Was ist the Art, really?

About Yugoslav art seventies, conteptualism, artistic process, cultural utopia  


Tekst: Guca s Otoka sreće


Vladimir Gudac, OPG (personally invented abbreviation of Opatija’s pensioner Gudac) is one of the pioneers of an unusual concept of Art in Yugoslavia in the seventies. Born in Opatija, an artistic activist in Zagreb (TOK Group, Student Cultural Center), the professor at Academy of Applied Arts in Rijeka, just awakening up in fresh retirement. Still driven by plenty of ideas, journeys, he looks through his camera and reacts, being led by quite a diverse perception. He is an extraordinary interlocutor, a storyteller to listen, lucid and humorous in transposing his deep micro world. His “interventions” were seen in many exhibitions. His photos were exhibited in 2012 in MOMA, Museum of Modern Art in New York. Yet, he wanted and he translated the “Blowing in the wind” to Croatian’s Chakavian dialect. Our friendly gatherings, followed by his homemade food “a la chef de cuisine” and wines, have never been parties of a shallow content. Sometimes those parties revealed certain holes in my cultural portfolio of “generally informed person”: “… so you’ve heard about him, don’t’ you?”. Of course, I hadn’t, so the next day I was in searching already. Here, we are talking again about what he thinks of art, conceptualism, on what is more important – idea, process or artistic product and much more.

To begin with, he likes the basic idea of this portal. Thanks for the compliment.

How it all started in your life of an artist? What was or still is the Art for you, personally?

The transition from Opatija to Zagreb, in 1965, was the key event of my life at that time. Primarily, I needed to transit from Chakavian dialect to Kajkavian dialect, parallel to a pen, being shifted from my left hand to the right hand. It wasn’t easy, but it was worthwhile. Since I was seven years old, almost all that was in my possession I got by myself, I mean, toys, tools or collection of old iron stuff, in order to be able to buy the ticket for cinema “Belgrade” in Opatija. Winnetou has to be seen, of course. Very soon, not always willingly, I met a human solidarity, but also a malice and hierarchy based on money. I met cynics, demagogy, and sinecure but the meanness of careerism as well.

I was always interested in art, but I had extremely personal criteria about what it is. I even believed I know what all is about. Of course, the main transitions were happening even in that area, in the question and the answer attempt  – WHAT IS ART, or afterward as Was ist Kunst?  Yet, I don’t know the answer, I’m in a permanent transition. But, if the Art is something, it occupies me occasionally now, some piece of art, some author, in all time spans that I can reach for in the archeology of human reminiscence. But, very often I travel towards many human achievements.

What do you think of that period with the TOK Group nowadays, with time distance?

In a few first years of my staying in Zagreb, I’ve met a people with whom I’m connected by visible and invisible threads until today. When TOK Group was formed, in 1972, all these people were strangers in the city, in these early seventies, no one of us was from Zagreb. We were learning about the city as „strangers“, we took it over as activity field, we didn’t create „artistic“ works for the street. That’s why there were so many disagreements regarding our work, until today. Our work was not an ordinary practice, it was not a conceptualist art, neither we strived for some „artistic“ affirmation or career building. It was a CONCEPT, nowadays, it would be called a „project“, but I would disagree with that term, cause it’s meaningless and fashionable. The idea was related to the people, sentenced to live together in big community, they should consider the city as their OWN, the citizens may TAKE it OVER, referring to a collectivism as a respectable and creative part of individuality, where the stylistic orientation of the participants isn’t of any importance.

The creativity means achieving something in the theoretical field, in technology or economy, something that doesn’t stand against human’s essence, means working against a destruction and promotion of superego of a so-called artist. It should be known that those were the seventies, there were no examples, nor should there be any to follow. When I personally heard about conceptual art, at one moment it seemed to me that I was close to it. However, I wasn’t.

In order to avoid being labeled, my friend Josip Stanišić suggested making an exhibition (in Podroom, Zagreb, 1978.), Art in Mind. In some works, created by authors gathered under that title, that agent of sensation, happened in the unperceptive processes of the human mind, not in a continuous observation of an artifact, its surface, shape, texture of the color and the like. Those photos, objects, drawings etc. are not the images in sense of image as unique bearer of esthetic like it’s in the painting.

Common work of TOK Group lasted for two years, but later on, each of us went his own way. At that time, at Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb, I was acquaintanced to the positivistic and impersonal, so-called objective and rational history of fine arts and literature. Social engagement (nowadays, it’s “activism”) was a starting     point of every public activity, but I stood against it very quickly. The breakthrough moment in capturing the concept of social engagement, occurred when I met Joseph Beuys in Belgrade, at the April Meeting Festival in 1974 and later luckily, I was getting closer to the Beuys’ circle of students in Dusseldorf. Since then, I have become more and more silent.

Still, some foreign art historians considered you as conceptualists and your artwork as avant-garde impulse within the contemporary era. You are also “to blame for” that step-off from the modernism, and that you were among the first, in Eastern Europe, to point out some general problems in public space. Yet, admit you were the conceptualist. At least, admit you were the part of the New Art Practice?

The Conceptualism is the procedure in which the IDEA is what is WORK itself (just look at works Sol Le Vito, Kosut, Viener Hacke or Trbuljak), but neither the TOK Group nor I personally have ever strived that IDEA is WORK. Conceptualism is a radical anti-artistic movement that denied a product (some artwork made of some material), tautologically considering its own area (art is art or what is art) as the basic form of self-abolition, but eventually, it entered museums just as an exhibition piece.

Photos, videos, written records or notes about some event, like some sort of relics (in the medieval tradition, saints, and legends) are hanging on the walls of the sacred museums. I wasn’t dealing with something like this, nor am I interested in, likewise in Duchamp’s urinal in the museum, because half of the humanity has no access to water or WC. So much about the tautological-philosophical scope of the conceptualism and those who, with the theoretical background of the Boris Groys’ books, began to sell papers or posters as art pieces. Still, no one is ready to pay for IDEA or is willing to pay e.g. Marina (Abramović) to live her life, so occasionally, she has to work pretty hard in museums, but nowadays for a big money.

Problem is that big lobbyist, weapon smugglers, and drug traffickers, must launder their money and have to buy the ARTWORK. “The Square”,  film directed by R.Oslund is very indicative and is worthwhile to be seen as regards that subject.



Društveno angažovana razglednica 1972, Grupa TOK

Iz serije antiratnih postera,1975. V. Gudac

And then I stopped asking because Vladimir moved on alone. He has the interesting look at culture and Art of today.

Taken globally, according to what has been happening in culture for the past 30 years, such attitude and such creations are part of the utopia that lived shortly and didn’t leave a great mark on Western culture. Because of the vacuum in the gallerist-museum activities of the West, the lobbies continue to build up great museums that need something to be fulfilled. All utopian ideas are “amortized” by exhibiting in museums (where they don’t belong), whether they are museums of contemporary art or so-called anti-museums. But, the truth is that significant works of contemporary art stand right beside the great scientists in technology, medicine, and biogenetics. The Art of 21st century, I mean so-called Western art, hardly has any sense at all, particularly art that pretends to be some trend or classified as “this” or “that”, likewise e.g. “conceptual art” (this means I didn’t’ convince him that he is conceptualist). Here comes an example: we will deprive Vincent Van Gogh of postimpressionist classification and he loses nothing, he is gaining more and more, but, if we deprive any conceptualist of his classification, he losses everything. Let everyone to take this into consideration when reflecting on zeitgeist in which we all are living together.

And here comes his painfully critical view of this region:

There are many finesses, but essentially, it’s a provincial circus, because the culture has provincialized as soon it is agreed that “social layers” of all kinds and ideology, that is ethics, becomes what was once aesthetics. The Nation is being homogenized and aestheticized by catchwords and visual marks through collective rituals in sport, whilst a high culture washes its conscience at meaningless symposiums where, the miraculous mushrooms called “projects”, are produced.

If anything is specific to space and time I live in, I say that space (landscape) is beautiful, there is too much time for all the evils already committed, and there will be more of them. The only real art here is the art of survival. What might be a utopia, for some future times, the work of Josip Stosic contains, on a white paper, size A 3, the silhouette of the four leaf clover colored in green and below is written: “The luck of the clover should be returned to the meadow”.

What is the importance of the Art in the public space, is it recognized by an “ordinary” man, or whether that man needs it?

Working should be done exclusively in the public space, but what is that place and how it is defined isn’t that simple. Foremost, all that is not found in private isolated places isn’t public. “Public” is often defined ideologically and subsequently, marks politically. Such “public” is manipulated. For example, if I am quite legitimately getting some fish leftovers in a fish market, along with a kilo of fresh sardines, and I bring those leftovers to the Lungo mare throwing it, piece by piece, to seagulls, then it’s public, because fish waste is usually thrown secretly in the trash, what is a scandal and policy defeat. Placing some grotesque, quasi-modernist bronze sculpture in the public space isn’t a respectable act and offends a modern, civilized man.

 What is your favorite exhibition?

The exhibition I realized in 1977 in Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb was interesting because the critique have cost the Director of the Gallery (the core of today Museum of Contemporary Art),  Radoslav Putar, his position, and the last echo of soc-realism has risen to the level of public criticism by, then journalist, Zrinka Novak, who became famous for her book of talks with general Jaruzelski!

It is commonly said that exhibition is meaningless, and that money of worker’s class is wasted on electricity and cleaning ladies and that there was no exhibition at all (though on tables were plenty of photos and texts). I remember that exhibition because one of the exhibits was stolen on the opening by Ms. Marija Braut (famous photographer of Zagreb Scholl of Photography), but she was caught and had to bring it back, as a result, I have all exhibited works saved, until today. My favorite quotation of this exhibition is: „The objects we most often look at, don’t capture our attention because of themselves alone and they are below the photo of the mirror and the watch“.

My best-loved exhibition was held in my apartment in the Ilica Street, 85 in January of 1981. In December that year, exactly on the Christmas Day, my mother, who came from Opatija to visit me in Zagreb, died in that apartment. When I walked along the seashore, the next day after the funeral, I saw two elderly people, standing on the shore and watching the seagulls fleeing the sea. I captured a photo of that sight, from their back, made the photo in 70 x 100 cm format and placed it in that apartment, on the wall, above the bed. I invited friends and acquaintances to the opening and explained about my mother’s deathbed and my impression of the sight of two elderly people, walking together in Opatija, while I was imagining my parents in that walk, except, my father died in 1958.

What makes your microcosm? What are people in it?

The people I’m socializing with are all lovely and good, all yearning for something better, but they don’t cope well with the contemporary, techno-liberalism society. In the past, these people were some of the immediate family who could lend you some money until the 1st day in a month, or people who knew how to change the rubber on the faucet, only at present, there are no such faucets, so these are the people who remember that times. I liked to socialize with pupils and later on, students of Academy of Applied Arts in Rijeka. With some of them, I’m still in contact. I don’t like to socialize with artists because of the reasons mentioned earlier, because of my CONCEPT, because of someone’s hyper-ego or because of ideological stances of most of them. I made my last, great selection of artist in the period between 1991 and 1995.

What does Gudac do now; did he become an Artist on vacation? (Reference to his participation in the international project “Artist on Holiday” which yearly brings together important neo-avant-garde artists in the city of Poreč, artists who still uses “radical art practices”)?

Every day I produce something, some photo, some drawing or I write some text. Recently, I started writing texts in Opatija’s, Chakavian dialect, likewise kind of crypto chronicle which, even in standard language, wouldn’t be understood either interesting to the most people. I’m sending texts and photos electronically, to whom I want and when I want to. Many of my texts are, for example, published publicly, although, I don’t’ know anyone but the editor that read them, so why should I do any more about it?



Oksimoron 1(Lampeduza) I Oksomoron 2(Čovjek u moru), Muzej suvremenih umjetnosti Zagreb,2016, V.Gudca, fotografija originalne instalacije, Umjetnik na odmoru

What did you take from all of your journeys?

Traveling is important to me because it makes me more insignificant, especially not Eurocentric, as if I do apologize, somehow, to those people in Asia and Africa for damned wars, slavery and colonialism and when I’m in Europe, I feel uncomfortable, mostly for the same reasons. I highly value only the people of the truly universal spirit, those who don’t impose their poor ego as something immense, no matter what they did and when they lived. Such people exist in Europe, but there are very few of them. A few years ago, there was an exhibition in Zagreb, held in the edifice of HDLU (Croatian Association of Artists), but it appears as if it wasn’t. One acquaintance told me that it was “tourist” exhibition because it consisted of selected photos from my travels of apology and respect for the different world. And this summer, a small exhibition was held in Labin, Folium Lauri Perforatum, an entirely cryptographic exhibition with no understandable text, but with the understandable theme. The visitors were much more polite there, saying that it is OK for the text to not be understandable. The exhibition wasn’t seen by many people, but most of them were dear and I couldn’t care a less for others.

I plan to make two exhibitions of this kind micro, and crypto. very soon. It will be for a few people and incomprehensible, but everything will be understood. It doesn’t matter when these works were made, it’s important that they are mine. All of them will enter into my final works under the name SVOJNI*.


*Svojni,  in “Opatija’s-Kastavian” archaic language this phrase means something similar to words once upon the time, long time ago…

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