Behind the Scenes from Zagreb

Sanja Iveković. Tragedija Jedne Venere (Tragedy of a Venus). Zagreb: Galerija suvremene umjetnosti, 1976

This short account is meant to give a brisk bibliographic tour of a few routes that lead to the current MoMA Library exhibition Scenes from Zagreb: Artists Publications of the New Art Practice.

Five years ago, the library received a catalogue from an exhibition of artist’s books by Mladen Stilinović. The show had traveled to the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven and Platform Garanti in Istanbul in 2007, and the catalogue represented a complete view of the Croatian artist’s book works. As happens when this type of research publication falls on my desk, I can use it as a tool to compare with what we have in our holdings, and see things that we have missed. We had quite a few of the books described in the checklist. Actually, in several cases, we were the only library collection that listed holdings on WorldCat. I looked through the stacks and pulled the examples, and admired the materials. I found out later that these books had entered our collection in the early 1990s. Stilinović and his wife, writer and curator Branka Stipančić, had been traveling in the U.S., but they had gotten stuck in New York due to travel restrictions because of fighting in the Balkans. Knowing their situation, Jon Hendricks, currently the consulting Fluxus curator here at MoMA, introduced them to then MoMA Library director Clive Philpot. Philpot was able to buy several of Stilinović’s books, many of which are shown in the exhibition. Stipančić also introduced the book works of Vlado Martek and arranged for the artist/designer Ivan Picejl to send his serial publication A to the library. These publications are also featured in the current show.

Mladen Stilinović. Korak gaze (Cotton pad step). Zagreb: self-published, 1975

Mladen Stilinović. Korak gaze (Cotton pad step). Zagreb: self-published, 1975

Mladen Stilinović. Korak gaze (Cotton pad step). Zagreb: self-published, 1975

Around the same time as the Stilinović catalogue, we received a small exhibition catalogue from the Gallery Nova in Zagreb, an independent art space in Zagreb managed by the curatorial collective What, How and for Whom (WHW). The pamphlet was produced on the occasion of the exhibition On Unknown Works, curated by Stipančić in 2006. The show contained work by Sanja IvekovićMladen StilinovićGoran Trbuljak, Dalibor Martinis, Tomislav Gotovać, and Vlado Martek, among others. I was generally drawn to the works in the show and took interest in Stipančić’s description of how the works circulated in unconventional settings and among a circle of friends and colleagues. Also of note was how artists’ publications were an element in these practices and the allusions to other publications in which some of the artists participated. In this way, I started to follow threads that led me back again into MoMA’s holdings. I found publications in our catalog by this group of artists and discovered a variety of titles that were produced by the Gallery of Contemporary Art, the Students’ Center Gallery, and the Podroom artist-run space, all from Zagreb. The books had found their way into our collection in the 1970s, or later, in 1994, as part of the acquisition of the Franklin Furnace Artists’ Books Collection. These publications were often simultaneously documents of exhibitions or performances, and also experimental book works. I found Sanja Iveković’s two books Double-Life and Tragedy of a Venus, Goran Tbuljak’s modest little self-titled book that documented or described many of his early conceptual works, and Braco Dimitrijević’s Interview.

The amount of material was surprising, and this bibliographic record of artists’ activities presented a possible description of a place and a set of relations among a circle of artists and writers. In many cases, the city itself is an active participant, and its architecture, streets, and monuments are part of the scene for the performances, events, and actions documented in the featured publications. In terms of a broader context, the New Art Practice was a term coined to describe the neo-avant-garde activities of this generation of artists in Yugoslavia. The collected titles present—through an interrelated network of catalogues and artists’ books—specific manifestations of these tendencies and elucidate the role of little publications as documents for these often ephemeral gestures. The exhibition had been planned a couple of years ago, but we decided to defer it for a bit in order to directly overlap with MoMA’s major Sanja Iveković exhibition. As mentioned above, Iveković was part of this generation of artists in Zagreb, and it seemed like a great opportunity to further contextualize her work in the Museum show with this collection of books by her and her peers.

I realize I haven’t quite described the actual contents of the books very well in this short introduction. To see and read more, visit our exhibition website and/or come see the show in the mezzanine of MoMA’s Education and Research building. The exhibition remains on view through February 17, 2012.

For more information about MoMA Library research projects and activities, please visit The New York Art Resources Consortium (NYARC) website. NYARC consists of the research libraries of the Brooklyn Museum, The Frick Collection, and The Museum of Modern Art. Visit Arcade, NYARC’s catalog, for your art research needs.