Non-Aligned Modernity

The show at FM Centro per l’arte contemporanea in Milan reconstructs abstraction’s passage in Eastern Europe from a drive towards fracture to an official art language, from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Non-Aligned Modernity, FM 2016. Gorgona Group, Gorgona is Looking at the Sky, 1961, Marinko Sudac Collection
The former Yugoslavia may have been the first Soviet bloc area to elevate abstract Modernism to almost official status in a cultural climate dominated by Socialist Realism but the Eastern Europe redesigned by the “Non-Aligned Modernity” exhibition, featuring the works and archives of the Marinko Sudac collection and curated by Marco Scotini in collaboration with Andris Brinkmanis and Lorenzo Paini, is an extensive cultural geography with blurred boundaries.
Non-Aligned Modernity, FM 2016. Ivan Picelj, Untitled, 1952; oil on canvas, 647 x 807 mm. Marinko Sudac Collection
Non-Aligned Modernity, FM 2016. Top: Gorgona Group, Gorgona is Looking at the Sky, 1961, Marinko Sudac Collection. Above: Ivan Picelj, Untitled, 1952; oil on canvas, 647 x 807 mm. Marinko Sudac Collection
This rhizomatic network expanded east and west of the Iron Curtain with artists often working via mobile posters and mail-art, activating networks and relational spaces that are today prevalent in our everyday lives such as Andrzej Kostołowski and Jarosław Kozłowski’s NET (1971); György Galántai and Laszlo Beke’s Chapel Studio (Hungary, 1970–1973) which organised the encounter between Hungarian and Czech artists that was to result in the Handshakes (1972) against the 1969 invasion; and U.F.O.-naut (Universal Cultural Futurological Operations), photographic non-happenings by Július Koller (Piestany 1939-Bratislava, 2007), who at the height of the space race portrayed his modern-day avatar, U.F.O.-nauta, and made contact with others outside the Czech situation to the point of founding the U.F.O. Gallery – Gallery Ganek (1971–1989) on the highest point of the High Tatra mountains, a space shared with artists such as Stano Filko, Alex Mlynarík and Rudolf Sikora, with whom he produced collective works.


The exhibition route reconstructs abstraction’s passage in Eastern Europe from a drive towards fracture to an official art language, the starting point marked by a blow-up of the Petrova Gora Monument (1970, 1981) by the sculptor Vojin Bakić (Bjelovar 1915–Zagreb 1992); dedicated to an uprising by the population of Kordun and Banija, recognised and rewarded by Tito, like Tatlin’s Tower to the Third International, it projects visitors into the future and reaffirms the utopian spirit of the anti-Fascist community that came together to create the events in Yugoslav history but replaced the man-made pyramid structure with a large abstract form covered with stainless steel that reflects and reverberates the light on the highest point of the mountain, where Serb and Croatian partisans fought together in 1942.

Showing more than 700 works by approximately 120 artists, the exhibition highlights the vastness and significance of artistic experimentation in the East as an integral part of Europe’s Neoavanguardia which, as well as crossing the boundaries of art media, produced innovative and radical forms criticising the State, as in the case of Antun Motika (Pula 1902–Zagreb 1992). In continuity with the work on the non-archivable nature of the Italian 1970s that marked the opening of FM last April, the energy and diversity of the art scene in Eastern and Central Europe are shown to have been beyond assimilation by either the ideological forms of the Soviet bloc or by Western liberalism.
In this sense, Eastern Europe as an in-between space – the precarious unity of which was not generated by economic crisis but by a belonging to different ethnic groups – was redefined by the Gorgona collective (Zagreb, 1959–1966/68) via actions such as city/country tours and photo sessions in which group members and outsiders adopted “Gorgonic behaviour” and configured themselves as a single immaterial community.
On this aporetical terrain, on the one hand, they constructed and legitimised a new image of the “nation” in Yugoslav pavilions at local and international fairs and in the unprecedented public exhibitions of the pioneering Croatian Exat 51 collective (Zagreb Architects’ Association in 1953, Denise René gallery in Paris in 1959, Tate Gallery London in 1961 and 34th Venice Biennale in 1968), the language being a synthesis of all the pure arts of Constructivist and Bauhaus inspiration (Lines by Aleksandar Srnec, 1952); and, on the other, laid the foundations for the “geoculture” of Marko Pogačnik’s Family from Šempas (Slovenia, 1971) and the creation of a new culture around Gaia as the sacred centre of the Earthly Universe via Earth Healing, the main tools of which are still the language of cosmograms and the scientific holism of Geomancy.
At a time when new and renewed configurations of universalism are being spread by the massive use of new technologies, critical reflection on the production and evolution of the paradigms of modernity take us back to the Reism of the Slovenian OHO Group (1962–1971) which, in the late 1960s, broke up to avoid becoming part of a cultural élite and to the circular time of the all-encompassing work of Stano Filko (1937 Velka Hradna– 2015 Bratislava); in 1965, he, Alex Mlynárik and Zita Kostrová published the HAPPSOC (Happy Socialism) manifesto, a subversive “total action” of immersing art into political demonstrations in Bratislava in real time; this evolved into forms of transcendental philosophy and cosmology in the photographic series Transcendency, where Filko replaced the cogito ergo sum (subjects’ heads) with the “eternal and absolute forms” of circles and squares.
After the Prague Spring of 1968, Czech artists were forced to work in private spaces while other artists emerged from the student centres of Ljubljana, Zagreb, Novi Sad and Belgrade into urban space; Nena and Braco Dimitrijevic organised the “At the Moment” exhibition (Zagreb, 1972) with the participation of Giovanni Anselmo and the Group of Six Artists (Zagreb, 1975-1981) intervened in Zagreb’s main square, after a group of artists had painted the peristyle of Diocletian’s Palace in Split red (Red Peristyle, 1968), perceived as an act of provocation and prosecuted as an act of vandalism, highlighting censorship in public art and the contradiction of the meaning of “public space” and site-specificity that were to emerge forcefully 13 years later with the construction and removal of Richard Serra’s Titled Arc in the Federal Plaza in Manhattan, New York.
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