The Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb

Collection in Motion

III. Art on Art

When art looks into itself, we may call this approach introversion. Much of artistic production in the twentieth century has emerged in direct dialogue with art, in interaction with its language and history.

It may therefore seem to us that many contemporary artworks primarily comment on the historical development of art, on their indirect and direct predecessors. It is as if they are in some never-ending dispute with them or in opposition to them, or if they, just the opposite, respect and worship them! Many of the artists seek new paths within the familiar medium. We call this largest unit within the Collection in Motion ART ON ART.

Wishing to disburden the term Art on Art of the past, we do not rely on any of the stylistic and historical epochs or more recent artistic movements or currents. In some way, in a political sense, the title of this unit is devoid of ideology. With it we want to avoid the labelling of art as progressive or conservative, which also implies the notions of good and bad art. This term also does not require the museum visitors to know the scholarly terms for periods and movements from the history of modern and contemporary art. By its openness it also enables a less partial view of modernism, neo-modernism, and post-modernism, to which the artworks from this unit are mostly ascribed.

The difference between old and new art, realism and modernism, was lucidly formulated by the most ardent advocate of modernism, the American critic Clement Greenberg –Realistic, naturalistic art had dissembled the medium, using art to conceal art; Modernism used art to call attention to art. This can easily be applied to the majority of today’s modern and contemporary art. The dictate of self-referentiality, insisting on special properties of particular media and finally reducing the artwork to its concept, are the results of the same search and the look into one’s inner world – into the medium of art that defines modern and contemporary art through many decades. Painting about painting, in the modern sense of this notion, began by the middle of the nineteenth century, with Edouard Manet, and has continued until today, where conscious transition from one art language into another happens rather as a sign of exploration of the medium than as a search for one’s specific artistic nature.

The title Art on Art does not, of course, correspond to the term art for art’s sake. This notion, mostly connected with literature and art from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, sees art primarily as a self-sufficient activity that detaches itself from all other tasks except fulfilling its aesthetic purpose. The artists included in the unit Art on Art also put the aesthetic purpose of art – the language of art and the disclosure of their medium - into the foreground, but show overtly critical and analytical attitudes both towards the phenomenon of art and the phenomenon of life. Art on Art is not necessarily confined to its artistic field, and it does not dwell in the so-called ivory tower, unattainable and detached in relation to other forms of human activity. However, unlike the artists from the unit Art as Life, these artists do not question the boundaries that divide art and life or consider it necessary to overstep the borderlines of art and direct their critical potential outside of art, for example, towards changes in society and consequentially turn into some sort of temporary anthropologists, sociologists, investigative journalists, political activists, analysts, or pollsters – roles which are often assumed by many contemporary artists today. On the contrary, it is necessary to preserve the character of art as a symbolic activity, because art is, as they assert, today the only remaining (social) space of freedom.


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