Expert associate: Viktor Popović

Exhibition set-up: Jasminka Babić, Viktor Popović

Curatorial assistant: Ana Čukušić

The year-end exhibition in 2021, in which the Museum of Fine Arts celebrates its ninetieth anniversary, is dedicated to the exceptional oeuvre of Gorki Žuvela – an artist who, in his almost fifty-year-long artistic career, has permanently changed the artistic and cultural life of Split with his dedicated educational and tireless cultural engagement. As early as the mid-1970s, after having returned to Split from Zagreb, Žuvela became an indispensable part, and usually also the driving force of the cultural scene in Split, and although he has regularly shown his artwork in solo and group exhibitions, his entire oeuvre has not been presented in Split before now. Žuvela’s retrospective in the Museum of Fine Arts is therefore a singular opportunity to showcase this extremely prolific, complex and diverse artistic oeuvre, but also to examine his work as one of the indispensable, truly significant and intriguing artistic practices that marked the late 20th and the turn of the 21th century in Croatian art in general.

With the selection of over two hundred installations, objects, paintings, drawings, prints and posters collected from museum and private collections, the exhibition encompasses the entire period of Žuvela’s creative work – from the 1970s through to the artist’s death in 2017. Irrespective of the diversity of works, media and themes that Gorki Žuvela has contemplated throughout his life and work, his tireless, uncompromising research vein has never left him. His conceptually and formally well-thought-out works, both serious and full of humour, local and yet completely universal, speak of a singular artist and an intellectual for whom art was not only a medium through which he spoke about life, but also a powerful tool that actively influenced the lives of those who have had the privilege of being close to him and his art.

Žuvela belongs to the first generation of artists of the New Art Practice (together with Boris Bućan, Braco Dimitrijević, Goran Trbuljak, Sanja Iveković, Dalibor Martinis and Dean Jokanović Toumin) who congregated around the then SC Gallery and the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb in the early 1970s. With their progressive ideas they moved away from the tradition of Modernism and redefined the process, character and presentation of the work of art. Even in these early works, which are presented in the exhibition with, for example, a series of Letters of Thanks from 1976 or an entire series of objects that problematize the concept of error, Žuvela’s conceptual forethought, critical thinking and active communication with the audience that the artist will remain faithful to throughout his entire career, are clearly visible. The exhibition also presents an extremely important installation, Monument to Salona (Gift to the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy), which Žuvela presented in 1981 at the Trigon biennial event at the Neue Galerie in Graz, Austria. By problematizing cultural heritage in the complex historical context of the Mediterranean, which is extremely important for the artist, he creates a work that represents, with a specific combination of ethics and aesthetics, a paradigmatic example of Žuvela’s artistic practice. In the 1980s, Žuvela’s artistic research is focused on experimenting with the material, the semantic and formal processes of creation and character of the work of art itself. From that period, we present a series of works made of rust on metal, titled Portraits – Waterpainter, which provoked rather conflicting reactions from the local public at the exhibition in the Salon Galić Gallery in 1982. During this period, Žuvela’s engaged and critical vein is focused on stimulating cultural life in Split, such as the work of informal associations like the Brothers Borozan Workshop, which promoted interdisciplinarity and a progressive activation of the general public, as well as through significant Art Summer activities that have brought art and culture into the focus of city life, despite the small community constraints they constantly encountered. This segment of Žuvela’s activity is presented at the exhibition with a selection of interesting archival materials from the artist’s personal archive, as well as posters that he produced for the Croatian National Theatre in Split and many other events. In the 1990s, Žuvela developed a series of works that problematize the relationship between language and visual art, while exploring the systems of meaning and methods in the field of art through anthological installations titled Sentences or a series of drawings My Philosophising. In Žuvela’s work, the new millennium has brought renewed interest in the painting medium in which, through a specific combination of dripping with sand and paint, he continued exploring the broad field of culture and creativity. The exhibition concludes with the last series of reliefs and objects that are united under the title Speculative, which were shown at Žuvela’s final exhibition in 2017, staged in the French Pavilion and the SC Gallery in Zagreb, which concluded Žuvela’s artistic journey at the place where he began his exhibition career in 1970.

Gorki Žuvela (1946, Našice – 2017, Split) obtained a graduate degree in painting from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 1971, in the class of Prof. Miljenko Stančić. Since 1970, he has staged numerous solo and participated in many group exhibitions in Croatia and abroad, and is the recipient of a series of prestigious awards. In addition to his artistic career, he will be remembered for his exceptional pedagogical contribution. Since 1976, he taught at the School of Fine Arts in Split, and since 1995, he taught the Visual Arts Course at the University of Split. He is one of the founders of the Arts Academy in Split where he worked in the Department of Painting since 1997. In 2016, he was awarded the title of Professor Emeritus.

The exhibition is realized with financial support of the Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Croatia, the City of Split and the Tourist Board of the City of Split.