Ivan Kožarić, Osjećaj cjeline (The Feeling of Wholeness), 1953—54, plaster, iron, wooden base, 38 × 21 × 22.5cm. Photograph: Darko Bavoljak
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Previous spread: Čovjek koji sjedi (Sitting Man), 1954, bronze, 61 × 65 × 23.4cm. Photograph: Darko Bavoljak. Both images courtesy the artist and Studio Kožarić, Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb
Ivan Kožarić: A Feeling of Wholeness — Ana Dević
‘Since I have been free, all kinds of ideas are coming to my mind, and almost every one of them I find to be good, although they oppose the ideas I had before, which were smooth-running and good.’ 1 — Ivan Kožarić, letter to the imaginary Office for Dispossession of Freedom, 1976
Ana Dević surveys the sculptor Ivan Kožarić’s radically self-questioning practice and his work’s continual transformations since the 1950s. Sculptor, Anti-Sculptor, Non-Sculptor Since the late 1950s, Ivan Kožarić has constructed one artistic paradigm after another, only to dismantle it later, as if motivated by a constant desire to find yet another artistic gesture and change of direction. The dialectics and contradictions at the heart of his complex artistic position have been summarised by Ješa Denegri, who described him as simultaneously ‘sculptor, anti-sculptor and non-sculptor in the same time, in the same person’. 2 Although Kožarić is quintessentially a sculptor, his practice encompasses public monuments, installations, conceptual proclamations, textual works, drawings and paintings. He often makes use of readymades, sometimes experimenting with video or introducing performative elements. The constant transformations in his work are not changes in media or style, however, such as moving from figuration to abstraction, or to a conceptual approach, but a creative process full of upheavals, in which existing sculptures and cycles of 1 2 3 4
works are continually recycled, reworked, rejected, rearranged and re-evaluated. Like other prominent Croatian artists — such as Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos or Tomislav Gotovac (also known as A.G. Lauer) — Kožarić is intent on creating a personal art system that involves perpetually contextualising his own works in relation to each other. Whereas Gotovac’s system, for instance, is what he calls ‘globally directed’ (a ‘paranoid’ worldview that embraces the grand narratives of film, art, politics and history), 3 for Kožarić there is no concrete intellectual programme, no frame or criterion that would organise the specific parts of his practice into a whole. Regardless of this, or precisely because of this, his talent resides in the ability to transform materials and things in a manner that ultimately provides a sense of wholeness to seemingly random and disparate elements and procedures. It could be said that this sense of wholeness is formed intuitively, through the sediments of artistic and life experience; 4 through a strong urban sensibility where the streets are treated as if they were the artist’s studio; and above all, through Kožarić’s ambivalent and anarchic understanding of sculpture, based on expanding borders, on a rejection of hierarchy and on an affirmation of the anti-form. Among his early works, even before he joined the Gorgona group in 1960, the sculpture Osjećaj cjeline (The Feeling of Wholeness, 1953—54) occupies an exceptional place, as a herald of the contradictory tendencies that became crucial in his subsequent output. The sculpture is a simple, round, elongated form in plaster that is diagonally pierced
Ivan Kožarić, in Ivan Kožarić (exh. cat.), Belgrade: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1976, unpaginated. Unless otherwise noted, all Croatian translations the author's. Ješa Denegri, ‘Sculptor, Anti-Sculptor and Non-Sculptor in the Same Time, in the Same Person’, in Matica Hrvatska (ed.), Ivan Kožarić (exh. cat.), Sisak: The National Library, 2006, unpaginated. Gotovac coined the term ‘Paranoia View Art’ for his idea of a paranoid worldview in which historical events are ‘globally directed’ as part of a conspiracy. See Evelina Turković, ‘My Studio is a Laboratory for Vivification’, Antun Maračić and E. Turković (ed.), The Kožarić Studio, Zagreb: Idea Imago, 1996, p.87.
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by an iron stick — a form that resembles a discarded object with an uncertain function. Even if made at a time when his work was mainly figurative, Feeling of Wholeness was first shown in the group exhibition ‘Abstract Tendencies in Croatian Art 1951—1961’ at the Modern Gallery Zagreb in 1981. Although it could be regarded as an early example of abstract sculpture in Yugoslavia, given the absence of a unique direction in Kožarić’s practice at that time it is better understood as a fundamental experiment in his creative search for a figurative paradigm — an experiment that serves as a key to understanding his ability to make sharp turns, to change direction and to sustain diametrically opposite working principles within his works. The absence of rules that Feeling of Wholeness exemplifies is crucial. Like this work, Kožarić’s entire oeuvre is a system that refuses to be systemised, and which fundamentally resists hierarchies. Its main principles are dialectics and contradiction, and it is based on the ‘anarchic creative discontinuity’ that ‘follows consistently only the uncertain passions of … self-intuition’. 5 The Collective Work of Art The time that Kožarić spent within the avant-garde art group Gorgona in the 1960s marked one of the turning points in his work. Gorgona’s elusive but synergic collective ethos, and its transgressive ideas on the dissolution of art, undoubtedly radicalised Kožarić’s projects and his artistic thought. Active in Zagreb from 1959 to 1966, Gorgona brought together a group of artists and art historians who collectively realised activities of a visually modest but intellectually challenging nature. 6 They exchanged concepts and letters among themselves, as well as with international artists with whom they shared artistic interests (such as Piero Manzoni, Robert Rauschenberg and Lucio Fontana). Between 1961 and 1966, they published eleven issues of the ‘anti-magazine' Gorgona, conceived as 5 6 7
an artwork in the medium of print, each consisting of a few pages designed by one artist — drawn from the members of Gorgona along with other artists such as Victor Vasarely, Harold Pinter and Dieter Roth. The members of the group, whose spiritus movens was Josip Vaništa, each had his own independent artistic practice but shared artistic affinities such as absurdity, humour, irony, emptiness, Zen philosophy andideas of anti-art, comparable to the poetics of Fluxus or Neo-Dada. Their works were ephemeral in type: meetings, conferences, artistic walks, mail art, their anti-magazine and self-organised and self-financed exhibitions. Such practices were inscribed within a range of artistic experiments that would later be canonised as Conceptual art, and which questioned the status of the art object and renegotiated the limits of art in a search for artistic and intellectual freedom. Kožarić joined the Gorgona group in 1960, as a mature artist, aged 39. He now considers this period to be his second youth. The sculpture Unutarnje oči (Inner Eyes, 1959—60), begun in a hotel room during a short stay in Paris, was an important factor for joining the group; Kožarić later chose it for the cover of his edition of Gorgona magazine (no.5) in 1961. The several versions of Inner Eyes can be viewed as anti-portraits, or fragmented ‘portraits’ depicting the negative space in the interior of a head. In 1955, when his work was still mainly figurative, Kožarić stated that he saw ‘people as indentations and protrusions in their particularities’. 8 In later works made during his time with Gorgona, he translated this perception into a sculptural idea by conceiving vast realms of negative and symbolic sculptural space, which he saw as supplementary to external, concrete space — the landscape, the city, the globe and visible reality as such. For instance, Neobični projekt — Rezanje Sljemena (Uncommon Project — Cutting Sljeme, 1960) was a proposal to cut into part of the Sljeme mountain,
Želimir Koščević, Kožarić (trans. Leonarda Čanić), Zagreb: Naklada Naprijed, 1996, p.67. In addition to Kožarić, Gorgona included painters Josip Vaništa, Marijan Jevšovar, Julije Knifer and Đuro Seder; architect Miljenko Horvat; art historians Radoslav Putar, Matko Meštrović; and art historian, curator and artist Dimitrije Bašicević Mangelos. ‘When I came back from Paris in 1960, where I have spent several months, Jevšovar and Vaništa ask me to join the group. Perhaps it wasn’t really a group … Anyway, they asked me to join Gorgona.’ I. Kožarić in an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist in H.U. Obrist, Zagreb 16/6/01, Zagreb: WHW & Arkzin, 2001, p.31. I. Kožarić, quoted in ‘The Five About Themselves and Their Work’, Narodni list, 30 January 1955, p.3.
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Ivan Kožarić , Unutarnje oči (Inner Eyes), 1959—60, plaster, 31.5 × 25 × 29.7cm. Photograph: Darko Bavoljak. Courtesy the artist and Studio Kožarić, Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb
a popular destination for hikers in Zagreb, turning the environment and external space into sculptural material whose indentations and protrusions could be manipulated. Another such piece is Kolektivno djelo (Collective Work, 1963), a proposal to cast in plaster the interior of all the Gorgona members’ skulls, as well as of cars, studios, ‘mainly, then, of all the significant cavities in our city’. A later text piece, Proglas (Proclamation, 1963—86), which exhorts: ‘Sculptors of the world, let us make a cast of the earth’s globe’, is a further elaboration of Collective
Work. These radical proposals are at once formal conceptual manifestos, utopian projects and concrete ideas that challenge our imaginations to consider them feasible. Trash and Gold: Tying the End with the Beginning ‘If I were not a sculptor, I would like to be a chef’s assistant, or a street sweeper, with that beautiful cart of his!’ 9 — Ivan Kožarić
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Kožarić fully rejects any chronological or evolutionary principle in his practice. Works are often left without signature or date; one form spontaneously grows from another; they are arranged into certain cycles, and later into different ones; and sometimes Kožarić repeats a work several times. His paradigmatic sculpture Čovjek koji sjedi (Sitting Man, 1954), for example, became a part of the sculptural installation Skulptura 1954— 2000 (Sculpture 1954—2000, 2000), in which it was later joined to another cycle, the Privremene skulpture (Temporary Sculptures, c.1975—ongoing) series. When, in 2000, Sculpture 1954— 2000 was shown in the exhibition of the same name at HDLU in Zagreb, the left arm of the sitting figure was lengthened by a 350-metre-long form made of aluminium foil that meandered through the exhibition space; at the end of the show, the artist cut it into pieces, which he gave to the visitors. The work can be understood as Kožarić’s
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witty negation of the figuration/abstraction dichotomy that in 1950s socialist Yugoslavia generated many fervent discussions. Indeed, the artist never abandoned figuration; a great number of his works, even after the 1960s, when he embraced abstraction, still used figural expressions from time to time, as in the exquisite portrait sculpture Smirenost industrijskog radnika na putu za svoje selo (Calm of an Industrial Worker Travelling to His Village), made in 1979. Kožarić’s oeuvre displays a sense of humour that ranges from subtle irony and absurdity to ridicule and the carnivalesque. His use of unexpected and often surreal juxtapositions and dislocations — particularly in his public interventions, such as the haystack that he placed in the historical centre of Dubrovnik, Stog sijena (Haystack, 1996) — enables shifts in perspective on the part of the spectator. Undoubtedly the exceptional vitality of his work is due to its playful license. But above
Ivan Kožarić, Skulptura 1954— 2000 (Sculpture 1954—2000), 2000, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photograph: Antun Maračić. Courtesy the artist and HDLU, Zagreb
all, it is the radical doubt in his own ‘finite vocabularies’ 10 that is at the very core of his work — a doubt that draws him to rethink the role of art, but also the very concept of reality: ‘I am not an artist, but I compensate by being a poor sculptor. In my research I came to a position where I can say I am on the trail of art, and this is enough for me’. 11 The artist’s words should not only be understood as self-irony, but also as an honest and mature reflection that manifests radical doubt. Such systematic and recurrent doubt regarding his work likewise pushes Kožarić to explore a paradigm to the point of its exhaustion — generating a new one, or leading to the rejection of the need for one altogether. This is of great importance 9 10 11 12 13 14
for his cyclical conception of time. As early as 1962, Radoslav Putar, who was then the artist’s peer in Gorgona, observed that ‘one cannot discern a fully legible rhythm of “development”’ in Kožarić’s oeuvre. 12 Many years later, curator Želimir Koščević introduced the notion of ‘anarchic creative discontinuity’ to describe the deliberate cancellation of a clear temporal sequence within Kožarić’s rich work. 13 In 1984 Kožarić stated: ‘I always destroy what I have made. Now I sometimes think that still I haven’t made anything, that all [… my works] were only attempts, attempts, attempts’. 14 One of these radical ‘attempts’ was his decision in 1971 to give a coat of colour to his famous studio at 12 Medulićeva Street in Zagreb, which was full
Radmila Iva Janković, ‘Filozofija hrpe’, 15 dana, no.3, 2009, p.22. See Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. I. Kožarić in an interview with Zdenko Rus, Život umjetnosti, no.14, 1971, pp.90—96. Radoslav Putar, in R. Putar, Ivan Kožarić (exh. cat.), Zagreb: Gallery of Contemporary Art, 1962, unpaginated. Ž. Koščević, Kožarić, op. cit., p.67. I. Kožarić (interview), ‘I Am Trying to Be an Ordinary Sculptor’, Vjesnik, 7 December 1984.
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of sculptures from various periods, diverse objects and everyday things. He re-painted almost everything in gold. Equalising his artworks — including his sculptural masterpieces from the geometrical cycle Oblici prostora (The Shapes of Space, 1962—ongoing) and Isječak rijeke (Segment of a River, 1959), and earlier sculptural portraits such as Glava djevojke (Head of a Girl, 1954) — with the non-art objects in his studio, like his shoes or furniture, he simultaneously performed a radical negation and an affirmation of his work. Those elements of the studio that he left
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unpainted were wrapped in fabric to make temporary ‘anti-monumental’ bundles. He called this series of objects Pinkleci (‘bundles’ in dialect), and left them lying on the floor of the studio like random heaps of anonymous things. Deliberately destroying the sacrosanct space of his own work, Kožarić also rewrites its history in a consciously anti-hierarchical selfcontextualisation, both nihilistic and affirmative. In this way, Kožarić not only suggests that trash and gold go hand in hand, but also that the artistic process includes reversible transformations of
Ivan Kožarić, Oblici prostora (The Shapes of Space), 1965. Photograph: Darko Bavoljak. Courtesy the artist and Studio Kožarić, Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb
Previous spread: Ivan Kožarić, Neobični projekt — Rezanje Sljemena (Uncommon Project — Cutting Sljeme), 1960, photomontage, 19 × 25.5cm. Courtesy the artist and Studio Kožarić, Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb
trash into gold (i.e. into art), or art into trash (i.e. something worthless, contingent and anonymous). Testing the limits of the modes of presentation of his work became crucial to him from then on. Indeed, a few months later he went a step further, proclaiming, very much in the spirit of previous Gorgona manifestos, that everything in Zagreb — all city façades, all streets — should be painted in gold. 15 After the late 1960s, the various phases of the artist’s work fragmented into several directions: some of them were left as is, or were virtually (and even literally) thrown on a heap, to become part of a new work. For the Yugoslav Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1976, curated by Putar, Kožarić again ‘recycled’ some of his earlier works by conceptualising them further. Responding to Putar’s invitation to exhibit in the heart of a national representative mechanism, Kožarić disrupted the institution of art and the Biennale’s mode of national selection, as well as his own work. In a kind of anti-retrospective show, he exhibited two series of works, Hrpe (Heaps, c.1976—ongoing) and Temporary Sculptures. Heaps lumped together the artist’s ‘successful’ and ‘unsuccessful’ sculptures, nonchalantly thrown in provisory groupings, as if they were waiting to be thrown away. Shown for the first time, Temporary Sculptures consisted of ephemeral materials such as aluminium foil or paper, whose form changes in every realisation. Often, after they were shown they were destroyed. Kožarić’s ‘heap’ in the Yugoslav Pavilion was a courageous artistic and curatorial gesture that questioned the artist’s own work and the conditions of its display. In 1976, when he made Heaps, Kožarić elaborated on his understanding of the temporality of his work: ‘Now I feel I am at the beginning, because that is what I sought. Sometimes I really don’t know where I am, because I am too close to myself. Everything boils down to years and experience; one has sought, scrambled and got somewhere.’ 16 This is not the only artistic gesture or statement in which Kožarić consciously connects the beginning 15 16 17 18
of his work with its end; in this, he shares a similar sensibility, based on process without progress, with another member of Gorgona, Julije Knifer, who painted motifs of meandering throughout his life. Kožarić owes his vitality to his selfreflexivity; rather than taking the art world or his own work for granted, he is always ready to destroy and rearrange all that he has achieved. Chaos, chance, witticism and hyperbole in his work carry a message: there is no ‘right’ way to make artistic forms. The extension of his art practice beyond sculpture also encompasses his studio, Studio Kožarić — the artist’s ‘laboratory for revitalising’. 17 A living artistic organism, and his life-work, it embodies the idea of artistic totality. The studio has seen many transformations. After re-painting it in gold, Kožarić performed his next gesture in 1993, when the whole studio was moved to the Zvonimir Gallery in Zagreb for his solo show there, where he stayed and worked during the exhibition. After that, the studio was presented in 2002 in Kassel, within Documenta11. Even the entry of Studio Kožarić into the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb did not preclude another transformation. On the eve of the museum’s opening in 2009, immediately after all the sculptures had been cleaned and wrapped in acid-free paper, ready to be transported to the museum, the artist ecstatically decided to exhibit the sculptures still wrapped in paper, and in this way make them ‘invisible’.18 Yet, a year later, the sculptures were spontaneously brought to the light of day. There will probably be more incarnations of Studio Kožarić, which tenaciously resists its musealisation. Standing as a metaphor for the continuous, fruitful and surprising process of realising freedom, such a gesture reminds us that Kožarić’s art, even at the peak of its recognition, resists any systematisation, opening up narrow but possible paths for art to become something else again.
He declared this at the 6th Zagreb Salon (a local exhibition featuring a new generation of young Conceptual artists, who later formed a phenomenon called ‘nova umjetnička praksa’ — ‘new art practice’) in 1971. See Ivan Kožarić, Zagreb: Gallery of Contemporary Art, 1971. Quoted in Ivan Kožarić (1976), op. cit. See E. Turković, ‘My Studio is a Laboratory for Vivification’, in The Kožarić Studio, op. cit., p.80. As explained to the author by R.I. Janković.
The author would like to thank Radmila Iva Janković, curator of the Studio Kožarić at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb; Evelina Turković; Boris Greiner; Filip Kožarić; Antun Maračić; and SCCA Institute for Contemporary Art, Zagreb.
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