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News 09 May 17

Sarajevo Exhibition Aims to Reconnect Yugoslav Artists

A co-founder of the Benetton empire is bringing together 900 artists from all over the former Yugoslavia for an exhibition in Sarajevo.

Igor Spaic

As part of his project of abolishing global borders in art, the Italian billionaire and co-founder of the Benetton Group, Luciano Benetton, has brought together artists from the various countries that emerged from the breakup of Yugoslavia to help them find ways to reconnect.

Nine hundred artists from Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo will have their artworks displayed at the exhibition in the Bosnian Cultural Center from Tuesday to May 28.

The exhibition is being organised as part of Benetton’s global non-profit contemporary art project, Imago Mundi.

The project entails selecting a curator for a given country or region, who then identifies the most representative artists from that area – both emerging and world-renowned – who express their art on a 10cm x 12cm canvas.

The curator of the former Yugoslav exhibition, named “Face to Face”, is the art advisor and gallerist Claudio Scorretti – who told BIRN that Yugoslavia had produced the best artists in Eastern Europe.

Scorretti said that while artists from the countries around Yugoslavia only discovered freedom and democracy after the collapse of the Communist system, Yugoslav artists had remained up-to-date with the latest trends in art because their country’s milder brand of Communism had been more far open to outside influence.

In Romania, for example, abstract art was almost prohibited for four decades and artists practiced it only in the underground.

“Yugoslavia, however, made modernism the keynote speech of its official cultural policy, of course, ideologically corrupted,” Scorretti said.

But the wars in the former Yugoslavia had set back the region’s artists, and they are yet to catch up with each other each other in the post-war period.

Scorretti said older generations of artists in Yugoslavia had enjoyed a certain mobility. Some had studied in Belgrade, Zagreb or Ljubljana, and then specialised in Sarajevo or in other cities.

“They were not limited to just one identity, mobility was a normality,” Scorretti said.

Younger artists were focused more on international connections, participated in international biennales, and opened themselves to the global art market - but knew very little of each other, he added.

This is why Benetton and Scorretti came up with the idea, apart from the exhibition, also to organise a round table and put together curators, artists and art professionals from the seven countries that emerged from the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

“Our most important goal was to do something in the direction of reconnecting people and ideas in the region,” he said.

Apart from the disconnection caused by the conflicts of the 1990s, artists in all countries of former Yugoslavia have to cope with the lack of funds, Scorretti noted.

His view is that while artists and institutions are trying to imitate Western models, they cannot follow them due to a lack of money and also because of the politicisation of key positions in museums and other cultural institutions.

The region also lacks a stable art market of its own.

He says governments in the region should support their countries’ galleries so that artists can display their works at international art fairs, like Art Basel.

“Not one gallery from this region is going to Art Basel, and that is something to consider if you want to develop a market,” Scorretti observed.

“If just one gallery from the region starts to collect artists from the whole region, and goes to Basel or to another fair, it will help the visibility of those artists,” he added.

Another deficiency is the absence of a strong regional gallery.

“The biennales sometimes take artists abroad, which is something a country must avoid, because then you are losing your best,” Scorretti noted.

If a piece of art is displayed at a regional art fair, it will surely rise in value. “If this artist is not supported from a gallery from the country or region, he will leave. Who will take care of managing this artist if there is no such gallery in his country?” he asked, adding that if only one gallery started managing several regional artists, it would allow them to stay.

Scorretti hopes that “Face to Face” will jumpstart regional art fairs and galleries, and so make local artists more visible.

Meetings like the one organised by Benetton can be useful – as actors in this field can only understand their goals, discuss opportunities and make new approaches together, he concluded.

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