His Supporting Hand – Curating the Curator: Davor Matičević


His Supporting Hand – Curating the Curator: Davor Matičević

09.11.2023 - 11.02.2024 / MSU, Black Box

His Supporting Hand – Curating the Curator: Davor Matičević is the latest exhibition from the Triggers cycle, Museum of Contemporary Art’s invitation to artists, curators and curatorial collectives for a critical review or a response to the museum holdings. It opens on Thursday, 9 November 2023 at 19:00, at MCA’s Black Box. The exhibition name is a quote by Ivan Posavec from an interview published in the magazine 15 Dana, explaining how a large part of his photographic work, as well as the work of Mio Vesović, would not exist without Matičević’s support.

At the invitation of the MCA curator Leila Topić, who chose to work with curatorial collectives to ‘trigger’ the Museum Collections, the JDS audiovisual research platform (Leri Ahel, Željko Luketić) opted for a new reading of the curatorial work of Davor Matičević (Split, 5 August 1945 – Zagreb, 13 May 1994). Although his character has already inspired an issue of the magazine DIK Fagazine – Zagreb – Queering the Museum, the aim of this particular exhibition is to reinterpret Davor Matičević’s museum and spiritual legacy a step further, focusing on his work and professional oeuvre as an outstanding contribution to the community, and to observe him as one of the first curators capable of comprehending the legacy of curatorial discourse and its unstructured complexity, at the same time toying with different and often controversial impulses.

The exhibition curators Leri Ahel, Željko Luketić and Leila Topić start from the point that queer positions are more than rainbow colours, sexual preferences or physical free-spiritedness. Rather, in a broader context of society, identity and interconnected influences, they question whether and how sexuality can become a possible tool of curatorial practice – precisely on the example of Davor Matičević’s curatorial decisions.

Queer in a broader sense challenges normative systems and relations in society and among individuals. The accompanying theory perceives gender and sexuality as constructs susceptible to historical and cultural changes. The idea of queer promotes distancing from permanent and stable identity, connecting sexual orientations with other forms of identity, creating thus an idea of intersectionality and proving that it is the interconnection between manifold identity models that results in fruitful hybrid identification models.

In their recent activities, progressive contemporary art museums and institutions often exhibit works by contemporary artists who are, according to modern standards and quite self-proclaimedly, queer. However, these exhibitions, in a certain sense, isolate the term within a self-made space of their own. Since these are our contemporaries, such exhibitions only underline the existing narrative which perceives sexuality as inherently divided into a heterosexual majority and a queer minority. As a consequence of such (self-)isolation, the discourse becomes hermetical, invisible and illegible within a broader social scope. Davor Matičević remained in the broader public’s collective memory as the first publicly known AIDS victim, which made the younger generation of artists, art critics, writers or art historians include him in queer art history without added knowledge about how it had actually manifested in his context and work. Furthermore, the AIDS crisis in developed democracies, from the late eighties onwards, served as a catalyst for new alliances, pointing out sexual freedoms and equalities, fights against intolerance and violence, or expanding the social horizon, with queer as a state beyond sexual differences divisions. However, our local environment, as visible from the exhibited documentation covering the responses to Matičević’s illness and death, plummeted into intolerance and criminalisation of AIDS with media harangues, additionally marginalising the rights of sexual minorities.

Exploring the history of Davor Matičević’s exhibitions and curatorial choices, we aim to demonstrate that there is a history of identity differences, albeit covered up and denied by our society in the turbulent nineties. The exhibitions curated by Davor Matičević display a powerful tendency to step away from binary divisions, which is why in the set-up we rather focus on the complex representations of slips, eruptions, overlaps or repressions of sexuality. It is on the examples of photographic exhibitions of Josip Klarica or Robert Mapplethorpe, performances by Vlasta Delimar and Željko Jerman, paintings by Milivoj Bijelić, Zvjezdana Fio or Vladimir Jovanović where we notice that sexuality was a strong catalyst of Matičević’s explorations, probably because it so often defies legibility and transparency according to our established concepts. In his curatorial work we see elements of high and popular culture intertwining (images and motifs from fine art history, as well as advertisements, photographs, comic books and elements from the mass media), which marked his curatorial practice with a dynamic and comprehensive interest and a certain resistance to conventions.

Exhibitions striving to explore sexuality easily fall prey to mere research of differences, which is what we are trying to avoid here. We consider them in the first instance favourable because they are seen so rarely in the museum context, and undoubtedly such an approach to distinctions was what Matičević in his time wanted to deconstruct. His practice encompassed many innovative phenomena of the local and international scene from a shifted point of view. Therefore, we ask the question what would happen if we replaced the term queer with the usual interpretative context; not as a museum trend or synonym for civil rights, but as an actual proposal and a possibility making the quality of any cultural work much richer.

For the exhibition His Helping Hand – Curating the Curator: Davor Matičević we have prepared a selection of works by artists Matičević gave ‘a helping hand’ to, a private documentation of photographs, catalogues, letters, arrangements and exhibition sketches, as well as a timeline through his curatorial history with the former Gallery of Contemporary Art whose transformation into today’s Museum of Contemporary Art he, sadly, never lived to see.

The exhibition curators would like to thank:

MCA Collections managers: Kristina Bonjeković Stojković, Nataša Ivančević, Iva Rada Janković and Snježana Pintarić. Special thanks to Jasna Jakšić, Ivna Jelčić and the entire MCA Documentation and Information Department, Mirta Pavić and the entire MCA Protection and Preservation Department, and the team of MCA museum technicians. We also thank Zoran Svrtan (Museum of Arts and Crafts), editor-in-chief of Kontura art magazine Nevenka Šarčević and Zdravko Mihočinec, Museum Documentation Centre, Croatian State Archives, Croatian Radio and Television and Ksenija Čelar Repač.

For the information, insights and suggestions we owe thanks to: Nada Beroš, Boris Cvjetanović, Darko Fritz, Sanja Iveković, Marko Jurčić, Dalibor Martinis, Tihomir Milovac, Ivan Posavec, Branka Stipančić, Mio Vesović and Jadranka Vinterhalter.

The exhibition is funded by the City Office for Culture and Civil Society of the City of Zagreb and the Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Croatia.