Conceptual artist Braco Dimitrijevic came to New York in 1975 for his first solo show showcasing his Casual Passer-by portraits of anonymous people on the streets at Sperone Westwater. Now, almost forty years later, he returns once again to his roots at Sperone Westwater for a retrospective, and spoke to MutualArt about his innovative career.
Dimitrijevic, born in Sarajevo and based in Paris started the Casual Passer-by project in 1971. This photographic series attracted international recognition even in its nascent years pioneering what would later be called "relational aesthetics," as it interacted with the public sphere displayed on the facades of prominently-located buildings around Europe (pictured right).
Since that first solo exhibition in the United States, this world renowned artist exhibited at the Tate, London ICA, MOMOK in Vienna, attended dOCUMENTA three years (1972, 1976, 1993) and participated in the Venice Biennale five times (1976, 1982, 1990, 1993, and 2009). The Sperone Westwater retrospective focuses on the work created after he gained attention with his Casual Passer-by series, when he began photographing living animals confronting fine art. Dimitrijevic tells us: "The show spans the period over 30 years because I made very first installation with living animals in 1981 at the Waddington Galleries in London. In that work entitled Dust of Louvre, Mist of Amazon, a pair of living peacocks was wandering in the gallery and looking at original paintings of Picasso, Cezanne, Monet and Leger. The exhibition at Sperone Westwater is selection of works with live and wild animals I've done in last 30 years in various zoos, but also in some more adventurous museums and private galleries."
The resulting photographs challenge our reason and perception, as we see lions next to classical sculptures (pictured left) or the artist himself playing the piano to entertain elephants in a field (pictured at top). "Animals represent the irrational, unknown, unpredictable element because their logic is different from ours and often beyond our comprehension," explains the artist.
Yet Dimitrijevic (pictured below left) bridges this gap between humans and animals in a simple message inscribed on a massive green marble obelisk: "If One Looks from the Moon There is no Distance between the Louvre and the Zoo." Dimitrijevic began his Post Historic Landmark series of monuments in 1981, continuing until the present day. The retrospective at Sperone Westwater includes one marble slab from 1971, engraved with the sentence, "This Could be a Place of Historical Importance". One such monument sits outside the City History Museum in Sarajevo (pictured below right, before grafitti), where he was born in 1948, complete with a scribble of graffiti from an idle adolescent, not so far from the center where one of his Casual Passer-by photographs can be seen on Town Hall, faded by the sun.
Recurring themes of history and memory are appropriate for an artist born in a country forced to reinvent its collective identity following wars and periods of foreign domination. Fixed on investigating memorialization, Dimitrijevic explains the meaning for the Sarajevo example and the series of monuments: "It can be placed anywhere implying that any place can become of historical interest or maybe was in the past but we are not yet aware of its significance. This work relates to my concept of Post History, which I define as space of multi-angular viewing and coexistence of different concepts."
The philosophy of Post History is at the core of all Dimitrijevic's work, following his 1976 book Tractatus Post Historicus, examining the topic of the coexistence of differing values and multiple individual truths. Visitors to Sperone Westwater encounter this theory through Triptychos Post Historicus. juxtaposing artwork by modern masters like as Kandinsky, Mondrian, Picasso, and Manet with organic objects. Dimitrijevic elaborates: "Triptychos Post Historicus installations question the limits of the traditional exhibition space from within, because they happen in the museum itself. The very first Triptychos Post Historicus I made in 1976 in the Nationalgalerie in Berlin with original painting of Kandinsky. In those triptychs I make some sort of nature morte juxtaposing a master work, borrowed from museum collection, for instance painting by Chagall or Matisse, with everyday object and fruit." Later these fruits and vegetables were replaced with live animals.
When asked about the viewer's reaction to these photographs of live animals next to masterpieces, the artist responds, "The animal and its movements create dynamic relationship to the art object making the most unexpected images. The public is taken by surprise but soon becomes enchanted by harmony of these images. I noticed that public is enthusiastic about this synthesis of culture and nature."
While these photographs are certainly surprising and the philosophy behind his work enlightening, Dimitrijevic's return to Sperone Westwater hardly feels fresh for those who have seen his exhibitions elsewhere. The element of chance is seen in each and every photographic work, but the artist is hardly spontaneous when exploring new outlets. Most of the work seen this month in New York City began in the 1970s at the time of his first solo exhibition there, evidence that Dimitrijevic consistently produced exceptional work for the past forty years.
Braco Dimitrijevic is on view at Sperone Westwater through Oct. 27, 2012.
MutualArt's Christine Bednarz; Images Courtesy of the Artist
What do you think of Braco Dimitrijevic's work? Where have you seen it? Which other gallery exhibitions are you checking out in NYC this fall?