There is one more important section in the National Museum in Belgrade that I would like to write about, which wasn’t there in the past. I saw it for the first time ever during my latest visit to the museum. The section that I am talking about is on Yugoslav modern art.
In fact, it makes sense to add these paintings to the permanent collection. Thus, you can see the progression of Serbian art from medieval times, through the 18th and the 19th century paintings. You can also see the Serbian Impressionists and the Yugoslav 20th century art.
Certainly, the story wouldn’t be complete without, at least, a mention of trends and achievements in the field of modern art.
THE MODERATE MODERNISM OF THE 1950s
Until the year 1950, periodical individual shows and short-lived activity of the Zadar Group (1947) were the only symbolic signs of the discontinuation with the dominant ideological themes of the post-war socialist realism.
Petar Lubarda’s exhibition in 1951 signified the institutional end of this policy and the future affirmation of Serbian art. Within the new cultural politics of the country, the protagonists of the December Group had an important influence on the process of modernisation and also the spreading of artistic internationalism.
THE DECEMBER GROUP
The December Group (1955-1960) won the battle for the emancipation of the artistic expression, for high aestheticization of art based on abstraction, expressionism and also post-cubist tradition of Picasso.
The artistic expression of the Group is a continuity of inter-war art. The painting is based on traditional values, but at the same time, purified in the narrative and linguistic sense. It’s turned towards solving of plastic and pictorial problems.
The painting remains related to objective world as its direct motif, even if the object is transformed to organic forms, geometrically reduced to the allusive and abstract sign or sometimes to stylised ornaments taken over from medieval and Byzantine legacies.
CRITICAL MODELS OF THE ART OF THE 1950s AND 1960s
The dominant modernist climate of the 1960s was confronted by the critically oriented developments, primarily on the art scene in Belgrade. This opposition was manifested in diversely committed, strategic activities as resistance towards the political and cultural milieu of elitism and aestheticism.
Informel Painting appeared on the Belgrade art scene at the end of the 1950s, as a double negation of the state of Yugoslav art. On one side, it negated the past of socialist realism and, on the other, the dominant aestheticism of post-war modernism.
The foundation was a projection of anti-art, aiming to resist traditionalism. It negated the painting as the carrier of the scene. In other words, it established the image as a consequence of the process of realisation.
Action and gesture function as destroyers of form and total elimination of the concrete object.
Mediala, founded in 1957 as an alternative group of artists, opposed socialist and modernist conventions in painting. With their works and public shows, it propagated the concept of an integral picture and philosophy of non-acceptance and negation. It emphasised figurative narrative. It related the object to tradition and literature with the so-called “aesthetic of the ugly and apocalyptic”.
Eclecticism and quotations are frequent and, within the numerous historic artefacts, Renaissance models are dominant, together with elements of surreal, metaphysical and also fantastic.
The leading ideologue of Mediala was Leonid Šejka.
NEW (BELGRADE) FIGURATION / NEW OBJECTNESS
New (Belgrade) figuration/new objectness evolved in the early 1960s into yet another model of reaction to the legacy of modernism, analogue to the all-European tendency of renewed figuration.
The painting is in the form of a critical narrative directed towards the realities of contemporary civilisation. It’s in a dialogue with the society through irony, humour, allusion, sarcasm, parody, grotesque. It’s toying with the kitsch and banality of everyday politics.
The object has a function of a moral act. It is close to the critical ideology of the European pop-art. Thus, the subject matters, as representations, are related to mass-media (film, photography, cartoons).
YUGOSLAV MODERN ART
Undoubtedly, all this is very interesting to see. Personally, I am not a big fan of the modern art. But at the same time, just because I don’t like it very much, I can’t deny its existence.
It also makes no sense to ignore it. Rather, it makes sense to get familiar with it at least in the broadest sense. After all, modern art is art of an era in which we live. Artists are trying to tell us something, in the way they see the world around us.
So, if you visit the National Museum, make sure to see the section on the Yugoslav modern art too. It’s interesting and also it completes the story of this museum.