March 8th – April 25th, 2021
The past year faced us with multiple challenges. Compounding the unprecedented global epidemiological situation, an earthquake hit Zagreb in March, inflicting major damage on the Art Pavilion and, temporarily at least, making it infeasible for the institution to put on its regular exhibition programme. The newly arising circumstances gave rise to a creative reaction: to shift art productions to the space in front of the Pavilion. Through the coming year a new exhibition programme with the unpretentious title Art in Front of the Art Pavilion will be put on precisely in this outside space. To date it has largely served just as an approach to the building itself, even though, several times, it has been turned into an exhibition venue for artworks – we might recall, for example, the exhibitions of Dušan Džamonja (1999), Ivan Kožarić (2005-2006) and Mirjana Vodopija (2013). Now, though, thanks to the urban siting of the Pavilion, the area in front of the establishment will become, through its new engagement as exhibition site, a place that encourages people to linger and gather. The Art Pavilion was always conceived as a place for urban life and for interaction. Now, when this aspect is to an extent frustrated, the outside space might make up for this lost factor of communality.
It is our intention – even after the Art Pavilion has been repaired and renovated – to go on with holding exhibitions in the open air. Indeed, it is our plan in the coming years to move across the boulevard known as the Green Wave and hold exhibitions in the very centre of Zagreb. When economic conditions in city and state stabilise, the Cycle will be put on biennially. We would like this series of exhibitions of ours to turn into a Contemporary Sculpture Outdoor Biennial, in which both Croatian and foreign artists will take part.
In the four exhibitions in the programme for this year, we shall present four Croatian sculptors whose works, each in their own particular way, will animate and enhance the exterior of the Art Pavilion. Not only will this kind of exhibition pull art right into public space, it will also prompt thinking about the role and potential of public sculpture, independent of its not infrequently ephemeral nature.
The first exhibition gives us the installation of an Osijek sculptor of the middling generation, Tihomir Matijević, a work entitled Ordnung. Art historians and critics are unanimous that Matijević’s work is provocative. In this context we might recall his exhibition Cake vs Bronze in 2013 in the Fine Arts Gallery in Osijek, or that entitled When the Monument was Young put on in 2016 in Pula in the Poola Gallery. In the same year the exhibition Transheroica or the Sculptor in Search of a Hero was shown in the Substructures of Diocletian’s Palace in Split.
In the work Ordnung too, the sculptor’s provocativeness and tendency to irony can be seen. The work consists of several elements that together create a whole, a sculpture. The construction machinery placed in the sand is at the very bottom and represents the economic conditions. Then comes the first part of the plinth, which depicts books from the area of architecture and art theory, with which the artist refers to the importance of planning public space. The second part of the plinth contains a quotation from Trajan’s Column, highlighting the importance of human labour. At the very top is the figure of a policeman recalling how it is that important figures from history are usually presented.
“Is Ordnung a treatise or a depiction of the society in which we live?” art historian Klaudio Stefančić asked Tihomir Matijević in an interview. The answer he received went: “One and the other, and yet neither. One can argue back and forth about any kind of object at all, for someone a stick stuck in the ground will be enough, while another won’t be moved by a hundred Brandenburg Gates. It’s more dependent on the cultural capacity of the recipient and his will than on the artist’s intention. A piece can function as a depiction of society, for the structure of social organisation is similar to the processes of building. To make this easier to understand I’ll put another unknown into the equation, the idea of the monument, or the transition of sculpture into monument. Unlike works of art, monuments are a collective expression and the production processes are far more complex. There is an attempt to put these processes in order (Ordnung): politics legitimises the profession, the profession politics; institutions, authorities, public debates and so on. There are many instances of the process of acceptance that, however much they might be democratic are to the same degree impossible. One doesn’t need to think here only of the corrupting Croatian politics of everyday life. Architecture is also a kind of dictatorship, as is maths, and art theory. All these disciplines take part in a millennial-long struggle against chaos.”
Matijević’s Ordnung functions at several levels. It is a kind of image of society, one of an ironic and somewhat grotesque character, and yet also a work that is concentrated on the very theme of public sculpture and the question of thinking about and using public spaces. Absolutely a welcome work of art in the time and space in which we live.
Between Public and Form
Klaudio Štefančić: The sculpture Ordnung that you are putting on in front of the Art Pavilion Zagreb is a kind of aggregation of visual utterances. Starting from the base, going on up to the top, you show the phases that lead to the production of an artwork in public space. At the bottom are the economic conditions, that you represent with construction machinery in sand. Then comes the first part of the plinth which presents books from the domain of architecture and art theory, in which you point to the importance of the planning of public space. The second part of the pedestal is a quotation from Trajan’s Column, which you use to accentuate the importance of human labour. Every important sculpture, you seem to say, is a collective work. At the very top is a figure of a policeman, which recalls the usual representation of celebrated figures from history. You have shown a distorted version of this figure, through a movement that might well have derived from some slapstick comedy. What seems to me interesting, in spite of a certain irony, is that you are depicting an ideal situation. But in Croatia, that is, the human figure you have put at the top of the sculpture ought to be presented at the bottom too. That’s where competitions are fixed, kickbacks are taken and the rest. Since you come from a city that recently acquired an unenviable reputation when it put up a monument. I know that you are aware of the situation. Is Ordnung a treatise or a depiction of the society we live in?
Tihomir Matijević: One and the other, and yet neither. One can argue back and forth about any kind of object at all, for someone a stick stuck in the ground will be enough, while another won’t be moved by a hundred Brandenburg Gates. It’s more dependent on the cultural capacity of the recipient and his will than on the artist’s intention. A piece can function as a depiction of society, for the structure of social organisation is similar to the processes of building. To make this easier to understand I’ll put another unknown into the equation, the idea of the monument, or the transition of sculpture into monument. Unlike works of art, monuments are a collective expression and the production processes are far more complex. There is an attempt to put these processes in order (German Ordnung): politics legitimises the profession, the profession politics; institutions, authorities, public debates and so on. There are many instances of the process of acceptance that, however much they might be democratic are to the same degree impossible. One doesn’t need to think here only of the corrupting Croatian politics of everyday life. Architecture is also a kind of dictatorship, as is maths, and art theory. All these disciplines take part in a millennial-long struggle against chaos. In Croatian newspeak, a police officer has turned into an order-bringer. Hence the title of the work.
Klaudio Štefančić: There are not many contemporaries of ours who have so systematically gone into the problems of public sculpture as you. The engagement of an artist is very largely restricted to the handling of the free-standing form. Artists often have no control over the formation of the surroundings of the sculpture, its illumination and so on. In some cases, it seems that the client determines the form as well, and the plinths take on fantastic proportions. So your accentuation of the social determination of public sculpture seems to me very pertinent. Sometimes you speak about this concretely, as when you talk about the open competitions, and sometimes metaphorically, when you talk about “the place”, implying some identity proper to it that the sculpture would be supposed to express. Could you go into this a bit? Are you thinking only of commemorative monuments and settings, or do you think it relates to art in public space in general?
Tihomir Matijević: To answer this question, first one would have to revise a number of expressions. Primarily “monument”, what is it, a big medal or a work of art? Then history, which history (big or little history), history of what, whose history? Apart from the history of warfare, it’s not hard to imagine, for example, a monument to little girls who failed to get accepted to ballet school. A bit of a joke, but an instructive one. Naturally, not all public sculptures are monuments, but they can be transformed into them under certain conditions. Neither the Baška Inscription nor the Acropolis were created with the intention that they should be cultural monuments, but the durability of the materials they are made of, stone, enabled their history to be fixed in time, a place of historical importance to arise from the places where they happen to be. Permanence, not thematic content, is the most essential feature of a monument, and so one has to distinguish provisional, scene-setting sculptural operations from lasting setups. The first are in the sphere of events, the second in construction. Many forces materialised in things come into conflict in public space, and history tells us of the more important roles of sculpture, in, for example, the Baroque city, as the very groundwork of urban planning, not as a mere application. But I am primarily thinking of the unused potential of public sculpture as spatial identifier, object of anthropological study and work of art.
Klaudio Štefančić: When there is talk about the monument, it is always implicitly about the history of the community and suchlike concepts. Monuments are often placed on spots of great significance for the community. They are signs in space for in them the present is “quilted” for a moment with the past. On the other hand, when a public sculpture is mentioned, all that is of no great importance. More important are the innovativeness of the artist’s approach, the communal functionality, the way a work fits into the surroundings and suchlike. This demarcation is not only terminological, rather is deeply bound up with the history of the twentieth century. It is not merely that this century at its beginnings had to devise the sculptural form that would commemorate its losses in World War I, from the first attempts in 1918 in Minot, North Dakota, to whole memorial environments, such as the monuments of Vimy Ridge or Thiepval in France. It also turned the urban core, as you say, and in fact neo-Classicist public three-dimensional art, into a means of propaganda. Sergei Eisenstein thought that sculpture was the most political of all the arts, for it can most easily embody ideological positions. And while the first case represented an example of collaboration and recognition, the other was just the opposite of that. On the one hand, a new artistic and cultural form – the Memorial to the Unknown Soldier or an anti-war monument, for example, but on the other hand, the statue of the leader. To this day, this cleavage determines public sculpture and is particularly visible in our country. Eisenstein had in mind mimetic sculpture, the free-standing form that shows the human figure. As far as I know, your work unfolds exclusively in the bounds of mimetic sculpture. Everything you show is largely of the human figure. You also often use the term statuary and statue, and you are proud to call yourself a statue maker, alluding, so it seems to me, to the position of outsider. Personally I tend to avoid the terms “statue” and “statuary” for they restrict the phenomenon of sculpture to imitation of the human figure (a stătŭa in Latin means a picture). Why so many human figures in your work? I have the impression that every one of your sculptures strove to be a monument, but did not make it. Writing of your work, Daniel Zec nicely described it with the phrase “the sculpture of the monument”.
Tihomir Matijević: The real Croatian word for sculpture is “kip” [statue], although, I have to admit, the word “skulptura” is more often used in the context of any expansion of the medium. A “kipar” is a man who makes statues, and “kiparstvo” is in my case, the basic vocation that determines excursions into other media. The films or comic strips I make are “statues” of films and strips and so on. In the process of looking for a poetics of my own, I went through the typical experimental phases of youth in those years; from postmodernist abstractions to lumino-kinetic objects in the post-avant-garde manner. Around about the turn of the century, I had to admit that I was fascinated with the ideological sculpting of socialist realism, particularly with the works of Antun Augustinčić and of the Russian sculptress Vera Mukhina. In a formal sense I was probably influenced by the bronzes of Jan Fabre, Damien Hirst and Maurizio Cattelan, but mostly by a painter of the New Leipzig school, Neo Rauch, who tied his own identity to the identity of place, that is, the socialist realist art of the DDR. After that, I set out on the same path, although I wouldn’t agree it’s only about figuration. The monuments I have referred to usually consist of two elements. One is a bronze chappy with heroic gesture, and the other is the pedestal or plinth, which belongs to the sphere of the architectural, the geometrical and abstract, not to mimetic representation. In my work these plinths are semantically activated and are often more to the point than the surmounting figure, as can be seen in Ordnung. This work is, just as Daniel Zec says, a sculpture of a monument, or a reinterpretation of a monument with a complex. I mean, I could become a monument myself, but for this there would have to be several levels of acceptance by the community as a sign of commonality, considerable resources and the time needed for one to be inextricably connected to a place. This is probably never going to happen, and I shall stay just an ordinary artist and never the “Kipar”.
Klaudio Štefančić: A weak point of monumental sculpture is that it counts on eternity. If by eternity, as Wittgensteign says, we are not thinking of some endless temporal duration but timelessness then someone living in the present lives eternally. All this takes us back to the social community. Most of the public sculpture in Croatia – not only since independence – was created without any input from the wider community in the process of regulating the invitation or the choice of the art work. In other words, the process is always top-down and very seldom bottom-up. Today our public space is replete with statues that reveal in everything they are the taste of the nineteenth century. Augustinčić, whom you mention, is a good symbol of this taste. Any formal change is usually only cosmetic, for our public sculpture, in most cases, does not produce new forms of commonality, nor does it have any particular values (I have always looked at your Bust in Punishment of 2007 as a comment on this kind of situation). On the whole it is there for the sake of ideological propaganda, which is an anachronism – for cultural wars are now fought in another theatre. From this point of view, until the manner of valorisation is changed, I would agree with fellow critic Ive Šimat Banov that a moratorium on public sculpture should be brought in. In one conversation, you said you think every square should have (a) public sculpture. But why shouldn’t there be, instead of sculpture, a tree, for example?
Tihomir Matijević: Eternity is unknowable to the human mind, but to me, 1000 years sounds very similar. As for the community, we are thinking of the government and the profession (the institution) when we talk about those up there and civil initiatives when we mean those down there. Neither one nor the other is a creator, only the individual can be that. The idea of democratic processes breaks on the issue of public sculpture. And the average taste of a member of the public has changed from, for example, Augustinčić’s Tito to today’s monuments to Tuđman. It’s not just a matter of qualitative gradation, rather of a different idea of the monument. Unlike socialist realism, today’s realism attempts to apply to itself the experience of Modernism, and so these poor old Tuđmans have to undergo vitalistic stylisations, expressionist gestures, constructivist surfaces, undergoing severe identity crises.
I would also impose a moratorium, from different reasons, however. It’s not about whether every square should have a monument, but whether we need squares at all, for the idea of monument is mostly linked with this architectural phenomenon. In a strictly formal sense, squares were clearings bounded by the geometry of buildings, with a monument, sculpture, fountain or so on in the centre, and the function of them was set by commerce. But at most of the sculpture competitions these days, at least those I have taken part in, new values and contents are sought. They are looking for multi-purposiveness, something to suit all men – kids, seniors, disabled people and joggers, the lot. In 90% of the cases, every empty space is going to be crowded with trees, children’s playgrounds and other urban clutter. Sculpture is surplus to requirements here, clearings vanish, powerful images in fact disappear. Kvaternikov square in Zagreb and Freedom Square in Osijek are good examples of this. I know that today it’s not popular to take a stance against trees and playgrounds, these grand ecological and human demands, I am aware that the time of these kinds of squares has passed. The cult of the leader with bronze statues has been replaced by the cult of the tree-people with the ritual of dogs lifting their legs. All that is left to sculptors is just to comment on the public space, as in Bust in Punishment, for they have long not been allowed to take place in its development.
Tihomir Matijević was born in 1975 in Našice. In 2000 he took his degree in the Sculpting department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, class of Stanko Jančić. In 1998 he studied at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, class of Jim Nestor, as part of the AFA and IUP exchange programme. In 2013 he took a doctorate at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, having been supervised by Stjepan Gračan and Leonida Kovač. He has exhibited at group and solo exhibitions in Croatia and abroad since 1998. He won an Ex aequo prize at the 22nd Slavonian Biennale and one of three equal prizes at the 11th Triennial of Croatian Sculpture as well as a special mention from AICA (the International Association of Art Critics). He has been employed as an associate professor at the Academy of Arts and Culture in Osijek (sculpture course) since 2005. He has been a member of HDLU Osijek (Association of Croatian Artists) since 2000. Tihomir Matijević lives and works in Osijek.