Božo Kesić 39th Split Salon ends (with a brief historical overview)
We have bid farewell to yet another edition of Split Salon, an exhibition that is, from its beginning, in a process of constant transformation. Conceived in 1969 as an escape from the ideologically influenced revues such as Prvomajska exhibition, and with a goal of strengthening the qualities and recognition of Split’s artistic scene outside the local context, the Salon initially succeeded in achieving the selected norms only to, due to its own inertia, fall victim to certain negative trends which it desperately tried to escape from.
Similarly to the way in which Duško Kečkemet and Tomislav Lalin, alongside a few painters from Split, had the courage to found the Split Salon, the curators of its different editions had through times often anticipated and modified the unavoidable obsolescence of inherited exhibition formats and contents. This happened with full support, and sometimes initiative of the organizers (at first the branch of ULUH situated in Split, later HDLU, and finally independent HULU Split). After its initial success, the 70s saw the resurgence of the monotonous often-seen works/ artists and “safe” exhibition selection, which almost always manifested itself as light-hearted art full of Mediterranean motives. Then-curator Nevenka Bezić Božanić included the young progressive artists which have just appeared on the scene. Those individuals brought fresh spirit and energy which have often been known to positively influence the change in expression of their somewhat older colleagues.
Salon organizers were even then aware of the danger of keeping the Salon in the local context, as well as the way in which all potential smaller communities are in danger of being closed off to outside influences and exchange. Therefore, it was no surprise that guest appearances and cooperation with other cities took place within the Split Salon; for example with Zagreb in 1970, as well with twin-town Mostar in 1973. For the same reason, a few artists from Zagreb were called to exhibit in the 1976 Salon, while in 1980 – after a disappointing year in which the artists within the accompanying MIS program (which coincidentally featured the Split Salon) had more success exhibiting as solo artists rather than collectively – the Salon featured artists from Dubrovnik, Zadar, and Zagreb. The exhibition criteria have since become more rigorous and the selecting bodies have started to closely question the exhibition format and all its layers, which contributed to its quality and improved the status of the exhibition within the field. However, even after that things were known to go back to the old ways. It mainly happened due to large numbers of artists that constantly exhibited at the Salon, feeling secure within a tight community, as well as uniformity of their expression, but such occurrences were much rarer than before. In the meantime, the question of the annual format of the exhibition emerged; mainly due to the fact that a small community like Split could rarely produce and maintain quality work, which subsequently had to do with the subject of financing art.
Homeland war followed soon after, leaving a mark on several domains, including the culture. The material and mental devastation, war profiteering and misused privatization, and consequential impoverishment of the population defined this period.
The art associations insisted that only artists from Split exhibit in the town. Manifestations such as Art Summer, which had a successful run in the 80s, completely vanished. The only association offering an alternative to ex- pressing oneself through painting and sculpture existed in the form of artists surrounding the Adria Art Annale. Artists from Split were forced to exhibit on a few remaining collective shows which were relicts of Salon and biennial manifestations of the past, while the number of quality visiting exhibitions continued to decline.
In such circumstances, the Split Salon was replaced by the Sacral one, which had the task of “rebuilding” everything repressed by the former regime. So was the situation all the way until 1996. In general, the newly awakened sacredness flourished in the scene and was used as a means of recognizing and affiliating with the new political order. It was accompanied by a startled and stubborn return to an exclusively traditional artistic expression that suppressed all achieved continuity. It lasted almost until the end of the 90s. It took some time for things to take turns for the better.
There has been a great change in the last 15 years, leading to rehabilitation and synchronizing of the scene with the contemporary spirit.
Curators have been offering interesting exhibitions to the public and the art field, whether those exhibitions were defined by the medium (e.g. Franceschi, the 34th Split Salon, 2005) or the themes which regularly dealt with the public and private spheres (e.g. Prančević and Vujanović, 37th Split Salon, 2011). Certainly, some of the original components have remained in the basis of the Salon; such as a focus on Split as the main source of inspiration for artistic reactions or at least a 50% participation of artists from Split within the body of exhibiting artists – which the adjective “splitski” infers/dictates – but, as was already mentioned, a strong step towards greater curatorial liberties, interventions, as well as a number of complex concepts and organizations took place, which long surpassed the ability of a few.
Every change in management of the Croatian Association of Visual Artists resulted in a different policy towards its own members and the wider audience, as well as towards the Split Salon. This year was not an exception; the Association led by Vice Tomasović strived to return to its member's faith in a free and equal opportunity to exhibit at the Salon. On a larger scale, one of the goals was to finally map out the active art scene in Split, but more importantly, the need for redistribution of dialogue within the scene and reanimation of withered critical thought presented itself. Copying/transferring the cited guidelines for the Split Salon, the curatorial teamed wished the exhibition to be exceptionally democratic and open to all its members, accenting the discovery and shaping additional spaces of communication.
Consequently, the team posed the following questions: how to respond to such priorities? Is it possible to maintain the achieved continuity in the quality of the Salon in these circumstances, and in which way would the massive and media-diverse body of exhibiting artists fit into the exhibiting theme which would be in collusion with some of the many layers of our reality? Can the factors/agents of that body even coexist in one small field?
Trying to provide answers to such questions in terms of selecting the exhibiting works often demanded rejection of one’s personal aesthetic and preferences regarding content, and adapting the criteria whilst selecting the artists so the scene could reveal itself in numbers and in a credible way, including all of its advantages and flaws.
We have tried to ensure autonomy for every exhibiting work, as well as organizing a democratic exhibition space regarding the extreme differentiation in artistic expression, quality of works, and the degree of compatibility with the theme; i.e. the wide denominator which was explained in the introductory part of the catalog. One also has to take into account certain technical difficulties which arose in the midst of the evident politics of “cleansing” the basements of the Diocletian Palace of certain content with the long-term goal which everyone interprets in their own way. In that sense, special praise goes to the artists who showed understanding and goodwill to meet the often demanding requests of the curatorial team.
Insufficient media presence and exposure outside of the local context have often been cited as a downside to the exhibition, which was corrected this year by stronger television coverage of the Salon, as well as a social media presence. The interactive accompanying and discursive program which ran on community radio KLFM for the duration of the Salon (entitled Grid Salon Special, hosted by Lana Beović and Ivana Kevo) was of special significance. In terms of opening new communication spaces, one of the examples was cooperation with AICA Croatia which featured a workshop on critical writing (led by Silva Kalčić and Ivana Meštrov), as well as hosting the artist Martina Miholić from Zagreb and her Artist Speed Date program. On those bases, Split Salon established the most intensive interaction and interest within the local art scene in a very long time. All things considered, it could be said that the moment the last work was set in the exhibition space, the way was paved for something much greater than the exhibition itself, which become of lesser significance.
In retrospect, it could be stated that the exhibition goals have been achieved. A representative sample of Split’s art scene was exhibited, and based on it, the physiognomy of the scene can now be recognized. All of it was rounded off by a segment of video interviews in which a number of Split-based artists and curators gave their perspectives regarding the exist- ing scene and their positions within art and culture. At this moment we possess a valuable archive that future generations will have access to. Although this year’s Salon retained a classic exhibition style with a presence of an evident multilayered division and several issues we face as a community, its greatest value comes from the fact that it assumed the role of platform for dialogue, interaction, and mobilization of the scene which was reflected in a wide range of reactions, commentaries, and interventions regarding the exhibition itself. Including the spontaneous artistic intervention in the exhibiting space for the duration of the Salon, that part should additionally be presented and documented in the segment of the catalog compiling the exhibition reviews.
Finally, we are presented with the potentially most important question: what’s next?
It cannot be said that this year’s Salon succeeded in performing its original role explained briefly at the beginning of this text. It retained itself observing the local context and was focused on its members.
However, such an expression is also a legitimate one. Nevertheless, as an event that had a goal of reviving dialogue in the scene and discovering the nature of that scene, this year’s Split Salon can be considered very successful.
Some would say, and would probably not be wrong, that this break and a moment of creative consolidation was needed right now, in the circumstances cited in the introductory text of the catalog, but it should be clear that this model of exhibiting is acceptable only after long periods within which generation shifts regularly take place, especially in smaller communities like that of Split. It is in the interest of all of us that the creative surrounding successfully develops itself, and the Split Salon should be an important factor in achieving that goal. Despite good intentions, surveys such as this often hinder that progress, which should be reflected in contemplation of one’s work and growth and thinking about the actual moment.
Split Salon broke free from the anachronistic forms of bare representation long ago, and it should keep evolving in a way that it presents the best exponents of Split’s art scene in relation to those of other communities, while maintaining the minimal norms set by the Statute. For everything else there exist, or should exist, different exhibition platforms. Or vice-versa.
curators: Božo Kesić, Dalibor Prančević, Boris Šitum
1-8 Untitled (Archive ST3), 2015 8 digital prints on paper, graphite sticks 445 x 445 x 20 mm each 1 digital print on paper, dimensions variable archival photographs: Photo archive of Institute for Urban Planning of Dalmatia – Split, Croatia (photographer unknown); Department of Architecture of the Museum of Architecture and Design, Ljubljana, Slovenia, architect Vladimir Braco Mušič's Archive (photographer unknown)