At what point in a Croatian artist’s career does one cease to be considered a part of the younger generation? If we are to judge by the restrictions set out by competitions for young artists, in recent years the age limit has shifted from artists in their thirties to those in their twenties. However, the limits are relative – to what extent can they even reflect an entire society in which people are staying young longer thanks to their economic dependence on their elders. In the categorisation of the life and work path of a contemporary artist, the age limit is just one of the criteria that can project a relatively realistic image. What happens when your systematic work and exhibition practices place you in the middle generation? At what moment can you be considered an established artist? Obviously, there is no formula that would give simple answers to these questions. It is difficult in today’s very flexible value system to uniformly categorise someone’s work.
It is precisely this problem that impelled Viktor Popović to create his latest work. Three captions are written out in neon tubes mounted on a wall: emerging artist, mid-career artist and established artist. It is important to note that the artist assembled the middle part of this work (the caption mid-career artist) in Split’s Goli+Bosi Design Hostel in 2011 as part of the 37th Split Salon, using it to define, in this specific way, his own position on the art scene.
It is interesting to view the work in the context in which it is being shown in Lauba. Namely, on that same wall is a work by Popović from 2000 – a lead curtain that is now part of the Filip Trade Collection, and which was first displayed at the Juraj Plančić Gallery on the island of Hvar. Even in this early work, the strategy of inversion, the play between false simulation and a combination of incompatible pairs become the basis of the process through which Popović achieves the estrangement of objects that is characteristic of his art. The same principle can be seen in the exhibited installation of neon tubes shaped like a spider’s web. By selecting specific materials (lead, rubber, neon) that are visually somewhat close to a non-artistic object (a curtain or a spider’s web), the artist provokes a shift in the viewer’s perception. As a result of this, Popović’s works, regardless of the seriousness of their presentation and specific kind of denudation, always possess a certain ludic component.
The focus of Popović’s work can be found in the exploration of the complexity of the relationship of an artwork and its context with its non-artistic side. With his work he continues the century-long history of the ready-made and its many artistic and theoretic interpretations. What stands out as postmodern in the context of his work is his stand toward the ready-made, in which the artist freely uses different strategies – from simulation to adoption, i.e., literal borrowings. The series of works in which he uses usable objects associated with a certain space and its users is continued through this work, where he refers to the past use of Lauba’s space and the time when the current gallery space housed the Zagreb Textile Mill. He uses identical pieces of rubber to cover up the machinery that was used in the time of the textile factory. Using rubber as the means to turn a usable object into an artistic object, he creates a visually and conceptually intriguing work. Even though the object is barely discernible, its age and signs of wear and tear point to its original use, which an informed viewer can naturally presume and bring into connection with the exhibition space. Even though, to a certain extent, this is not of crucial importance. What is more important to Popović is the process through which he came to a certain object, and what he offers the viewer is a clean, new situation that points to the questions related to the artistic nature of the exhibited object, as well as those asking what the object really became through these actions.
Viktor Popović is an artist who, in choosing his works and reflecting on how to exhibit them, always thoroughly thinks through the character of the exhibition space itself. Space, in fact, is an essential component in his work, even when he creates graphics or paintings. In this work, light as a result of using neon or argon tubes becomes a structural element and brings the installations to the verge of creating a spatial ambient. The special treatment of architectural elements, extremely interesting and challenging in Lauba’s case, discreetly intertwines with the historical layers of the space, creating a truly intriguing exhibition unit.