Jasminka Babić

“... I hope that I will never be formed... what I mean is that negative moment in which you cease to think creatively and to question yourself.”1 This statement by Viktor Popović comes from an interview conducted two years ago and indicates an important fact – that Popović will never allow himself the luxury of an easy way that would compromise his art. His well-defined attitude towards his artistic practice, combined with his systematic reflection, has once again resulted in artworks that confirm his prominent and significant position on the Croatian art scene.

Although Popović’s work over the past few years has equally been that of painting and spatial installations, considering the artworks selected for this exhibition, this text will focus on the latter. The first step out of two-dimensional space was during the exhibition together with Ivana Franke at Juraj Plančić Gallery in Stari Grad, on the island of Hvar, in 2000. A spatial installation consisted of two simple leaden curtains covering the gallery’s windows. The description offered by Vinko Srhoj can be applied to some later examples of Popović’s art as well: “It is precisely at that intersection of expectations and the actual situation, the absence of fabric and its leaden simulation, that we encounter a curtain that seems to be protecting against radiation rather than sun while retaining its character as a curtain.”2 Research on the complexity of relations within an artwork and its context, as well as the non-artistic aspects, has permanently determined the opus of Viktor Popović. His work continues the almost century-long history of ready-made and the long line of its artistic and theoretical interpretations. What stands out in Popović’s art is his postmodernist attitude towards the ready-made, in which he freely uses various strategies, ranging from simulation to appropriation, i.e. literal borrowing.

In the line of the explorations beginning with the artworks that were formed by borrowed chairs (Komiža, Portland, SAD in 2006 and Split in 2007), Popović created a series of installations in 2007 by using borrowed everyday objects covered with a thick layer of rubber (Kristofor Stanković Gallery, I-gle Fashion Studio, and the florist shop of Saša Šekoranja, Zagreb). This time, the focus was on objects, linked both to the spaces as such and to their users – he had borrowed old typewriters from the Old City Hall, sewing machines from the fashion studio, and gardening tools from the florist’s. In this case, the agent of art was the rubber cover. The selected objects, hidden under identical pieces of rubber, were only vaguely visible, while the observer, aware of the fact that they were exhibited artworks and therefore not to be touched, was left to guess and speculate. The new version of the installation, presented in this exhibition, acquires an additional and very important memory code with the choice of borrowed objects. Popović has not included objects that are currently in use at the Gallery of Fine Arts but reached for the historical layers of the exhibition venue instead. Under the rubber layer, he placed objects that were part of the holdings of the former Museum of the People’s Revolution (today owned by the Municipal Museum of Split), which was located in the building of today’s Gallery of Fine Arts in the period between 1980 and 1991. A radio station, an aggregate, and a signaling reactor covered with rubber constitute an artwork that is both visually and conceptually intriguing. The choice of museum exhibits, laden not only with their primary uses but also with their museum history, with which we are still struggling, give additional meaning to this installation, re-contextualizing it entirely in terms of space and time.

In November 2010, within the Sintart exhibition at Richter Collection organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, Viktor Popović placed a textual artwork performed with the help of argon light tubes at the entrance. It said: Let no one ignorant of geometry enter (Plato, 387 B.C.). It is believed that this inscription had been placed at the entrance of Plato’s Academy. In this case, we can interpret geometry in two ways: literally – as a branch of mathematics – and in the context of the inscription as a symbol of abstract thinking aiming at complete understanding, i.e. knowledge. Thereby Popović has provoked a play of interpretation, linking the meaning of the text directly with the work of Vjenceslav Richter, but dislocating the inscription into an exhibition venue and thus multiplying its semantic levels. This procedure is close to the made-ready concept of Josip Kosuth, precisely in this process of creating and transforming meaning.3 Within Popović’s opus, such semantic plays confirm the absolute freedom of citation, regardless of whether they belong to the fields of art, philosophy, or culture in general. This artwork placed at the museum’s entrance early in the 21st century in Croatia (it belongs to the holdings of the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb), especially in today’s Split, acquires the meaning of a very serious warning. A declared demand for specific knowledge and way of thinking imposes itself as a neglected imperative.

To understand the exhibited artworks of Viktor Popović, we must recall for a moment the abovementioned leaden curtain. It already shows the strategy of inversion, the play of bogus simulation, since the combination of incompatible pairs form the basis of a process through which the author achieves the alienation of the object, something that has become quite typical of him. The rubber cage (No Title, 2009) and the leaden shadow (No Title, 2010) have an outspokenly paradoxical character. By selecting materials (rubber, lead) that are visually close to the original object (metal cage) or phenomenon (human shadow), the artist has provoked a detachment in perception. The expected hardness of a cage has been replaced through the softness and pliability of rubber, whereas the shadow, essentially immaterial and changeable, has been fixed in metal and deprived of the object that is the usual precondition of its existence (the human body). With these inversions, Popović has achieved a ludic component that remains present in his work, regardless of the serious and almost bare character of his art.

The two remaining artworks, here exhibited for the first time – the installation with an aluminum bottle surrounded by concentric circles of light (No Title, 2011) and a neon spider web (No Title, 2011) have a similar starting point. Popović first used light as a construction element in 2005, in an installation exhibited at the Gallery of Fine Arts Zadar, at the 17th Blue Salon. Fluorescent tubes, arranged in two cone-shaped groups, remind us of piles of firewood. Once again, it is an inversion that provokes the observer to question his or her acquired concepts of perception – the warm fire has been replaced by cold white light emanating from the object and fully intervening in the exhibition space. The same thing occurs with these new light installations. The one with an aluminum bottle surrounded by argon light tubes resulted from a call for contributors issued in connection with this year’s contest of T-HT@nagrada.msu.hr. Regarding the fact that the organizer is a telecommunications operator, Popović chose communications for his subject. However, he completely ignored the contemporary media and opted for the message in a bottle as his main motif. Argon circles emanating from around the bottle like waves do, in fact, transmit a message – about light as the vehicle of spatial intervention.

The process of extending the notion of sculpture, which was underway in the 20th century in the form of numerous artistic experiments, has led to today’s basically open concept that includes various phenomena, such as spatial constructions, installations, uses of the body as an element in the sculpting process, and social sculptures.4 The tradition of American minimalist artists (Donald Judd, Dan Flavin) and the processes of postmodernism that the American theoretician Rosalind E. Krauss has described while defining sculpture in the extended field,5 are references that form the starting point for Viktor Popović in his installations, which can also be regarded as ambiances as to their full articulation of exhibition space. Here the artist has mostly combined artificial sources of light and metal frames as structural elements, thus achieving complete activation of space with minimal means (2006 the Gallery of Fine Arts and HDLU in Zagreb and solo exhibition in Gliptoteka the same year). In his article on the “Rhetoric of Modernism,” Klaudio Štefančić used the example of Viktor Popović to establish that “... sculpture has become the temporary visual and spatial text in which we, the visitors, participants, and bodies, can take part.”6 Popović’s experience with such previous spatial installations enabled him to create his latest installation for the exhibition at the Gallery of Fine Arts. A gigantic spider web has been carefully spun out of more than a hundred neon tubes, covering more than 40 m2 of space. By juxtaposing very fine linear elements and cold neon light, the artist has produced an artwork that with its precision and power, again testifies to the clarity of form and concept.

The exhibition series entitles One on One has been based on dialogue. Igor Eškinja and Viktor Popović are artists who, with similar poeticisms and understandings, communicate easily. Both are known for their formally clear, balanced artworks and depersonalized approach. With their different strategies, they re-contextualize the postulates of the modernist notion of art and explore the levels of perception and the elusiveness of visual illusion. They also resemble each other in their attitude towards production. The possibility of collaboration in the Gallery of Fine Arts has opened up the challenge of joint research. It is the space for their artworks and the possibility of their mutual communication and creation of new relations. Their selection, however, did not involve literal comparison or pairing according to the principle of similarity. The link was established on the conceptual level, with respect to the thematic interests of the two artists and with the basic aim of creating a unique, harmonized art space. Such was the case with Eškinja’s Untitled (After Dan Flavin) from 2005, which leans on the subject of many artworks by Popović. In the same way, Popović is exhibiting a leaden shadow, which is a common motif in Eškinja’s opus as a whole (the direct counterpart would be his Them from 2005). Another interesting link is reaching for the text as an essential element in an artwork. While Popović uses the abovementioned saying by Plato, Eškinja’s artwork entitled Foundations (2011) is based on texts that the artist has collected and that applies to the subject he is currently involved in, albeit they are not directly related to his artwork. By placing texts into the exhibition space, the artist has added another semantic level by creating links both with his own and with Popović’s art. This way a dialogue, taking place in the visual domain, gets its textual epilogue.
  1. Viktor Popović in: Interview / Viktor Popović, Kontura Art Magazine # 99, December 2008/XVIII.
  2. Vinko Srhoj, preface to the exhibition catalog Ivana Franke / Viktor Popović, Juraj Plančić Gallery, Stari Grad, Cultural Center, 2000.
  3. For a definition, see Miško Šuvaković, Pojmovnik suvremene umjetnosti [Lexicon of contemporary art] (Zagreb: Horetzky, Ghent: Vlees & Beton, 2005), p. 352.
  4. Ibid. (2005), p. 573f.
  5. Rosalind E. Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field”, in: The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985).
  6. Klaudio Štefančić, “Retorika modernizma” [Rhetoric of modernism], in: K15 Pojmovnik nove hrvatske umjetnosti [Lexicon of New Croatian Art], Kontura Art Magazine (Zagreb, 2007), p. 136.
Solo exhibition catalog preface

One on One (with Igor Eškinja)

Museum of Fine Arts, Split, Croatia
February 11 – March 9, 2011

Jasminka Babić