Zoran Mušič in public and private collections in Slovenia

24 November 2009 - 28 February 2010
Moderna galerija, Ljubljana

The opening of. the first exhibition in the renovated Moderna galerija building is held under the honorary patronage of the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr. Danilo Türk.

Coming soon

Zoran Mušič was born on 12 February 1909 in Bukovica near Gorica (now Gorizia, Italy). As a child he shared the fate of many Slovenians from the Primorska region, who were forced to seek refuge in Štajerska and Koroška during the First World War. After finishing secondary school in Maribor, he enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, graduating in 1934 under Prof. Ljubo Babić. The following year he went on a study trip to Spain, a destination Babić recommended to all his students. Making copies after Goya in the Prado and frequent and extended painterly excursions to Dalmatia between 1934 and 1940 turned out to be crucial for all Mušič's development as an artist. In 1937 he became a member of the Neodvisni club of Slovenian artists and of Brazda, a club which brought together artists in Maribor.

In 1944 he went to live in Venice, becoming acquainted with Filippo de Pisis and his circle. In the autumn of 1944 he was arrested in Venice and taken via Trieste to the Dachau concentration camp. In the camp he did a series of drawings, poignant witnesses to the Nazi atrocities; later, in the early 1970s, these drawings spurred him to produce his most world-famous series of oil paintings and graphic prints, entitled We are not the Last. Liberated from the camp, Mušič moved to Venice in the summer of 1945; together with Paris, Venice became his home. In the French capital the artist worked and exhibited under the aegis of the renowned Galerie de France from 1953 on; he was also a member of the School of Paris group. Showing his work in numerous exhibitions all over the world, winning countless awards and the highest recognitions, Mušič became an acclaimed and celebrated artist, a master of modern art, already during his lifetime. He died on 25 May 2005 at his home in Venice.

This exhibition of Mušič's work, which we are staging in the renovated Moderna galerija building toward the end of the "year of Mušič," which we are celebrating on the occasion of the centenary of his birth, has a distinctly Slovenian flavor: we are presenting his entire creative arch, a veritable retrospective cross-section of his oeuvre, exclusively with works from public and private collections in Slovenia. Two decades ago we wished to present the artist's early production - "Mušič before Music" - but the increasingly rich collections assembled by increasingly expert and numerous connoisseurs have encouraged us to add some crucial works froms the artist's later series to early works that had remained in his country of birth, works that made their way to Slovenia a few at a time, many of them only since the artist's demise.

Dalmatia as seen in Dalmatian Motifs represents the artist's "chosen country;" the Rocky Landscapes remind him of the monotonous structure of the arid Carso landscape of his childhood, dull in color, evocative of the expanses of the eternal Biblical landscape. Island Women, Donkeys in a Paddock, and the most popular Little Horses all have their origins in the prewar reality; in later years, the animals barely touch the ground, withdrawing from reality into fantastic dream worlds. Also Dalmatian Earths, verging on abstraction, which enthused Slovenian viewers in 1960, are in reality references to the outlines of a desert-like, scorched land, strewn with karstic rocks and some underbrush, forming a composition reminiscent of an exquisitely woven Oriental rug.

Mušič's Little Horses, small canvases for the most part, became quite popular with collectors, but the series We are not the Last, started in 1970, literally shocked the expert art community. The few surviving drawings from Dachau, which the artist had kept in a drawer in his studio, and a quarter century of suppressed memories of hell found a stirring echo in a series of graphic prints and oil paintings of piles of the Dachau dead. The more recent tragic events that produced new dead belied the former camp prisoners' hope that Dachau had been the last stop in the history of human insanity, terror, and violence. The feeling of hopelessness and focus on transience and mortality soon made way, at least on the surface, for Vegetal Motifs, which, in the details of their contorted branches and ramified roots, nonetheless often call to mind the crossed arms and fossilized hands of the Dachau dead.

Cyclically returning to well-worked, favorite motifs is typical of Mušič. Venice with the sunlight glinting off the water and the gold of San Marco drew him back to painting immediately after the war, and new views of the city on the lagoon also helped him drive away his memories of the concentration camp in the early 1980s. He started making exteriors of picturesque facades and, to a greater extent, mysterious, mystical interiors of Venetian churches. After exactly forty years he again entered the silence of dei Frari, which now glows without any unnecessary detail. The old master had finally reached what he had always striven for - the essence.

"I have always worked and created in solitude, by myself," wrote Mušič. But the solitude he mentions was never as deafening, in an almost scary sense, as in his final, most intimate conversations with himself. The Studio, sometimes only indicated by an easel, is a drastically reduced scene, with only occasionally a single other model present, his wife Ida, herself a painter and his life companion since his young adulthood. The artist's full-length upright figure appears before us like a phantasm. The monolithic figure of a traveler, philosopher, clad in a simple robe, emerges from shadowed outlines. Everything else is pristine, untouched canvas. Later the artist bares himself also physically, painting his stooped, old man's body in the intimate act of ablution.

The expressive series of his last self-portraits completes the creative circle that had begun when the young painter had come face to face with Goya's work in Madrid in 1935. Deafness isolated the great Spaniard in old age; Mušič almost completely lost his sight. They had both experienced the darkest, most brutal and violent facet of unfathomable human nature - war and its horrific consequences. In a diary entry made in his youth, Mušič expressed his admiration for the Black Paintings of the aged master from the Quinta del Sordo: "With a few strokes that appear as indefinite patches he has managed to create life, the spasms and masks of the wretched, the victims and their tormentors, and the chaos of the moving masses. The artistic beauty he brought to all takes it beyond mere subject matter, suffusing the illusion of life on the canvas with great artistic quality." These perceptive words of praise, written by the young Mušič at the outset of his artistic career in his unbounded admiration of Goya, in the end turned out to be true also of their author.

Breda Ilich Klančnik

The exhibition is being held under the honorary patronage of the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr. Danilo Türk. The exhibition curator is Breda Ilich Klančnik, while its design is the work of painter Žarko Vrezec.

The extensive exhibition catalogue, available in Slovenian and English, includes over a hundred reproductions as well as texts by Zoran Kržišnik, Tomaž Brejc, Meta Gabršek Prosenc, Miklavž Komelj, Ješa Denegri, and Ivana Simeonović Ćelić; Gojko Zupan wrote the artist's biography and Jana Intihar Ferjan compiled the bibliography. The catalogue was designed by Novi kolektivizem.

Also accompanying the exhibition are works for sale from the Moderna galerija Edition "Mušič": works that have Mušič's oeuvre as their point of reference and that have been produced by ten contemporary artists and designers.

This project was supported by:

Opening hours: Tuesday - Sunday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Closed on Mondays and public holidays.
Free admission on every first Sunday and Open House Days (3 December and 8 February).

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