Jesa Denegri

Belgrade Period of Milovan DeStil Markovic

Since 1986, Milovan DeStil Markovic has been living and working in Berlin and since then, his artistic activity has been taking place in an environment of formation and first appearances. By then, starting in the first half of the ‘80s, he was one of the outstanding protagonists of the Belgrade art scene in the period of turbulent ferment which took place under the sign of an artistic and broader cultural climate marked by postmodern pluralism. In other words, as in numerous other European (and ex-Yugoslav) environments, the beginning of the ‘80s in Serbian art brought a time of striking transformations of artistic ideas, marked with the symptoms of the definite exhaustion of historical modernism. At the same time, it was a period of completing the revolution of art of the ‘70s with the dematerialization of the art object, the preponderance of the conceptual and mental over the formal and visual, as well as the artist's physical behavior and “speech in the first person.” And finally, it brought the appearance of a new generation to which Markovic himself belonged, and which held diverse and different pretensions from its predecessors. He was searching for his own generation and individual artistic identity, in compliance with the changed spiritual climate of the epoch.

In the international, predominantly Western European cultural ambience, the changed artistic climate was marked by exhibitions such as Aperto '80 at the Biennial in Venice in 1980, New Image – Nuova Imagine in Milan in the same year, The Biennial of the Young in Paris in 1980, A New Spirit in Painting in London in 1981, Baroques '81 in Paris in 1981, Zeitgeist in Berlin in 1982, Avanguardia-Transavanguardia in Rome in 1982, with all the features that these art events own and bring, as well as the consequences they produce. At the same time, the Belgrade art scene followed with other international exhibitions of the former modern art, from American Painting of the Seventies in the dome of Buckminster Fuller built on this occasion next to the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1979, the artists from the Biennial of the Young in Paris, The Class of Klaus Rinke, 1980, Vocations of Painting, 1981, Young Artists from Munich, 1982, Kryptoniana, 1983,

Anarchists and Painters of Memory, 1984, all in the Student's Cultural Centre Gallery, New European and American Drawing in the Youth Centre Gallery, 1985, up to numerous individual and group appearances of the protagonists of art around and after the ‘70s. All these and, of course, many other events, entered the field of knowledge and left an impression to form the generation of those Belgrade artists of whom Markovic was a protagonist, and it is this generation that entered the art life of their own milieu in the climate of postmodern pluralism.

The Belgrade art scene of the early ‘80s is characterized by such promotional exhibitions of then-current artistic tendencies as: The First and the Second Exhibition of Young Artists, 1980, Close Encounter of the Third Kind, 1981, The First Ten Years of the SKC, Slovenian New Scene, 1981, The New Turn – Painting, 1982, two visits of Young Artists in the Gallery of the Kunstmuseum in Dusseldorf in 1982 and at the Academy in Munich in 1983, Actualities, 1983, The Art Colony Sopoćani, '83, 1984, Young Artists / 2nd Meeting of Critics, 1985, organized by the SCK Gallery, then the exhibitions New Now, In New Temper, Umetnici plasticari, The Young '82, 1982, The Art of the Eighties, 1984, and Postisms, 1985, in most of which Markovic was one of the participants. The exhibition Junge Kunst aus Yugoslawien, in which Markovic was one of the exhibitors, held in Vienna and some other Austrian cities, 1986-87, was a representative selection of young Yugoslav art selected for a promotion abroad. Milovan Markovic and Vlasta Mikic, as the group Zestoki, with the artists Mrdjan Bajic, Darija Kacic, Vera Stevanovic, Dragoslav Krnjaski and others and the group Alter Imago (Nada Alavanja, Tahir Lusic, Vladimir Nikolic, Mileta Prodanovic), were leaders of the new generational transformation of the Belgrade art scene of the early ‘80s, whose work testifies to their common sensibility and had a hand in ideologically forming critics Bojana Pejic, Lidija Merenik, and Jovan Despotovic, who were close to them. The concept of the “new wave,” which included not only the visual scene but also the music scene of early Belgrade postmodernism, became a an accepted term for the whole existential mood, which is said to have been an “exclusively Belgrade, urban, generational artistic dialect” (L. Merenik). This “new wave,” as a whole cultural phenomenon in today's projection of history, can be seen as an initial chapter of extensive conceptual changes on the domestic art scene since the ‘80s.

Markovic studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade between 1977 and 1983. He showed publicly for the first time at the exhibition The Young '80 in the Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1980. In the same year, he took part in the exhibition Small Painting in the Gallery Meduza in Kopar, which was recognized by Slovenian critic Andrej Medved as a final and completed presentation of elementary, primary and analytical painting of the ‘70s in Yugoslav art space not long before a sudden expansion of a Transavanguardia and neoexpressionistic “new image” characteristic of the art of the early ’80s.

The activity of the group Zestoki lasted between 1981 and 1985. Its work was characterized by art workshops, spatial presentations, performances, video rituals and installations within the Galerija SKC, performance of ambience for TV program “On Friday at 10 p.m.,” and almost daily music and media happenings in the Academy of Fine Arts Club (which they founded in 1982 and ran until 1985) and other night parties. Markovic kept the company gathered in the Galerija SKC, where he organized numerous individual, performance and media happenings important for his early Belgrade period: New Space, 1980, Monument of Art, 1981, Fragments of the Painting: Monument, 1982, Black Space, 1983, etc.

Instead of using natural white walls on which he displayed already finished exhibits, the artist used the space of the Gallery as total ambience, occupied and formed on the spot; after the exhibition, the elements that had been included in its display were thrown away and left to definite destruction. In this period of the affirmation of painting, Markovic wanted the painting (if we can talk about it as a painting at all, having been made of expendable materials, paper and cardboard) to be degraded and destroyed, reducing it to its very last physical remains and dividing it into tiny fragments to leave in order to exist temporarily in the vast surrounding gallery space.

Installation and ambience, instead of the painting as a solid material object; these are the basic characteristics of Markovic's projects, which obviously says that he did not come to the “revival of painting” or “return to painting,” according to the pleaders of the art of the early ‘80s. With the absence of an art object and by leading the way in exhibiting in the form of short display, he continued certain

postulates of the new art of the ‘70s. That the art of the ‘70s was Markovic's ideological and operative source was proved with action: the performance World Art Day – Monument of Art performed in front of the Cultural Centre in 1981, as well as the video works Great Invocation, 1983-84, and Sacred Warrior, 1984, both realized together with Vesna Viktorija Bulajic. After participation in numerous group exhibitions in Belgrade, other Yugoslav centers (Ljubljana, Sarajevo) and abroad (Dusseldorf, Munich, Locarno, Vienna, Graz, New York, Venice), and after he was awarded at the 24th October Salon in 1983, he became fully recognized in his native country with the exhibition Eucharist at the Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1985, which brought him a prestigious prize from the newspaper Politika. The most important international exhibition, together with Vesna Viktorija Bulajic, was Aperto '86 at the Biennial in Venice organized by the Galerija SKC.

Markovic and Mikic gave their artistic tandem the name Zestoki, which was reminiscent of the notion of “New Wild” (Neue Wilde), a characteristic phenomenon in new German neo-expressionistic painting of the early ‘80s. These Belgrade “tough guys,” together with a common resistance to the education that they were provided, didn't want to be or remain only “wild” painters; much more than that, they were attracted to living in the rush and chaos of unpredictable daily events in a big city, similar affinity for music, entertainment, fashion, photography, media, disguise in the game of ego and alter ego … Sometime in that period, Markovic added to his name and surname the nickname Destil; later, Mikic called himself Vlasta Volcano. All these things are, in fact, signs of an intense feeling of artistic individualism, exposure and intrusion of an artist's personality, a kind of “speech in the first person,” different in occurrence but basically psychologically similar to the need for cherishing a symbolic expression of the artist's wild delinquent personality. This owes more to the emancipated energy of the new art of the ‘70s rather than referencing the classical branches in the art of the ‘80s.

Having become known by then as an artist of extroverted profile and behavior, it could have been surprising when Markovic, in the installation Golden Temple in Motovun in 1983, then at the one-man show Eucharist in the Museum of Contemporary Art Salon in Belgrade in 1985, appeared as an artist who, consistent

with the erudite features of art in the period of postmodernism, revealed his reorientation to the historical sources and levels of artistic memory. Markovic did not return to painting in the classical meaning of that word and he did not give up his earlier nomadic wanderings using different procedures and media, Yet, regarding the mentioned Belgrade exhibitions, he felt that he needed to call his art “anthroposophic,” considering that “the 'secrets' were involved in it: astrology, alchemy, theosophy or mythology,” as he said in a conversation with Bojana Pejic published in the magazine Moment 3/4, 1985-86. With these metaphysical references, Markovic expressed the awareness that contemporary art should not ever be left only to the instant messages of mass media, but on the contrary, it should rely on ancient spiritual treasures of cultural heritage that are familiar to the artist. Again, this does not mean that in doing so, he agrees in advance to limiting himself to the local and national scope.

Markovic noticed that the artists of the ‘80s, from various European regions – for instance, the members of the Italian Transavanguardia and German neo-expressionism – directly or indirectly modeled themselves after farther or closer historical memory of their own cultures. He, too, intending to escape the general points of the “new image” language of the ‘80s, looked for a base and shelter in the contents and meanings that remained and that he experienced as close to him, which he could identify with and which he could adopt and possess. He did his best for the necessity of the “artist's originality,” he spoke about “tradition and the traditional” thinking of “the view inside, in oneself, in what the secrets were written down in us, that we shouldn't look for them beyond our space – the space of us.” But anything concrete that he exactly meant by that, yet with his plastic realizations, he stayed far from any anachronistic “museum” or “monastery” retro treatment of his formal visual solutions.

Hence the topic Eucharist in Markovic's formed interpretation didn't assume a “holy” visual image, but kept a “profane” one and an ideological meaning. At the end of the early Belgrade period of his art activity, Markovic deepened the

cognitive and abstract understanding of art with that series, convinced that in himself and behind himself, he possessed enough spiritual energies. Leaving the place of his artistic beginning, in some other cultural spaces and different living conditions, he looked for possibilities and chances of further development.

First published in Milovan DeStil Markovic, Rosenheim, Cacak: Kunstverein Rosenheim, Galerija Nadezda Petrovic, 2008.

Jesa Denegri lives and works in Belgrade. Graduated in history of art from the Faculty of Philosophy, Belgrade University. Doctor degree in history of contemporary art at the Faculty of Philosophy, Belgrade University. From 1965 till 1989 curator in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade. From 1990 till 2005 professor of history of contemporary art at the Arts Faculty, Belgrade University. Editor-in-chief of the magazine for contemporary art Moment. Since 1965 has collaborated with more than a hundred art magazines, newspapers, art publications published in the countries of ex-Yugoslavia and abroad. Curator of numerous exhibitions of international artists and those from ex-Yugoslav area, realized in art institutions in the country and abroad. He selected Yugoslav participants at the Biennial in Paris (1971, 1976, 1983), Venice Biennial (1976, 1982). Author of numerous essays and books, as well as monographic editions about a many contemporary artists published in Serbia and abroad. Themes of Serbian Art: from the fifties to the nineties, Novi Sad, 1993/1999; One Possible History of Art: Belgrade as an International Art Scene, Belgrade, 1998; The Student’s Cultural Centre as an Art Scene, Belgrade, 2003; Survival of Art in the Time of Crisis, Belgrade, 2004 etc.