Contemporary Artists in the Permanent Collection / Goran Trbuljak

Contemporary Artists in the Permanent Collection of MUO Goran Trbuljak

20.11.2018 – 1.4.2019

Conceptual artist Goran Trbuljak is a guest author, invited by the Museum to participate in the annual exhibition program entitled Contemporary Artists in the Permanent Collection of MUO. The main goal of this is to initiate a vivid dialog between the forms and meanings of the actual Permanent Collection and contemporary art expression. Trbuljak who is recognized as a confident strategist of playing the role of his own interpreter, curator and critic, by his intervention expresses a characteristic authoritative view of the problem of the artist identity and the idea of authenticity of artwork through provoking many questions about his market and institutional valorisation. Goran Trbuljak is a consistently analytical and communicative author who is permanently interested in a set of assumed ideas, one may call them rules, prejudices or expectations, that regulate the general attitude of artistic criticism, museum-gallery institutions and the public toward the role of the artist and his work. Containing the wide variety of material cultural objects, the permanent collection of MUO established the profile of a universal art museum, which reflects the merged unity of arts and crafts. For Trbuljak, this fruitful unity of art styles, methods and craftsmanship processing presents the possibility of being layered, critical, ironic, poetic “playful” through the review of classical classification concepts of value evaluation of the work (original, copy, replica, facsimile, plagiarism) and the criteria that guide collectors.


Attempt of Public Relations

It is hard to say something new and original about Goran Trbuljak – so far, many have written and talked about him but first and foremost, he himself. Today, it is well known that Goran Trbuljak has publicly announced himself in the seventies as an “artist in crisis” that does not create objects but only street actions and exhibitions and strives to maintain continuity in his work. His notable gallery presentations (1971, 1973, and 1979) were famous for reducing his exhibitions to the display of poster-theses declaring his personal artistic principles and confronting them with the general principles of gallery artwork presentation. The basis of this idea was an initiative for a public debate on the social perceptions of artistic activity, motivated by an individual, non-institutional position, which does not hesitate from its own exposure to damage. To that peripheral, insecure position, Trbuljak gave voice and face, and affirmed its rebellious statements through the usual public informational form of poster. Thus, a formal demonstration of transforming artistic objects into testimonies became part of Trbuljak’s effective strategy of establishing contact with the public, presentation of views and the intentions of his artistic alter ego. By provoking and expecting a reaction, Trbuljak has so far speculated about his capacities in front of audience and is gambling with the conditions of his own presence on the scene. For fifty years now, seemingly still easy, the diplomatic mentality that represents the morality of rebellion builds and breaks down his artistic identity, value and liquidity through provoking the dilemma of the possibilities of reception and market verification of his works.

If it is possible to talk about the educational aspect of Trbuljak’s art, and from the position of the museum it is important to try this out, then it consists in an intuitive and nonchalant unmasking of a practical premise that stands as a shadow to the possibility of being an artist. The position of artists in the society is not only established by their work, but also by their willingness of personal investment in the development of a network of interpersonal and institutional transactional relations, which is followed by the will to meet the tacit order of regular maintenance of good communication channels with the audience, curators, galleries and collectors. This was the case centuries before our global network and virtual social networks, so today the so-called independent artists are actually dependent on the judgments of institutions and markets, in the network of others interpretations, relativisms and subjectivity, exposed to the dangers of competition, ignorance and censorship. In relation to this issue, the fact that he reluctantly and rarely meets these requirements, has nothing new and original but only what he really is, is the basis of Trbuljak’s morale demonstrated in his appearance in the Permanent Exhibition of the Museum of Arts and Crafts.

Museum of Established Relationships

In 1972, Trbuljak visited the Paris galleries, wondering if there was anyone who would like to display an Anonymous Author. His emergence on the international scene of those years opens up before him the possibility of resolving the art crisis situation as through collaboration with curator Idom Biard in Paris he launched the French Window exhibition program – literally on the windowpane of a private apartment window. In the same year in Zagreb he won public support through a referendum he organized under the aphorism The Artist is the one to whom the others give the opportunity for being that. Thus, Trbuljak started the art on domestic and foreign scenes, and already in 1981 he held a “retrospective” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade. Despite this, and later on, from chance to chance, in moments of crisis or pure caution, he pursued the quest for ideal partners in this art adventure, for example, through posters Old and Bald Looking for a Gallery (1994) and Old Depressive Anonymous Is Looking For A Permanent Display Place in Some Nice New Art Museum (2005-2008). In the relationship with the Permanent Display of the Museum of Arts and Crafts Trbuljak enteres ready to present key thematic aduts while maintaining the continuity in his work. That is why this exhibition, without an ambition to be retrospective, accidentally and unintentionally, more like hazardous than a museum finale, represents the satisfaction of needs of a director of a Life itself to complete the outcomes of started intentions. The real paradox of Goran Trbuljak’s artistic identity embodied in the Back Wash Sink as a document of the encounter of two namesakes, is more of a mystery of doubles and the possible intrigue of a borrowed, replaced or stolen identity. It is an encounter in which Trbuljak’s artistic project is completed symbolically – acquaintance of an anonymous alter ego with his author. Rich in the finest hues of irony, this encounter is an absurd life opportunity in which the artistic project is confirmed as a destiny – simply, they were “sniffed” and merged through an online commerce platform Njuškalo.

May we exclude the material level of events. It’s not a backwash sink but the Back Wash Sink. This is not just about alluding to the physical basis of the object or identity of that other Trbuljak, but about the brilliantly seized opportunity that appeared, which I believe is equally longed for by curators, artists and the audience. Opportunity to reach the metaphysical level of reality. The possibilities for fragments of successive occurrences suddenly appear on the edges of their meaning and that from this union at least for a brief moment appears an outline of a meaningful picture of the world in which things are actually concepts, terms referents, and people mediators at their intersections.

Collections in Contact

The modest international visibility of the conceptual artist Goran Trbuljak this year was also determined by a retrospective entitled Before and After Retrospective organized at the Center d’Art Contemporain in Geneva (May – August 2018), and is currently preparing for a visit to the Museo d’ Arte Moderna in Bologna (January 2019). The exhibition in MUO, although planned completely beyond these circumstances, was harmoniously and concisely aligned between two versions of the retrospective, in the circle of other Trbuljak’s exhibitions prepared this season in Zagreb (Wow, wow wow, Gallery 3.14, To Tanhofer and Babaja, ADU Gallery f8, Goran Trbuljak: Shaping a Line of Least Resistance, HDD gallery).

After years of searching for the appropriate institutional partners, this ironic game is approaching its end, but not its resolvment. Namely, in the art world monogamy has no value. After fifty years of work, Croatian and some European institutions of contemporary art are exhibiting Goran Trbuljak, collectors are buying his works, and he himself is no longer anonymous or uninstitutional, and of course not completely independent. If you want to present Trbuljak today, it is very likely that you will be in touch with his other partners with whom he has engaged in art transactions. In one of these business affairs Trbuljak linked MUO and the Kontakt Art Collection owned by the Erste Group and ERSTE Foundation. Owing to this loan, we are able to show digital prints of scanned originals of the Untitled series on which the author worked from 1971 to 1982. The series consist of twenty textual works – one-line sentences by which the author expresses opinions about unnamed works of art and relations in the art world, sums up the orders that visitors are supposed to carry out, scatters the statistical information on the artist’s existence and rises above the conditions of institutional co-operation. The first such texts intended for people on the street or gallery and museum visitors museum have been exhibited at the Paris Youth Bienniale in 1971, and later on many other manifestations. He often made photocopies of these works, leaving the visitors the opportunity to bring them home if they wanted. However, today’s free distribution of these Trbuljak’s works is no longer possible because they make contact with the audience under the copyright conditions of the of the collection meaningfully named Kontakt, which aims to put the under-examined art of Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe into the context of global history of art.

A Freelance Artist

The times have changed from Trbuljak’s beginnings to this day, and neither is he personally, as we have already stated, exactly the same. In order to maintain continuity in its work, in 2015 he once again visited the Paris gallery, offering them the opportunity to buy his drawings and his drawings of façades. Due to his transactions, he eventually acquired a certain collector’s experience by acquiring colleagues’ work that were similar to his own in order to remove them from the field of view of the public and thus make the history shrink. However, after these fifty years of Trbuljak’s continuity we know that he would not do anything to others what he was not prepared to do to himself. Finally, he also bought the Back Wash Sink. In his “old bald” head he probably stands as a signpost in the direction of returning to anonymity, as an emblematic sign of the independent state of a freelance artist somewhat inclined, if not to giving up art, then at least to further showing scepticism around it.

Jasmina Fučkan, October 2018

Trbuljak is not an applied artist?

To exhibit works by Goran Trbuljak in the Permanent Display of the Museum of Arts and Crafts and to say that the works are in dialogue with him means two different things. Conceptually linked, but also very distinct in the concept of reaching and recognizing meaning and the gradation of producing and making sense.

With the exhibition Why would someone buy the Back Wash Sink from Goran Trbuljak? we do both, because in the artistic work and behaviour of Goran Trbuljak, from the beginning to the present day, the notion of work – object or text, is nothing but a manifestation of a strategically designed positioning within a set of socially contextualised problems of the artistic activity. He is the master in the position of “artist of applied chance”.

In the museum field, Trbuljak is a player of a recognizable conceptual profile, whose reluctance towards his own career is comparable with the troubles of Peter Pan, whose shadow flees from the frame of a pragmatic rhythm of foreseeable and expected steps.

Therefore, at the Museum of Arts and Crafts we are exhibiting Trbuljak’s works in the following order. First, the Back Wash Sink, which in full associative power establishes references to Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain from 2017, documenting the fact that there are two Trbuljaks. Then a series of 20 papers Untitled on which the author worked from 1971 to 1982, presenting his continuity of practice of displaying works – theses, started with the well-known aphorism I do not want to show anything new and original in 1971 in the SC Gallery. Finally, we also make a modest choice from the Anonymous Artist Collection. It might also be said that we are exhibiting some Trbuljak’s works in which, according to his assessment, conceptual or formal links with the works of other Croatian artists could be recognized, links to his colleagues and contemporaries. And that is all. “There is not much”, Trbuljak said. “The fact that someone is given an opportunity to exhibit is more important than what is going to be displayed at that exhibition.”

Dialogue, however, which is established here is not intimate and silent, but is more similar to a noisy conference as it spreads into a polyphonic series of different voices. Here, Trbuljak invites all acters involved in the wider social interaction of art: Ready-made, Anonymous Artist, Market, Autonomus Artist, Artistic Work, Original, Facsimile, Public National Museum, Private Collection, Artist in a Collection, Collector, Artist’s Morals, Existence of an Artist, Influences, Selection, Value, History, and many other..

All these are Trbuljak’s topics as he is according to a strategic choice a dialogue author who is willing to negotiate ironically about what is in the art presumed, possible and permissible. As a negotiating author he is in constant search for an appropriate gallery or a permanent display.

What then derives from the love of the Permanent Display of the Museum of Arts and Crafts and artists such as Goran Trbuljak – “anonymous, old, bald, and depressed”? We know, to such Platonic loves, in which only a few are successful and content forever, storks do not deliver babies but cases.

Thus, this case-exhibition brings to the audience not one but even three results of the mentioned conjunction, three views of the specific modes of originality and the appropriation strategy through three different Trbuljak’s points of view.

The Back Wash Sink case for me as a curator represents the greatest professional happiness, the realization of the ideal documentary of a museum object, a manifestation of the power to generate contextual interpretation that goes beyond mere matter for the profit of memory. Functioning as a living link between individuals and events in a unique moment of fate – it is also full of historical unrepeatable aura. Unfortunately, it should be mentioned, although the Museum may like to acquire this item, it is not part of Trbuljak’s offer for now. The disadvantage is that the author’s favorite theme – the demystification of the author’s uniqueness, the question of duality, the possibility of dual authorship – opens up in the situation around this subject, but primarily confirming the hidden truth of existence of the anonymous Trbuljak. The name and existence of the other appear here as a shadow ready for return to the owner, as the final confirmation of Trbuljak’s lifelong practice of determining the position of the Anonymous.

The other, or pardon the third Trbuljak, in whom we can enjoy this exhibition of Viennese provenance is primarily a conceptual artist, owing to a loan comes from the distinguished art collection Kontakt owned by the Erste Group and the ERSTE Foundation.

This group is a Untitled series of 20 textual works, formally conceived as a series of “poster-pamphlets” on A4 format, each with a one-line sentence intended for visitors on the street or in galleries. Interestingly for the context of the work production, the original intention of the author was to include, besides the text, photographs as well, which was given up for financial reasons. Such impoverished, but still international Trbuljak with the copyright support of the renowned art collection that cares about inscribing his name, as well as the names of colleagues from the Eastern European region in the context of the global art history, opens up dilemmas about the possibilities of displaying the facsimile and reproducing the originals. For me, as a curator, international co-operation is a chance for professional satisfaction, but Trbuljak approaches the winning position on the international scene with his self-innate irony, by raising doubt of whether Trbuljak’s works really are originals.

The third, or whichever Trbuljak, is an experienced collector. Of course, he knows that the phenomena of formation of public collections, the politics of acquiring art for museum and private collections in their consequence is a set of activities that establishes control over time, through which past is allowed to remain visible, and the material presence of the memory assured. There are collectors who do not collect the works of artists only for artistic inclinations but due to gaining control over the historical framework, collectors whose activity takes place in shade for personal reasons, perhaps entirely irrational, private aspirations and animosities. Trbuljak’s Collection of the Anonymous Artist exhibited at the Museum of Arts and Crafts brings together “lucky and unlucky coincidences in works of contemporary artists” which, paradoxically, the author does not want to show but hide. Again, as a curator, I am extremely pleased to see that Trbuljak has shown a part of his collection for the first time in public at the Permanent Exhibition of the Museum of Arts and Crafts, enabling me to see through it the conceptual links and the migration of formal solutions within a circle of colleague artists sharing the generational ” structure of feelings ” and the same context of a weak market art system in the region. Trbuljak, an anonymous broad-spectrum artist, and the conceptual Trbuljak who is slowly looking for a place on the international scene, laugh behind my back, enjoying how I and perhaps other overwhelmed curators are tempted to write narratives about Trbuljak’s influences or influences on Trbuljak as it is a testimony of vital signs of life on the national art scene. They know that Trbuljak exhibiting at the Museum of Arts and Crafts – an artist of different accidental applied interpretations, as well as the processes of artistic creation, are unresolvedly linked in a mass of unclear coincidences. So, as a curator, I do not have much to say about Trbuljak’s collection, except that for my professional, curatorial reasons, I am a little enviable of it, especially since he acquired the Back Wash Sink.

Jasmina Fučkan, October 2018.