The exhibition does not produce a comprehensive narrative text on the art of a designated period, neither would it be possible, even if one were to be set on doing so, by the means of an exhibition fed by only one collection, however representative of the era it is regarded.
One should keep in mind that, since the emergence of the revisionism of “new art history” in the 1970s, clusters of shifting narratives replaced totalising discourses of “mandate art history” (Hans Belting). The new history of art questioned canons and categories, representational and genealogical logic, as well as the criteria of inclusion and exclusion, which served as the basis for the great narratives of the history of modern art, national and international. It opened into the world of modern art new passageways whose structural dynamics, diversity and cultural specificity were dissimulated by the one-dimensional logic of autonomous and linear development. Enriched by interdisciplinary criss-crossing, art history grew polycentric, polyphonic and dispersive, approaching past art as an “open situation”, offering a multitude of models for navigating, interrelating, interpreting and performing the knowledge about art. The continual production of narratives that rewrite art history, “with names and events that appear, disappear, reappear and disappear again” (Boris Groys), is the legacy of the dynamic development of a scientific discipline, as well as the postmodern abandoning a static historical perspective.
The principles of art history, whose “kin” we find in “new museology”, were manifested in different ways in the museum politics of display, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, where the exhibition “Yugoslav Artistic Space 1900–1991” was set in 2002, authored by Ješa Denegri, and structured according to the principle of thematic environments. The exhibition brought about a radical break with linear historical narratives in the local museum practice, tracing the path toward a new and critical reading of Yugoslav modernism and postmodernism. All of this took place at a time when, following the collapse of the socialist Yugoslavia, constructions of national art-historical narratives in newly formed states were already fully at work, and when, on scientific bases, without the pathos of Yugo-nostalgia, it was necessary to preserve the objective fact of the existence of the Yugoslav artistic space in the face of nationalist revisionism. The double task of the exhibition — the reaffirmation of “one great by-gone history” (Denegri) and the introduction of the principles of new art history into the politics of display — was successfully undertaken, announcing the outset of a new era of the Museum of Contemporary Art, but also serving as a challenge to future work with the collection, such as this one.
For Denegri’s project, as also for “Sequences”, instead of the term “permanent display”, standard for this type of exhibition (“from the collection”), we tendentiously use the customary and neutral term “exhibition”, intending to remove the aura of consecration and longevity that the term permanent display implies, especially amongst the domestic public. The exhibition that refuses to be classified as a permanent display is an exhibition that denaturalises the ideologem of the museum-sanctuary, predicated on the rigid differentiation of the eternal and the transient, of canonical and non-canonical art, focusing interest in art on “master-pieces” and “great masters”. Museums of contemporary art today increasingly give more space to temporary shows than to permanent display which, amongst other reasons, is a consequence of the loss of museum’s normative function, taken over by biennials, mass media and market. On the other hand, the notion of exhibition, implying temporality, variability and mediation, is harmonised with the mobility and plurality of curatorial discourses, and also with perpetual questioning of and discussion about values, which is what these discourses often insist on. Finally, this mega-exhibition, occupying the whole of the Museum’s exhibition space, has a limited running time since future temporary shows will require the removal of a certain number of sequences, as anticipated by the conception of the exhibition.
“Sequences” establishes a possible trajectory of movement through the archipelago of 20th century art, bringing new input into the corpus of extant knowledge and writing one version of the history of modern and contemporary art. In keeping with existing epistemological coordinates and analytical matrices, the exhibition brings forth a remapping, correction and revaluation of the 20th century art history, while reinventing some of the neglected and marginalised phenomena. It insists on the multiplicity of aesthetic ideologies, artistic ideolects and cultural identities, on polyphony and dissent, continuities and discontinuities, on similarities, compatibilities, differences and confrontations, marking the heterogeneous worlds of modern and contemporary art. Its intention is to show that the Yugoslav artistic space was plural, decentralised and multicultural, and also that the art scene in Yugoslavia, particularly in the socialist one (where modern art system was developed), was not essentially different from the scenes in Europe and the world.