Sean Scully: The Passenger – A Retrospective exhibition


Sean Scully: The Passenger – A Retrospective exhibition

16.11.2022 - 12.03.2023 / MSU, 1. i 2. kat povremenih izložbi

On Wednesday, November 16, 2022, at 7:30 p.m., the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb will open the large retrospective exhibition Passenger of the American abstract painter Sean Scully, one of the leading and exceptionally successful artists of his generation. The author of the exhibition is Dávid Fehér, director of the Central European Research Institute for Art History and curator of 20th-century contemporary art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, while Jasna Jakšić, Ivana Kancir, and Ana Škegro have curated the Zagreb exhibition. The retrospective presents sixty-four of Scully’s seminal artworks – canvases, works on paper, photographs, and sculptures – as an extremely valuable cross-section of the painter’s work over the past 50 years. It will be open until March 12, 2023, during which time a diverse educational programme will be organized for children, youth, adults, and persons with visual and hearing impairments, as well as different, thematically oriented guided tours. The accompanying programme will begin with Scully’s lecture on November 16 at 6:00 p.m. in MSU’s Gorgona Hall.

Sean Scully’s exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb is an exceptional opportunity to see his monumental compositions, as well as works of smaller formats, in one of the newest and largest exhibition venues in this part of Europe. As the final stop on the series of exhibitions – that began with the exquisite Scully retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts – Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest, and continued at the Benaki Museum in Athens and MAMbo in Bologna – the Zagreb version of the retrospective is primarily a recapitulation adapted to the spatial specificities of MSU, but also, to a large extent, to the dialogue with its own heritage. It should be kept in mind that MSU was one of the first public institutions in the world to call itself contemporary and that, since its foundation in 1954, it has been passionately representing and promoting abstract art. It is also globally recognised as one of the key centres of early computer art.

Looking at Sean Scully’s oeuvre from the mid-sixties to the present day, the upcoming retrospective opens up a whole series of potential narratives, concurrences and contacts that may have happened in the past, as well as the foreboding of some future, perhaps unexpected recognitions of affinities and aspirations. The exhibition opens with the Passenger as its title section which, in its nomadic features, combines the utopia of the universal language of art – constantly aspired to, at least declaratively – with the life experience of the artist, himself an emigrant. His intimate statement and personal history, abstracted into the visual language and its signs, construct the exhibition as an authentic testimony to an artistic journey that retains traces of doubts, uncertainties and disappointed hopes in the world of art and its complex unwritten rules and never-published laws.

In MSU’s exhibition halls, Scully’s works, ranging from intimate drawings and pastels to early figural experiments and further to sculptural painting surfaces, are ment to become, as the artist would say, “hard won insistent surface”. The exhibition layout will introduce the audience to the oeuvre of an artist whom critics consider to be one of the most important active painters in the world. A walk through the exhibition reveals the starting points and inspirations for some of his anthological interventions in the medium of painting, to which he has restored dignity and innovation. Therefore, in front of his monumental compositions, time stops – at least for a moment.

Dávid Fehér, the author of the retrospective, suggested hosting Scully’s exhibition to the curators of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, Jasna Jakšić, Ivana Kancir and Ana Škegro, in February 2020, a few days before the pandemic. The world has turned upside down several times since then, and the future has never been more uncertain. From that time of fear, anxiety and confinement, we could learn a lot about the importance of the presence of another human being, of touch, warmth and closeness. All of this is necessary to experience art as well: a direct experience of the artwork, not only visually but also corporally, by entering the surface of paintings. The stories and memories of Sean Scully – his “emotional painting” as he himself calls it – can bring us back to what is essential: contact with ourselves and with others. Just as he says that he “using the language of the universal to make something personal” the visitors can reach the universal by starting from the personal – from humanism and empathy, the backbone of Scully’s message to the world.