Snježana Pintarić
The Concrete Utopia

The 1950s and 1960s are of extreme importance for the development of Croatian contemporary art during which numerous changes occurred in the area of visual arts. Ivan Picelj, painter, designer and printmaker, a patron and representative of geometric abstraction as one of the manifestations of this new view on the world of arts, was the key figure of this tumultuous period, and his presence on the Croatian and international scene during the period of sixty years has left the indelible trace not just in various areas of artistic creativity, but on Zagreb’s cultural scene and the history of Croatian museums as well, in particular the Museum of Contemporary Art whose visual identity Picelj created for a long period of time.

Picelj’s international presentation had its premiere in 1952 when he and fellow painter Aleksandar Srnec and architect Božidar Rašica participated at the “VII Salon de Realites Nouvelles”, which represented the first ever transinstitutional presentation of Croatian artists at an international exhibition abroad after the Second World War. Picelj was only twenty years of age at that time, with unfinished Arts Academy behind him, but with very clear vision about how and in which direction he wanted to develop his artistic path. Namely, that same year, Picelj in his own apartment organized an exhibition of the EXAT 51 group, a group which was active in the early 1950s, during the post-war atmosphere and socialist realism artistic climate, striving for abstract art and synthesis of all visual arts. The group, based on the joint program, gathered architects — Bernardo Bernardi, Zdravko Bregovac, Zvonimir Radić, Božidar Rašica and Vjenceslav Richter, and painters Vlado Kristl, before mentioned Srnec and Picelj himself, authors who in the decades to come created opuses which were of large significance for the Croatian art. The very idea of the unity of art and its social, propellant role was taken over from the Russian constructivist avant-garde heritage, De Stijl group and Bauhaus experience, and was, in the 1950s current in other European milieus.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Picelj was one of the founders and most active participants of New Tendencies arts movement. As part of the New Tendencies, and during the 1961–1973 period, a large number of extremely interesting artists in the areas of constructivist, kinetic and early computer and conceptual art were presented to the Croatian public through a series of exhibitions, symposiums and through BIT International magazine. Artists gathered in the New Tendencies strived toward the principle of continued research in art and described their creative process as rational, scientific approach to esthetic issues. They rejected the principle of self-expression promoted by representatives of abstract expressionism, and their intention was to change the perception of viewers by experimenting with geometric forms, new materials and with the assistance of machines. They strived for abstract art and depersonalized, collective, or as Picelj called in his response to an American journalist’s question, “team” creativity.

This was a extremely vibrant and important period during which Zagreb got involved in contemporary events in this very specific art field. The Museum of Contemporary Art, at that time called The City of Zagreb Galleries, was the organizer and host of numerous events, and today, thanks to purchases and donations after exhibitions, we can say that we are in possession of one of the most interesting collections of constructivist, kinetic and early computer art of the second half of the 20th century in Europe.

As part of the New Tendencies exhibition, which took place in Zagreb from 1961 until 1973, Picelj’s engagement was manifold and ranged from organizing exhibitions at which he himself participated through editing “BIT International” magazine, to designing posters and publications related to the New Tendencies. During the 1960s and 1970s, Picelj, in addition to his constant presence at New Tendencies in Zagreb and abroad, very intensely exhibited at all major and important international exhibitions of constructivist art in Europe and America, and creates a respectable international career.

The Museum of Contemporary Art has continuously followed Ivan Picelj’s work by exhibiting and collecting his posters, prints, paintings and objects. Ivan Picelj Archive and Library, which are part of the Museum’s collection, are of particular interest to researchers, with an array of very valuable documentation material which speaks about tumultuous times in Croatian contemporary art history.

Introduction to the exhibition catalog
The Concrete Utopia
Ivan Picelj And New Tendencies 1961-1973

Snježana Pintarić
Museum of Contemporary Art
Zagreb, Croatia