MURTIĆ FOR NEW TIMES
The work of Edo Murtić is probably one of the elements of modernity in Croatian culture that has been extensively interpreted and evaluated within its context, both from the perspective of Croatian and Yugoslav critics and in the perception of foreign authors. What kind of interpretative horizon is possible today, when the painter is not any more with us, but we can witness the project of Edo Murtić Donation to the city of Zagreb and the Croatian state?
There are three important aspects that disclose the possibilities of this new interpretation level: the research-related, the museological, and the social one.
Along with all previous approaches and interpretations, Murtić’s work offers a fertile ground for new interpretations within the concept of “modernity as work in progress”, according to Habermas. In this concept, each new critical contribution is a new element of raising the awareness of the modernist idea of visualizing the world and thus a contribution to the project of modernity. In this way an artist’s work becomes different and remains in the permanently fluid space of unfinished meanings, as a transitory denominator, in a constant process of changes in the understanding of collective memory. What Murtić meant in the fifties, in the seventies, and now, at the beginning of a new century, are certainly not identical values. We could even infer that from such a short distance of only five years after his opus ceased to develop, it is possible to form a foundation for new and radically different interpretations. This field of possible options for new meanings is certainly an inspiring domain for critics and researchers. This is not only the case with Edo Murtić’s opus; his work is indicative of a large segment of modernist visual art in Croatia and thus more significant as a parameter.
Modernism in visual art, which is well-known, has its roots in Croatia since the Munich School, expressed in different ideas and concepts, even in very different social and ideological contexts. However, its major research direction was finding of formal solutions in relation to the material, visible world. Along these lines, a series of opuses were formed in Croatia, which did not negotiate the freedom zone within their format, but therefore cautiously watched each shift outside of the frame. In that area we can discern the boundaries of the traditional – if it can be termed so – definition of “modern” and “contemporary” art (although this topic deserves an entire scholarly symposium), but the modernist formal approach, let us provisionally term “modernism” that way, as a rule follows the principles of artistic productivity and gallery presentation of results of that productivity. This means that the experiment area does not exceed the boundaries of the set frame or volume and never enters the domain of public performance or complete negation of its material. In that sense, Edo Murtić’s work is one of the constant marks of modernist ideas and aesthetics. His work is indicative both of the institutional and social understanding of the artist’s position and the position of art in general, in the context of industrial modernization processes.
Scientific and technological innovations as its framework and the exploration of the visual art form as its content are compatible expressions of modernity; moreover, in an interdisciplinary historiographic survey they are probably unavoidable elements of a future narrative about modern culture of the second industrial revolution. All that, of course, points to the need of critical assessment and new evaluation also of other individual opuses, but considering his social position as well, Murtić’s work is an adequate and representative model of new understanding of modernism in Croatia.
In that sense, the presentation of works from the future donation in the Museum of Contemporary Art means a museological shift that would for the first time enable us to view many important Murtić’s works from a distance, at one place, in a previously never experienced retrospective. Display is here interpretation; it follows the theoretical indications of a new interpretative horizon of an artistic opus and at the same time announces an approach that will be applied through the activation and completion of the donation project. The mental image that could otherwise be formed by leafing through retrospective monographs can here emerge by viewing the exhibition halls of the Museum. This makes an even stronger impression and creates a basis for a new critical evaluation by the very fact of a close physical comparison of works from different phases and by giving a chance to the viewer to experience them directly and subsequently during his visit to the exhibition.
Such an impression should certainly be the fundamental characteristic of the permanent display of the future donation of Edo Murtić’s works.
Finally, the social aspect of this project completes its purpose, because by donating representative works from an opus to the public, the city, and the state, this work returns to its origins, to the place where it earned its reputation and became recognized. The culture of donating is an important part of civilisation norms. In history, it assumed two formats that could roughly be described as pre-modern and modern. In pre-modern society, presenting encompasses different forms of patronage, i.e. production management under the protectorate of feudal power-wielders, with engagement of their financial means and material resources. Duc de Berry, Medici, several Popes... they all recognized the power of collective medium in the artistic creation of the individual, either for secular or sacral purposes. They enabled the individual artist to create and thus assume a special position in the otherwise grey mass of subjects, but of course under the condition that the work – openly or discreetly – always publicly and in institutional terms upheld a narrow semantic connection with the patron.
Such late feudal relations in culture are typical of the beginnings of the humanistic world view, i.e. they bear the germ of later enlightenment, because the figure of the artist, no matter if he is at the service of a feudal lord or God’s plenipotentiary, crosses the traditional boundaries of restricted arts and crafts, gradually forming a new position: the one of the artist determined by God, who creates supernatural art. Of course, we could say that in this way also the patrons, by creating a new institution and value, paved the way for delineating a completely new field of meaning of their own figure in their time, and later in written histories. Nevertheless, the basic characteristic of patronage, of pre-modern donating, was that in financial respect it did not depend on the market, that it did not underlie the market laws, but that the result of artistic creation from a supported system was donated to the public as a mark of excellence and prominence of the donor, who was actually the patron himself. In that system, the artist just executed the desires of supreme power.
In modern donating, however, the market category is the basic precondition of forming this system and thus an instrument for its understanding. At first, rich Dutch merchants laid the foundations of art commerce as one of the marks of bourgeois identity and then the artwork easily became merchandise – the kind whose value is constantly rising, although the mechanisms of supply and demand are present to a great deal and influence the forming of prices. Nevertheless, the reasons for donating have radically changed during industrial modernization, because the protagonists of the market as a new phenomenon have changed – now they are the artist and the merchant/dealer/gallery owner. Classical patronage of the pre-modern era has withdrawn under the surge of the global mechanism of art trade that today knows no local boundaries, considering the fact that cultural exchange has transcended the boundaries of both national economies and productive and commercial transactions. The global art market is equal to the market of any merchandise, but it still exists also on the local level of national economies. Since the artwork has become merchandise (why, how, and whether this is sustainable in the long run is a topic for another, different text), it can be consumed at publicly accessible museum and gallery venues, although sometimes art becomes the target of interest of individuals, who are not inclined to public viewing of their collections. The process of democratization has certainly largely developed the public domain, but the existence of the private domain is still understood, because this is also one of the democratic ideas. Everybody can own whatever he wishes and thus a work of art as well, a result of somebody’s imagination. With its elaborate commercial mechanisms in art trade, the culture of modernity brings art to the masses and at the same time raises the awareness of the artwork, at least the traditional, gallery artwork. Its consumption is at the same time possible, but partly also obstructed, depending on the context. The current donors are public organizations – states and cities, which are in most cases heirs and custodians of different collections they inherited or with whose preservation they were entrusted. Or maybe they were simply seized from former patrons in bourgeois revolutions. Finally, which is also the case here, artists and their families appear as donors of collections of works resulting from creative work and public activities of the author. As these activities were frequently defined by exposing the author to market mechanisms, it is a common occurrence that after three or four decades works are scattered in numerous public and private collections. That results in the problem of how to reconstruct an author’s opus after he/she is gone, except through reproductions that accompany monographic retrospectives, which are unique and almost unrepeatable events.
Edo Murtić’s opus developed during half a century as a unique series demonstrating continuous discontinuity, i.e. as a sequence of exploration phases presented at exhibitions, in catalogues and other books, in Croatia and abroad. As a result of the established cultural and market mechanisms, many works from his exhibitions were purchased by private collectors or by museums. Considering a donation of Murtić’s works, the question how to do this was logical. How to establish a donation that would be located in one place, accessible for the public, and would systematically show all relevant phases of the author’s artistic development through the structure of the selection of works?
During many years, while the artist was still alive, the intention of his wife Goranka was to save his best works and the most representative formats from market mechanisms and one day shape them into the structure of Edo Murtić Donation to broader public. Moreover, in order to round up this project, the family even purchased particular works from private collections with the aim of making the image of this artistic opus complete. Therefore will this donation be not only a typical modern gesture by which the artist or the family donate a certain number of works to the public, but also a very systematically rounded-up collection of considerable museological value, which is heralded by this exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb. The structure of this donation will clearly point to the history of Edo Murtić’s exploratory art, i.e. it will be a foundation for new interpretations and critical evaluations, in which I personally tend to see its greatest asset and best potential for future research, not only of the history of visual art, but also the culture of modernity during the twentieth century in Croatia.