EXAT 51

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EXAT 51 (abbr. of Eksperimentalni atelje / Experimental atelier) was a Croatian group of artists active in Zagreb from 1950 to 1956. Its members were architect and designer Bernardo Bernardi, architect Zdravko Bregovac, painter, graphic artist and designer Ivan Picelj, architect Zvonimir Radić, architect, stage designer and painter Božidar Rašica, architect and sculptor Vjenceslav Richter, painter and sculptor Aleksandar Srnec, architect Vladimir Zarahović, and painter and animated filmmaker Vladimir Kristl.

On 7 December 1951 they formed the group officially at the plenary meeting of the Association of Applied Artists of Croatia (Croat. Udruzenje likovnih umjetnika primijenjenih umjetnosti Hrvatske (ULUPUH)), at which time they proclaimed their manifesto. The group was formed to protest against the dominance of officially sanctioned Socialist Realism and the condemnation of all forms of abstraction and motifs unacceptable in Communist doctrine as decadent and bourgeois. In its manifesto, Exat-51 emphasized that such an attitude contradicted the principles of Socialist development, that the differences between so-called 'pure' art and 'applied' art were non-existent and that abstract art could enrich the field of visual communication. The activity of the group was therefore to spring from the existing social situation and, as such, to contribute to the progress of society. The principal intention was to attain a synthesis of all branches of the fine arts and to encourage artistic experimentation. At the first Exat-51 exhibition in February 1953, held in Zagreb at the Hall of the Architects' Society of Croatia, works by Picelj, Kristl, Srnec and Rasica were featured; the exhibition was later shown in Belgrade. The group made an important contribution in helping to free Yugoslav artists from predominant Stalinist dogmas, and its members later continued to work in a more individual manner, still adhering, however, to the main ideas set out in the manifesto.

Context[edit]

From Ana Devic, "Reception of Modernism Within the Context of Croatian Art Since the 1950's", 2001:

The year of 1951 is very important for the introduction of new tendencies. It is the year when the artistic group EXAT 51 has been established in Zagreb [..] In that period, a gradual opening of cultural space took place, so for example, Yugoslavia started to participate again at the Venice Biennial. At the central meeting of Association of visual artists of applied arts of Croatia in 1951, the manifesto of group EXAT 51 had been read publicly. Their manifesto is inspired by ideas of Russian constructivism, neo-plasticity, Bauhaus, and De Stijl. Direct parallels could be drawn in ideas such as synthesis of arts, architecture and design that should completely encompass and improve the praxis of daily and social life. The members of the Group Exat 51 were mostly painters and architects - Vjenceslav Richter, Aleksandar Srnec, Bozidar Rasica, Ivan Picelj and Vlado Kristl. Their manifesto is composed of carefully composed theses that promote socially engaged art in an attempt to creatively take down the dogmatic soc-realism and to replace it with totality of modernistic synthesis. The profile and objectives of group EXAT 51 might be perceived in the broader context of post-war questioning of artistic heritage of the first half of the century, but it was not only about sheer reminiscence but also about very urgent need to form new public myth. Many similar tendencies and artistic attempts were happening in Europe.5 One can mention here just slightly earlier movements in Italy, such as Forma Uno (Rome, 1947), Movimento arte concreta (Milan, 1948), Arte d'oggy (Florence 1950), with whom the members of Exat 51 had no contact whatsoever. More direct parallels might be drawn between group Espace, formed in 1951 that under intellectual guidance of Le Corbusier promoted the idea of synthesis of arts, but Exat 51 came to know its activity only in 1952 when they exhibited at Salon des Realites Nouvelles in Paris, manifestation that promoted abstract art.6 This possible correspondences points toward the fact that the ideas developed by members of Exat 51 fit into a broader art praxis of great artistic synthesis that is supposed to encompass the totality of life. In that context it is important to stress that Exat did not succeed in realization of their synthetic projects, as well as the fact that the group exhibited in Zagreb for the first time only in 1953, two years after it had been established. [...]
The question arises why official art system of the 50's, that functioned in direct ideological connection to state apparatus, pushed in the background Exat 51, and why its reception in broader public was complicated? Integration of art in all elements of society and ideas of Exat 51 were clearly calling for certain élan vital that was supposed to happen in the state and its art production, and that could not be realized without support of the society. Their activity ended in the illusions of social utopias. The act of such affirmation of the term of "artistic freedom" is clearly political. Since 1960's the members of Exat 51 initiated the manifestation called New Tendencies, that to certain extent had carried on the ideas of Exat, very prominent in the new context of 60's, turned toward kinetic and optical art. New tendencies were very important for their gradual internationalization of local artistic context, and also for introducing new media to the generation of artist that will be intensively turned to new media in the 70's.

From Lidija Merenik, "Before the Art of New Media", 2007:

It is clear that EXAT ’51 – a group that, today, can be considered the ideological and linguistic precursor of [New] Tendencies – was not built on similar foundations and did not please the Party ideologues who liked 'recommending' an acceptable 'modern' manner of expression. A polemical climate was created as early as 1951/52, mostly to do with EXAT’s activities. Abstract (that is, non-objective) art was sharply criticised, first of all as an art whose 'ideological basis was vague and uninvestigated', as being 'hermetic', and as a consequence of uncritical acceptance of 'foreign' influences (Tito was fond of using the term 'Westernisation'). EXAT was the earliest and the most consistent proponent of the supremacy of abstract art and of a new profile of art and the artist; a synthesis of 'pure' and 'applied' art. Also, it would be more correct to view EXAT as a project or concept of the modernist total work (as evidenced by the Manifesto of 1951) than as a group pursuing a conventional course of artistic action attempting to effect changes within a single area of practice. In this respect, EXAT was a multidisciplinary (‘total’) project. The abolition of the allusive and the associative, as well as the destruction of principles such as the harmony of painted elements in a 'composition' (more precisely, the rejection of the heritage of L’Ecole de Paris and the principle of 'push-and-pull' composition inside the 'frame' unique in ex-Yugoslavia’s modern art), certainly must have disturbed an establishment used to a 'feeling of harmony' and to that 'soft' modernism that provided a warm, conformist shelter through its elegant aesthetisations. In this sense, the advent of EXAT does not only represent a watershed for Croatian art, but a generator of tectonic disturbances on the Yugoslav art scene at large. It is also one of the rare movements that clearly broke with the convention of 'composition', that is, the deeply rooted heritage of French modernism, cultivated to the level of a cult.

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