EXHIBITIONS | The Portrait of Yugoslavia in the Style of Art & Language
From 28 August 2019

Source: SKC Archive / photo: Aleksandra Mirčić


Exhibition in the context of SUMMER SCHOOL | The Big Shift: the 1990s. Avant-gardes in Eastern Europe and Their Legacy


Opening: Wednesday, 28 Augusta 2019, at 8 p.m.

Venue: Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, +MSUM


In 1975 three members of the New York section of the Art & Language group (Michael Corris, Jill Breakstone, Andrew Menard) visited Belgrade with the intention to, in cooperation with Yugoslav conceptual artists, index terminology used in discussing the contradictions of cultural organisations in self‑management socialism.


The Art & Language group was founded in the late sixties and the primary concern of its practice was to question the status of discourse, language, and theoretical concepts that influenced artworks. The endeavour to question led the group’s practice to a more explicit political activism which required them to question organisational, ideological and political aspects of the artwork as well. The fundamental core of their work in the seventies was to understand in which way artistic practices, mediated by language and discourse, are in contradiction with cultural institutions. One of the most representative artworks of Art & Language during the seventies was a series of “Indexes” through which they aimed to portray the forms of institutional and ideological mediations. This politicisation of conceptual art introduced an international and social dimension to their practice, which in turn expanded to places outside of New York and London. The visit of Art & Language to Yugoslavia was a result of this international dimension, and it aimed to discuss in which way conceptual artists working in socialist conditions dealt with the problem of state cultural institutions. More precisely, it was an experimental inquiry into the artists’ own understanding of social questions. This encounter was different from customary “representational” projects reducing local dynamics to national questions: its main topic was, indeed, a critique of “cultural imperialism”, but it also aimed more forcefully to open up the space for art that is not mediated by any state institution. On a global scale, the indexing of self-management (a project that was never finalised) undermined the ideological postulates of Cold War policies because artists from the US and Yugoslavia communicated through channels outside of national‑state institutions. In Belgrade, in October 1975, this project had an immense influence not only on conceptual artists (especially Goran Djordjević and Zoran Popović), but also on theoreticians of self‑management who in the heyday of questioning the bureaucratisation of culture turned to writings published in The Fox, a journal of artists’ writings edited by Art & Language.


By using existing archive material and documents such as transcripts, photos, letters, sound recordings, books, pamphlets, videos and other ephemera, the aim of the exhibition “The Portrait of Yugoslavia in the Style of Art & Language” is to actualise this encounter and to show the rich outcome of these strong positions in conceptual art that could be used even today to question the status of national representation and, at the fundamental level, to question non-institutional art practices that are “putting state at distance”. In addition, this less‑known episode of genuine international spirit of conceptualism will shed light both on the internationalism of Yugoslavian self-management and on the artists’ understanding of the cultural dimension of this experimental socialism. 



The exhibition is curated by Sezgin Boynik.


Sezgin Boynik is art-theoretician and publisher based in Helsinki. He completed his PhD on cultural policy of Yugoslav 'Black Wave' cinema. Co-edited Nationalism and Contemporary Art: Critical Reader (MM & Exit, 2007), and History of Punk and Underground in Turkey (BAS, 2008). Recent publications include Noise After Babel: Language Unrestrained (Spector Books, 2015, with Minna Henriksson), In the Belly of the Beast: Art & Language New York Project (Rab-Rab Journal Vol. 4, No. 2, 2017, with Michael Corris), Coiled Verbal Spring: Devices of Lenin's Language (Rab-Rab Press, 2018). He is currently working on a monograph about the theoretical and political context of Black Audio Film Collective titled Living with Contradictions: Contemporary Art and Nationalism, and on the collection on Yugoslav concrete poetry to be published as a special issue of OEI Journal. He is editor of Rab-Rab: Journal for Political and Formal Inquiries in Art, and Rab-Rab Press, an independent publishing platform based in Helsinki, www.rabrab.fi