The Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb

Collection in Motion

V. Words and Images

We live in an age of eloquent images in which the saying that an image is worth a thousand words is often quoted. We can rightfully ask ourselves how much the thousands of images that bombard us every day are worth. They range from images on the computer screen, billboards, and TV screens to video displays on corporate buildings and in stadiums.

It is as if words have disappeared and all communication takes place in images. Does this contribute to some kind of new (visual) literacy?

These are also the questions that contemporary visual artists ask themselves. Their field of activity has expanded to such an extent and connected with other artistic, scholarly, technical, and social fields that the very term visual artist has become too narrow and inadequate. The conceptual art of the 1960s and ‘70s has started to systematically problematize the borders of particular media, practising an interdisciplinary, multimedia approach. The examination of the relation between the word and the image, the idea and its visual representation, was in the focus of interest.

Actually, already the invention of the readymade at the beginning of the twentieth century, under the aegis of Dadaism, marked the shift from the question of form (‘image’) to the question of function (‘word’, ‘idea’). In other words, the very essence of artistic interest changed: from that of how something was said to the content of the utterance. The word/idea became dominant over the image/form.

The relation of the image and the word has never been symmetrical throughout the history of mankind, but the contest between the language and the visual representation, the word and the image, was especially intensified in the twentieth century. Conceptual art, along the lines of Marcel Duchamp, no longer seeks the experience of art in the eye, but on the mental path from the retina to the mind (therefore, they sometimes call it “art in the mind”). The image is now criticism and subversion, analysis and interpretation, anything but an innocent notion or a “comfortable armchair for the eyes”, as Matisse would call it.

Conceptual art, wittily termed a nervous breakdown of modernism, was at the beginning considered highly elitist, intellectual art by its very protagonists. It was primarily concerned with a dispute with its predecessor, late modernism, so that its early phase (1962 – 1971) could tentatively be observed also within the unit ART ON ART.

Early conceptual art could also be viewed as the bureaucratization of artistic activity concerned with art for art’s sake (Miško Šuvaković), because the artists invent and depict their results through analytical-critical tables, pools, polls, etc.

However, in so-called post-conceptual art, its protagonists intensively investigate social problematics. That is where the complex interrelation between the two traditions – pop-artist and conceptualist - comes about, so that it is possible to present post-conceptual works within the framework of the already existing unit ART AS LIFE. However, we decided to open a new unit, entitled WORDS AND IMAGES, in order to point out the specific differences between these works and the ones from the units ART ON ART and ART AS LIFE.


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