“The Critic’s Choice 2004” – Jovan Despotovic: “Old Now”

The Critic’s Choice, Gallery of the Culture Center, Belgrade, January 8-24, 2004

The traditional annual exhibition The Critic’s Choice this year features the selection entitled Old Now by the assistant minister of culture and curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Mr. Jovan Despotovic.

The author has decided to deviate from the usual practice of basing his selection on the artists who have exhibited during the previous year.

Instead, he chose to present the current work of the group of authors who were gathered at the exhibition entitled New Now more than twenty years ago: Darja Kacic, Milovan Destil Markovic, Mrdjan Bajic, Mileta Prodanovic, and Radomir Knezevic.

At that time these artists were graduate students at the Faculty of Fine Arts Belgrade.

Today they are all full time teachers there, except for Milovan Destil Markovic, who is guest-teaching throughout Europe.

Explaining his concept and the changes that have happened on the local art scene during the 1980s, Mr. Despotovic states:

“This foretaste of changes in the aesthetics was unannounced and unexpected after the period of minimalist and conceptual art ideology of the 1980s. At first it was even incomprehensible because the entire art scene was too academic during the period of high and late-modern art that lasted too long.

Since this art had set various restrictions, artists focused on finding ways to overcome them. Finally a group of young artists realized that this quest had lasted too long. They created a refined concept in order to divide relevant from irrelevant in the art practice. . .

They also noticed that new creativeness should be restructured and founded on more materialistic grounds. . . . I hope that the term ‘old’ will not be misunderstood.

I do not consider these artists who are gathered here for being the most important figures in the art of the 1980s, to be in their creative dotage. On the contrary, I allude to a new generation of artists, i.e. their students…”

All five artists share impressive artistic biographies. However, this exhibition is powerless to provoke anything but indifference in the viewer.

The sculptural installation of Radomir Knezevic would remain invisible if it was not for the fact that it has taken so much of the gallery space.

The title of Darja Kacic’s piece, Rabbit Fields Forever, brings to mind the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever and suggests the poetic intentions of the author. But what has been achieved is vague.

Rolling Skies (the original title is in English) by Mileta Prodanovic perhaps alludes to the Rolling Stones, but nothing can be derived from the dry and uninventive painting.

The project Belgrade Homeless by Milovan Destil Markovic reveals the lack of any kind of real concern on the artist for the problems of the homeless.

His intention of profiting from the political correctness of his subject matter is completely transparent.

This is not surprising since this author has always been successful in offering nothing and receiving rewards and praise in return without anyone ever openly questioning his success.

The only piece at this exhibition that deserves attention is the work of Mrdjan Bajic.

Consisting of a series of sketches and photographs describing the process of realization of a large-scale sculpture, Bajic’s piece expresses true creative excitement.

Unfortunately, the vitality of the sketches has been lost in the final piece, which is permanently situated in the entrance hall of the new Drama Theatre building.

It is just as cold and uninteresting as the rest of this show.

Looking back at the young artists who have emerged in the 1980s, some were given exceptional attention while some very interesting individuals were completely ignored without any justifiable reason.

What is visible now is that the once promising artists like Darja Kacic and Mrdjan Bajic, did not benefit artistically from their artificially fabricated importance. And those who never had anything to offer did not improve with time.

The differences of tastes and opinions are beneficial and mistakes in making selections are permissible.

What is alarming, however, is the almost absolute power of a certain group of people to dictate artistic outlooks and criteria and to decide who is who on the art scene.

This creates the situation of single mindedness, in which anyone who does not fit into the predetermined framework is doomed to be neglected and even prevented from exhibiting.

Such conditions function as concrete, preventing anything living to grow. There are some alternative spaces where one can occasionally see the work of some interesting “outcasts.”

Paradoxically, although bearing marks of frustration, they show far more vitality and creativity than their “chosen” colleagues.

Unfortunately recent policy in gallery financing forces such places to either commercialize or close down.

This forecasts a gloomy perspective, a perspective of the art scene totally pervaded by emptiness and indifference, which in the world of art is equal to death.