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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Contra aesthetic : the struggle for the New Art in post 1968 Belgrade, Yugoslavia Stankovic, Nevenka


In the late 1960s Yugoslavian artistic production underwent radical change prompted by the emergence of a "New Art," which pursued the "dematerialization" of the art object. This enterprise necessitated new artistic approaches, methods and media, and challenged the very assumptions of established artistic discourse, rendering codified modernist art into the realm of obsolescence. Modernist art and architecture was adopted by the Titoist regime after Yugoslavia broke with Stalinist Soviet Union in 1948, initially as a sign of difference from that regime. Indeed during the fifties, modernism was a trope of progress. Formalist modernism was a potent ideological tool for the Titoist regime during the Cold War in Yugoslavia, which, playing the role of a buffer zone between the two adversary blocks, was considered an open country. While offering an aestheticized picture of reality detached from everyday life, formalist modernism became, in effect, the officially sanctioned artistic vocabulary. The tension between the new art and modernism manifested itself primarily in the conception of the individual and in the relationship between artistic practice and everyday life. In a radical shift, the new art practitioners promoted practices and forms of representation that destabilised an autonomous creator by introducing local narratives and active spectators. The bureaucrats concerned with artistic production in established institutions of art such as the Academy of Art understood this approach as an intervention into the official image of reality. After the outburst of students' discontent in 1968, the officials opened "The Student Cultural Centre" as a safety valve under the banner of accommodating "experiments in art." From the very beginning this institution fostered the wide array of cultural activities and became a "cult" space among the youth. Although it is reasonable to suppose that the regime's hidden agenda was to ghettoize the "New Art," the Student Cultural Centre, served to transform the art scene in Belgrade. In my thesis I address the socio-historical reasons that prompted this shift in the sphere of art production. The Belgrade artistic scene in the early seventies was split between canonized modernism and a periphery reserved for new art practices. The 19th century building housing Student Cultural Centre was the site where proponents of conceptual art struggled against the entrenched modernist canon by introducing new methods and media. In the analysis of new art practices I follow the work of the two artists, Marina Abramovic and Zoran Popovic, whose activity epitomized this struggle at the turn of the seventies.

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