I first made a studio visit with Sanja Iveković about ten years ago, when I was invited to organize a large-scale exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, Croatia. She impressed me instantly. I recall thinking, “This is an inspiring artist with whom I will forge a long-lasting relationship.” A feminist, activist, and video pioneer, Iveković came of age in the early 1970s, when artists broke free from mainstream institutional settings, laying the ground for a form of praxis antipodal to official art. Part of the generation known as the Nova Umjetnička Praksa (New Art Practice), she has produced works of cross-cultural resonance that range from conceptual photomontages to video and performance. Last month I visited Iveković again in Zagreb, this time to discuss her first survey exhibition in the U.S., which is scheduled to open at MoMA at the end of 2011.
The Museum has recently acquired four works from her celebrated series Double Life of 1975–76. For this series, the artist juxtaposed pictures of herself culled from her private albums with commercial ads clipped from the pages of popular magazines and newspapers. One part of each pair depicts Iveković through distinct periods of her life, enacting for the camera different poses, while the other part shows models advertising in women’s magazines such as Elle, Grazia, Brigitte, and Svijet. If you look closely, you will notice that sets are paired on the basis of similarities in appearance, gesture, props, locations, and situations. All images are dated, making clear that in most cases the artist was not simply mirroring media constructs of femininity but in fact was predating them—many of her remarkable self-portraits were taken before those in the ads to which they are matched. Probing mass media and its identity-forging potential with a sense of criticality, Iveković offers in this series an investigation of representation by exploring her own life retroactively. The exhibition at MoMA will cover four decades of the artist’s oeuvre and will feature Double Life as an early example of the feminist shifts that have been at play in contemporary art since the early 1970s.