The Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb
Retrospective Exhibition of Vojin Bakić's Work
7 December 2013 – 3 March 2014
The exhibition of Vojin Bakić’s sculptures, organised by the Museum of Contemporary Art, is the first full retrospective of its kind to be held, anywhere. It is not only that Vojin Bakić (1915-1992) figures as one of the best Croatian sculptors of the last century, but international critics also recognise him, as one of the most important and prominent European sculptors of the 20th century.
Many people immediately associate Vojin Bakić with The Bull, a famous sculpture, of which he created several versions in different dimensions and materials. The large version of this sculpture was initially exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1956 and, two years later, in front of Vjenceslav Richter’s Yugoslav Pavilion in Brussels, when Yugoslavia for the first time presented itself as a brand new, young state at the EXPO World Fair. The sculpture instantly aroused the interest of foreign experts, and the City of Antwerp purchased it for its present home, in the sculpture park at Middelheim; very soon after, the City of Marl followed suit, by purchasing another version of this work for its Municipal Museum.
Bakić’s sculpture of Ivan Goran Kovačić will remind poets of the monument, titled Goran and of the Vijenac (Wreath); whereas others will more readily associate the name of Vojin Bakić with his great nude figures, torsos and heads. There will be those, whose first association with Bakić’s work will be with the large number of monuments that were neglected or destroyed in the early 1990’s, such as his monuments in Kamensko, Petrova Gora, Dotrščina, Bjelovar and Čazma...
Vojin Bakić is an artist who left his monumental mark on this region, in both the literal and metaphorical sense. Those who knew him claim that he was always driven by his ideals, even when his works were commissioned under ideological pressure. He never allowed anything to influence his artistic expression and development, and over the course of half a century he created an oeuvre that radiates innovation, energy and a readiness to explore new ideas and techniques. As he himself remarked: The magic lies in the adventure, in the search; that is what it is to be human! It is always hard to change course, and force of habit incurs absolutely no risk or excitement.
That is the reason why Bakić’s first retrospective is such an important event in the world of art and culture, whose significance is compounded by the fact that he was not interested in self-promotion and only took part in a handful of solo exhibitions during his lifetime. This exhibition features many of Bakić’s most important works, but it also includes numerous drawings, sketches, models for his monuments and photographic enlargements, in addition to documents about various projects and his personal life, as well as video and audio materials. For the first time, visitors will have the opportunity to see his preliminary drawings and models for an unrealised monument to Tito, in Zagreb.
At the same time, Bakić’s oeuvre provides an excellent overview of the social and political circumstances in which he was active, as an artist. This will be of interest to specialists and a broad public alike, and will also reveal the life story of an exceptional artist, which was marred by family tragedy – notably, the incident in which his four brothers were shot by the Ustashi, very soon after the so-called Independent State of Croatia came to power, which was the source of inspiration for his Monument to the Victims of Shooting in World War II, in Bjelovar. After the changes that took place in Croatia in the early 1990’s, the socialist cultural heritage entered a phase of marginalisation and neglect and only a small number of contemporary artists still showed some interest in the period. This exhibition features, not only Bakić’s own works, but also a number of works created by other artists viewing his monuments from various angles, ranging from re-interpretations of the modernist heritage, in Marko Lulić’s and Jan Kempenaers’ work, to David Maljković’s examination of the utopian models of socialist society, our relation to such phenomena and our collective loss of memory, and Igor Grubić’s critique of our relationship with the monuments to the National Liberation War.
Vojin Bakić was born in Bjelovar on June 5, 1915. After graduating from the Academy of Arts in Zagreb he took classes from Fran Kršinić and Robert Frangeš-Mihanović. Starting out from a figurative tradition - female nudes, portraits and sculptures of animals, through sculptures - heads, nude figures, torsos, and animals, Bakić progressively developed his artistic expression, while searching for pure form - he started cutting into the surface, and bending and piercing it, as a means of opening up the structure and penetrating space, in ways that then came to characterise his new approach to making art, he broke up the surface into organically intertwined, convex and concave circles, where the shimmering light reflected the surroundings, and the sculpture itself revealed an interplay between void and plenitude, and positive and negative spaces; he made light forms (or as the poet, Jure Kaštelan, named them, ‘lightbearing forms’), and a stripped-down version of abstraction. According to Bakić, those lightbearing forms expressed a joie de vivre, like a flash of light. The humanism and affirmation of positive values that marked his early figurative works at a symbolic level persisted throughout his later, abstract work. His search for light, improvement and progress was part of a modernist utopianism he shared with his contemporaries, who wanted to create a better and more humane world in post-war Yugoslavia. He summed up his own life-long creative quest in a single sentence: Moving around in the dark, and searching for a crack of light - that is the most authentic journey for me.
Vojin Bakić participated in many prestigious exhibitions – more than two hundred group exhibitions, seventy-five of which were international exhibitions: the Venice Biennale, Documenta in Kassel, the São Paolo Bienal, the Alexandria Biennale, and others. Although he never actively became involved with important art movements, such as EXAT-51 and New Tendencies, he participated in their exhibitions and showed his work alongside that of Picelj and Srnec in Paris and London, on several occasions. Never someone to show much interest in self-promotion, he was always far more absorbed in his own work, with the result that he only had a few solo exhibitions – and two of them were organised in Zagreb by the City Gallery of Contemporary Art in 1956 and 1964, respectively. During the course of fifty years of uninterrupted creative activity, Bakić generated a body of work that fully reflected his great intellectual and artistic commitment and attained a pinnacle of achievement, in Croatian and European modernist sculpture. He died in Zagreb on December 19, 1992.
This retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art intends to put Vojin Bakić back in the place that he rightfully deserves in the history of Croatian and European art, and to inspire everyone to rethink the relationship with our monumental heritage and collective memory. This sensitive, discrete and self-composed artist ‘only’ wanted to find his own path, by listening to his intuitive inner voice: The only true development comes from the process of working. I do not believe in the theory that an artist is a God-given creature. I always feel a little bit stupid. A person has an idea, some kind of presentiment; it is a brief moment, sometimes exciting, like a sneaking suspicion... and when you try to realise it, you see that you are powerless, that you miss hundreds of elements. And then you start to palpitate, to run after it like a child until you catch it somewhere, if you have the strength to endure the race, the race for the unattainable...
The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive, bilingual catalogue, comprising texts written by a dozen respected Croatian and foreign art historians and art critics. The texts are structured in two parts: the first comprises texts written by authors investigating various aspects of Bakić’s oeuvre (Tonko Maroević, Zvonko Maković, Ješa Denegri, Nataša Ivančević, Henry Meyric Hughes), the dialogue between contemporary artists and Bakić’s modernist heritage (Leila Topić) and the present situation with Bakić’s monuments in the post-Yugoslav context (Gal Kirn); whereas the second part provides an overview of the most important texts published during the 1950’s and the 1960’s, as interpretations of particular stages of Bakić’s development (Milan Prelog, Radoslav Putar, Vera Horvat Pintarić, Božo Bek).
The exhibition is held under the high auspices of the President of the Republic of Croatia, Ivo Josipović.
Exhibition curator and catalogue editor: Nataša Ivančević, Chief Curator.
Visual display and collaboration on the exhibition: Architects Ana Martina Bakić and Vjera Bakić.
Design of publications, exhibition visuals and souvenirs: Andro Giunio i Ira Payer, Super Studio 29.
The exhibition is realised with the support of the City Office for Education, Culture and Sports and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia.
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