.

In those days, Knifer was a member of the Gorgona group, whose membership also included Josip Vaništa, Ivan Kožarić, Marijan Jevšovar, Djuro Seder, and Dimitrije Bašičević (Mangelos), amongst others, amounting to an  informal ‘association’ of artists, who used different languages, yet were close to a sense of the absurdity of existence, which found expression in a maximum reduction of visible appearances and a rejection of aesthetic qualities in a paintings and three-dimensional work. These artists also shared a tendency to shift from making work, as such, to focusing on processes and procedures, in anticipation of what came to be known as the 'dematerialisation of the art object'. Knifer himself was aware of the ambiguity of the position his paintings occupied, in relation to the artistic milieux in which it was commonly included. AS he put it, in a later discussion: 'Within the context of the New Tendencies, the meanders were taken as signs of constructivity; within Gorgona’s context, they were considered manifestations of the absurd'. It was not only through Knifer, but also through the two critics, Putar and Meštrović, who were committed to staging other movement’s exhibitions, that Gorgona came to be linked to the New Tendencies. Gorgona was the other face of the spiritual climate at the same historic moment, in the early to mid-'sixties. The group reflected awareness that certain assumptions about principal characteristics of the e avant-garde were manifested through projecting an optimal vision of the future. What was left to the artist, as a substitute for belief, was simply to conduct a hard and lonely struggle, to understand, and conquer, total freedom for his art and his actions, as the ultimate way of defending his threatened, yet precariously preserved, psychological self-confidence.

When the stage of artists’ advocating the idea of planning seemed to be over and concluded – something that provided a spiritual link between some of the individuals connected with  Zenit and the group EXAT 51 and fed into the  latter’s participation in New Tendencies -became apparent that  Aleksić’s Dadaist mentality had been resuscitated and – for all the open disputes that arose –  found a spiritual kinship with the members of Gorgona,  as well as several other painters who belonged to the radical, and ultimately non-pictorial, stream of Art informel.  By this route, painting was brought to the very borderline of survival – as in the cases of Ivo Gattin and Eugen Feller –, in the shape of petrified lumps of barren, primal matter, which had been burnt, yet saved from being utterly devoured by the flames. Even a former member of the EXAT 51 sensed, and dramatically expressed, this in-depth transformation of the psychosis of the time: from his earlier geometric paintings, Kristl, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, switched to monochrome, completely black or white Positives and Negatives, which took the painting to the level of ground zero, where it no longer spoke about anything else but was stripped naked its own elementary, material structure. Under the wing of Gorgona and the other practitioners of Radical Art informel, this feeling of uneasiness in an individual artist's relationship with the realities of the day was still latent, remained covert and was not exposed directly to public view, though it was mediated through painting, even if only at the most basic level of its physical make-up. When the emotional crisis neared its peak, the artist could no longer hold himself back, or no longer wished to: he had to fall back on himself and his own resources, and resorted to the mode of the first person speaking. In other words, he had to find a means of articulation through the individual act, or action, involving a public appearance, rather than the production of a work of art (whether a painting or a sculpture).  This was the case with Tomislav Gotovac's 1967 Happening, which had been preceded by his still photography and film production. And the artists of the then young generation (Braco Dimitrijević, Goran Trbuljak, Boris Bućan, Sanja Iveković, Dalibor Martinis, Mladen Stilinović, and others), who had all grown to maturity In the spiritual climate of the years around 1968, understood art as an extension of life, and a specific kind of daily conduct; their aim was to explore the limits of such conduct, and fully to abandon the protected field of art. The range of art practice was to grow in extent, and it became commonplace, for artists to enlist media, such as stills photography and film, and to take art outside the gallery, into townscapes or the countryside. In short, art ‘realised’ in an ordinary, everyday setting was given its chance. All these symptoms indicate a certain indebtedness to the inherited ideals of the historic avant-gardes. These ideals, which now seemed closer at hand than ever before, reflected the aspiration to merge art and life, and to equate art with life, as if the point of a self-fulfilling prophecy about the aesthetic society was truly within reach. However, the true state of reality meant that these excessive aspirations were soon put back to where they actually belonged: It soon became apparent that this was, in fact, just a novel kind of artistic practice, with its specific procedures and techniques, as well as the outcome of a more or less efficient critical evaluation that offered verifiable results. But the consequences of those developments, and of those intense, though short-lived, turbulences in the art world, have remained strikingly present. This whole development in art is nowadays felt to have reflected a time, when artists were seeking to transgress the established limits and to find a way out of the field of art that was hemmed in by aesthetic judgments. This was a time, when artists began to re-examine their professional performance and to adopt a critical stance towards the prevailing artist milieu and cultural traditions. This new atmosphere associated with the 1970's encouraged a reassessment of a whole range of phenomena, from the Constructivism and Dadaism of the period between the Wars to EXAT-51, Gorgona and Radical Art informel. The reassertion of these values was to serve as a basis for the whole complex of ideas associated with ‘The Other Line’, as a continuous evolutionary chain, to which many members of successive generations of artists had given of their best.

The situation on the art scene changed again considerably at the beginning of the 1980's, and change was accompanied, or even preceded, by an all-out theoretical debate about the Post-Modern as a characteristic expression of the age. Numerous principles on which the concept of modernity had rested were undone, or abandoned: as Jean Baudrillard said, modernity did not exist any more, everything was in vogue, and everything was retro. As part of this overall revision, even the very concept of the avant-garde was subjected to critical re-examination, and the trans-avant-garde became one of the terms used to denote the art of the Postmodernist era. As to the question of whether each successive form of radical critique had been invalidated in turn,  Baudrillard went so far as to load the  answer in favour of the negative, by suggesting that every form of critique had been not only  fruitless, but pointless; that we had already been through one whole cycle of the critical thought … that the symbolic order had been overridden, and the critical perspective abandoned … And that criticism merely served to protected the viewpoint of the subject, and all his strategies – all of which, in turn appeared  outmoded and exhausted. If that was so across the entire spectrum of spiritual belief, there could be no justification for trying to hive off any particular area of artistic creation, In any case, in the art of our time, each individual position had to be defined in relation to the Other, and the rest.  From now on, the entire notion of ‘The Other Line’ might still look impresssive, as the product of a network, but it was also a system, which nevertheless – and despite all intentions – inevitably implied a particular kind of totalitarian behaviour. Yet the realities of the particular circumstances relating to the artistic situation of the time meant that 'The Other Line'  never fully succumbed to an uncritical form of pluralist belief: a number of distinctive criteria survived, with the result that certain phenomena naturally gravitated towards others, just as certain individuals naturally gravitated towards others, , and the reason for  this was the  inhere rent  spiritual kinship that  people felt for each other and the  invisible threads that appeared to connect them. This was bound to happen in the art world of the 1980s and arose out of the context that has been described above. In other words, something of the mentality of 'The Other Line' has survived in the thick of the artistic practices that have emerged in the last decade, and there are many concrete examples of this that could be adduced, in support of this claim. Thus, it was Seder, one of the exponents of a Radical Art informel and a member of Gorgona, who turned into the spearhead of Neo-Expressionist ‘New Image Painting’;  Željko Kipke, the leading exponent of  Postmodernist eclecticism, along with his brother Branko Ve Poljanski, Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos saw Micić as his own historical forebear, along with his brother, Branko Ve Poljanski; likewise, Dimitrije Bašičević (Mangelos), who had then only just received posthumous recognition, as a significant artistic personality; likewise,  Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos; likewise, too, Edita Schubert, with her various geometries, and Dubravka Rakoci and Goran Petercol, who have also managed to follow up on the linguistic advances that were of common benefit to their artistic endeavours … And  Knifer, unsurprisingly, had not only not given up on  his meanders, but had once again found a way to catch up with the changed context in which he was working and continues to  thrive alongside some of the latest  representatives of the current art scene. The 1988 exhibition, Knifer-Kulmer: Continuity and Discontinuity in Croatian Art, was an act of symbolic reconciliation, in the spirit of Postmodernist tolerance in this changed artistic environment, and was intended to demonstrate the possibility of reconciling some of the hitherto principled differences in modes of artistic behaviour. Thus, the last decade has witnessed the obliteration of the once all-too-evident ideological divide in the internal artistic debate; yet some previous ties lived on, and some streams of continuity have endured, although some of them would scarcely be recognisable from outside. Now let us go back to the issue of the impact of the milieu on the artistic languages to which it gave birth and try to draw some conclusions, in an attempt to depict the course of events that took place over several generations of Croatian artists. What we have attempted to point out is the fact that, quite apart from issues of the languages and attitudes that artists have chosen to adopt, the milieu in question enabled them, autonomously to articulate and constantly refresh their individual radical attitudes and modes of artistic behaviour. This milieu did not merely intermittently ‘import’ such procedures and modes of behaviour from the international art scene: on the contrary, it possessed a sufficient inherent potential, and the energy, to chart its own course, through organising successive manifestations. As has been said above, ‘the Other’ – as a tentative critical concept – does not designate anything of secondary value; nor does it consent to an alternative, or marginal, form of expression that might, supposedly,  be more in keeping with the given milieu’s central course. There is no milieu in which there is just one genius loci; many a spirit of the place ‘haunts’  art forms at their birth and growth. The art discussed here is an autochthonous art of a strikingly urban mentality, and it reflects the genius loci of a modern city, in the spatial dimensions and cultural strata of Zagreb during the period in which it came into being. The milieu which boasted such a cultural centre, which was capable of forming and maintaining there some radical tendencies, in close connection with kindred art at a  European level,, no longer has to resort to categories such as peripheral structure, in order to identify itself; it does not have to seek excuses for thinking of itself as a local setting. Indeed, art in any place can be born in countless ways, but all of those ways share one indispensable feature, in common –  participation in a  large-scale, worldwide exchange of art-related issues and ideas, and an effective presence on the global art scene, at different times in history.

The influence of a milieu on the emergence of different movements in 20th century art is a subject of endless debate. Once engaged in a discussion of the pros and cons, it does not take too long before one realises that the forms in modern and contemporary art – and that applies to the earlier periods, as well – have not occurred at random places or random moments; on the contrary, they were created by individuals who lived in concrete historical circumstances, who worked in those circumstances, and who were constructing their identity within a specific geographic, cultural and social area. 

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