press release

The relatively unknown period of socialist realism in former Yugoslavia was a time of generous commissions and unrestrained socialist iconography, a time of heroic enthusiasm and monumental propaganda. It was the last artistic period of uncensored manifest power, when the state was its sole consumer and commissioner. Socialist realism was marked as doctrinal art in the service of the Party, an eclectic and academic artistic configuration, a conservative, anti-avant-garde stream, and an art of empty visualization and false sentiments. Majestic monuments and monumental sculptures, heroic murals and enormous canvases of socialist realism ended, as is characteristic for political transitions and running largely parallel with their initiation, in the dustbin of history. Ridiculed, hidden or forgotten they reside anonymously, in silent conformity with the largely unquestioned canon of the history of art.

Heroes We Love enters a controversial field of socialist heroic art in order to identify and acknowledge those protagonists who brought the monumental art of the preset political landscape to its peak. We are interested in the iconography of socialist realism in all its mighty, heroic realizations; in its sentiments, repartee, and feeling of drama, its large-scale commissions and more. We wish to understand how far revolutionary romanticism went, from what and where it drew, and how it imploded into itself. Monuments as constructions of time and space simplify and fabricate a particular history. Walter Benjamin wrote that "there has never been a document of culture, which is not simultaneously one of barbarism." Similarly, the monuments of socialist realism too bear witness to recent culture—and barbarism. It is time to recognize them!

Five selected examples of socialist realism drawn from the region of former Yugoslavia formed the initial central concept of the exhibition: the Soviet-inspired Monument to the Red Army Fighters by Croatian sculptor Antun Augustinčić (1945−47, Batina, CRO); the heroic mural The Fight of Yugoslav Nations for Freedom and Renewal of the Country by painter Slavko Pengov (1947, Villa Bled, SLO); the monumental figural character of the Monument to Resistance and Torment by sculptor Lojze Dolinar (1946−50, Kraljevo, SRB); the double relief of the Tomb of the Liberators of Belgrade by Serbian sculptor Rade Stanković (1954, Belgrade, SRB); and the unrealized Monument to Marx and Engels by Croatian sculptor Vojin Bakić (1950−53). These five examples cover all of the major narratives of socialist art: resistance, suffering, victory, builders, and the cult of personality; and follow the formal development of the visual language of socialist realism: from the strict imitation of Soviet examples to simplifications and investigations into plasticity. A network of models, influences, parallels and divergences revolves around these five examples. As parallel research component in the broader field of art and ideology we introduce interventions by contemporary artists, with a view to moving away from monuments of failed revolutions and striving toward contemporary approach to structuring memories. Or to quote Deleuze and Guattari: "The monument is not something commemorating a past; it is a bloc of presentations that owe their presentation only to themselves."

The exhibition is part of the larger international project “Heroes We Love. Ideology, Identity and Socialist Art in New Europe," supported by Creative Europe 2014−20. Project partners: Maribor Art Gallery (Slovenia); BLOK Association (Croatia); SCCA Contemporary Art Center Sarajevo (BiH); Tirana Art Lab (Albania); Laznia Center for Contemporary Art, Gdansk (Poland); IEFSEM Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum, Sofia (Bulgaria); Museum of Yugoslav History (Serbia); University of Primorska (Slovenia); Cultural Association Center plesa, Maribor (Slovenia).

Artists: Antun Augustinčić (Croatia), Vojin Bakić (Croatia), Jasmina Cibic (Slovenia), Lojze Dolinar (Slovenia), Igor Grubić (Croatia), Boža Ilić (Serbia), Sanja Iveković (Croatia), Boris Kalin (Slovenia), Zdenko Kalin (Slovenia), Nikola Kečanin (Croatia), Anton Gojmir Kos (Slovenia), Tone Kralj (Slovenia), Frano Kršinić (Croatia), Siniša Labrović (Croatia), Luiza Margan (Croatia), Dalibor Martinis (Croatia), Vinko Matković (Croatia), Ivan Mirković (Croatia), Slavko Pengov (Slovenia), Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia), Arjan Pregl (Slovenia), Karel Putrih (Slovenia), Vanja Radauš (Croatia), Radeta Stanković (Serbia), Sreten Stojanović (Serbia)

Curators: Simona Vidmar & Miško Šuvaković
Assistant curator: Jure Kirbiš