“Made in Yugoslavia”: Struggles with Self-Management in the New Art Practice, 1965–71

Vlado Jakolić, Photograph from Izložba žena i muškaraca [Exhibition of Women and Men], June 26, 1969, Galerija Studentskog centra, Zagreb. Image courtesy of Arhiv za likovnke umjetnosti HAZU, Zagreb, Inv. no.: SC-46/F1.

Vlado Jakolić, Photograph from Izložba žena i muškaraca [Exhibition of Women and Men], June 26, 1969, Galerija Studentskog centra, Zagreb. Image courtesy of Arhiv za likovnke umjetnosti HAZU, Zagreb, Inv. no.: SC-46/F1.

In September 1978, Zagreb’s Gallery of Contemporary Art staged the first survey exhibition of conceptual and performance art in Yugoslavia: The New Art Practice, 1966–78. Forty years on, the phenomenon continues to attract a substantial amount of scholarly and curatorial attention, largely because of its globally-renowned affiliates, such as Marina Abramović, Sanja Iveković and Mladen Stilinović, among others. But academic work has been hesitant to address the deeper political, economic and institutional factors that underpinned the New Art’s emergence and secured its prolific development. This article proposes that the New Art both came out of, and responded to, a complex and contradictory moment in Yugoslavia’s history, when the country began to integrate itself deeper into the Western capitalist world system. It follows the emergence of the OHO group in Ljubljana and two particular episodes in the youth centers of Zagreb and Novi Sad alongside a brief, but decisive, period of liberalization, which began with a massive economic reform in 1965 and was briefly interrupted by a crisis in federal politics in 1971/2. To this end, it examines how artists addressed the impact of these developments on Yugoslav “self-managing” socialism, and its promises of grassroots participation and a more experimental political culture. While stressing the absolute importance of situating the New Art Practice in its precise historical context, the article seeks to provide a new model for a transnational study with a Pan-Yugoslav focus – by mapping how artistic ideas circulated in the Yugoslav cultural space, it provides a glimpse into the tightly woven networks of exchange that enabled the New Art scenes to thrive.

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