Featured in
Issue 72

Here Tomorrow

Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, Croatia

BY Maja and Reuben Fowkes in Reviews | 02 JAN 03

Led by the desire for a fresh perspective, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, entrusted a major survey of contemporary Croatian art to an outside curator, Roxana Marcoci, from MoMA in New York. She visited 120 studios before settling on 35 artists. As the exhibition grew, it spread beyond the museum walls to other cultural institutions, public venues and urban spaces. The generous scale of the show made possible the inclusion of both established and emerging artists.

Belonging to the latter group, Ivan Bura used the Paromlin, an abandoned flour mill in the centre of Zagreb, as a site for his performance and installation entitled Silicone Valley (2002). Referring to the traditional Croatian custom of planting a pot of wheat at Christmas to ensure wealth and prosperity for the following year, the artist grew wheat inside dozens of transparent silicone moulds of his own face. On a nearby overgrown roof-garden, wearing the hooded black attire of the Grim Reaper, Bura steadily mowed the long grass with a scythe, before scattering genetically modified seeds. His menacing performance sent a message of warning about the threat to local traditions and lifestyles posed by globalization.

From another perspective the numerous Croatian artists living and working abroad, notably in Amsterdam, Dusseldorf and New York, clearly benefit from the internationalism of global culture. Iva Matija Bitanga, based in Germany, offered a compelling description of contemporary nomadism. Her video Gradually (2001-2) is a hectic travelogue that evokes a disturbing sense of present-day transience. By strapping a video camera to her hand and letting it swing naturally as she walked, she created a juddering and neurotic record of her pan-European odyssey. In the dark gallery space of the Glyptotheke this was paired with In Between (2002), by the Zagreb-based British artist Nicole Hewitt, a film that treats objects discarded on Zagreb's annual 'day of oversized rubbish collection' as elements for an animated story revealing the stockpiling of waste as transgressive urban poetry.

For Velvet Underground (2002) artist Igor Grubic employed psychotherapeutic techniques to probe the meaning of crime and punishment. He made repeated visits to Lepoglava Prison, the most notorious jail in the country, to interview convicts about their childhood - and had them pose in their cells dressed in velvet soft-toy costumes. Transcripts of the prisoners' stories about their favourite games, early memories and future dreams, as well as their vital statistics - initials, age, crime and sentence - were shown alongside incongruous portraits of them.

David Maljkovic's Training Paintings for Beautiful Places (2002) comprises three identical decorative paintings hung above three identical fireplaces against a burgundy wall, a sardonic allusion to the middle-class living-room. There is a certain ambivalence in the fact that Maljkovic himself has a successful career as a commercial painter. Slightly overlooked by this survey were many artists working with painting and sculpture.

Ivan Kozaric, an avant-garde veteran now in his 90s and fresh from participating in Documenta 11, created a site-specific work incorporating his own metal sculpture from 1958, which is on permanent display in the museum grounds. Underneath it he parked two Renault 4 cars, one considerably older than the other, together with some wooden crates and other belongings. Installation under the Sphere (1958-2002) is a masterly intervention that plays with the idea of temporality and the indeterminacy of critical interpretation over time.

'Here Tomorrow' brought together many engaging works and projects dealing with issues as diverse as institutional critique, war memories, globalization, travel, fashion and activism. The show promised a 'critical assessment of the most influential practices in contemporary Croatian art', and successfully situated them within international art discourse.