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Landmark exhibition at Haus der Kunst in Munich presents works by Ivan Kožarić
Ivan Kožarić, Freedom Is a Rare Bird. Installation view Haus der Kunst, 2013. Photo: Wilfried Petzi.

MUNICH.- Ivan Kožarić (born in 1921 in Petrinja, lives and works in Zagreb) completed his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in the late 1940s. He has since become one of the most influential postwar avant-garde artists in what was once Yugoslavia. "Freedom is a Rare Bird" represents six decades of his complex artistic oeuvre and is the most comprehensive survey exhibition to date to be devoted to the sculptor outside of his native Croatia.

"Haus der Kunst is privileged to present a landmark exhibition that represents the museum's interest to present robust examinations of some of the most significant, but little known artistic figures whose works have contributed to a broad reappraisal of important features in the history of contemporary art." (Okwui Enwezor)

Kožarić has always kept the character of his works open. He reworks earlier pieces, reprocesses earlier ideas, and intentionally dates works inaccurately or incorrectly. To do justice to this openness, the exhibition is organized according to thematic connections within his work, rather than to chronology, style, or development.

The central theme of the sculptures from the 1950s is the human figure, of which there are numerous depictions including torsos, heads, and portraits. At the same time, Kožarić also experimented with abstract shapes and ideas, which were to become more important in later years in pieces like "Osjećaj cjeline" (Feeling of Wholeness, 1953/54). In his work, Kožarić intuitively challenged the distinctions between the figurative and the abstract rejceting the necessity of any exclusive determination.

At the end of 1959, Kožarić spent six months in Paris, where he created the sculpture "Unutarnje oči" (Inner Eyes, 1959), an oval face out of which two rods reach toward the viewer like eyes. This sculpture introduced the artist's increasing preoccupation with negative volume and an inward directed view. Following his return in 1960, Kožarić joined Gorgona, an avant-garde group that experimented with the absurd, the immaterial, and metaphysical irony. In accordance to their belief that artistic activity must not be manifested in an artwork, the Gorgona members' products and approaches were often ephemeral: Meetings, conferences, walks, letters and thoughts of the month, as well as self-organized and funded exhibitions. This aligns them closely with Conceptual Art.

The group published an "anti-magazine", whose concept was the pure artist's book. The publication had a pioneering role internationally. Dieter Roth, Harold Pinter, and Victor Vasarely each designed an issue; contributions by Robert Rauschenberg and Yves Klein were planned but never realized.

Created during Kožarić's Gorgona phase, the "Oblici prostora" (Shapes of Space) were designed as replicas of urban cavities and voids – negative volumes that were transformed into positive forms. In 1963, Kožarić wrote, "Plaster casts should be made of … the interiors of several important cars, the interior of bed-sitters, trees, the interior of a park, etc., the interiors of all-important cavities in our city". Conversely, the result – largely abstract, rounded shapes – is the sculptural realization of the idea of emptiness.

The members of Gorgona placed more value on the idea of an artwork's execution than on the work as a traditional form. With his 1960 sketch "Neobični projekt – Rezanje Sljemena" (Unusual Project – Cutting Sljeme), Kožarić proposed to cut off the summit of a mountain near Zagreb. The project, which today would be considered an early example of Land Art, existed as an overpainted photograph and as a model-scale sculpture. During the 1970s, Kožarić continued the study of the urban space; the proposals for monumental interventions also only exist as sketches, mostly as ove-painted photographs. With "Nazovi je kako hoćes" (Call Her What You Want, 1971), he subverts notions of monumentality and representation. Instead of embellishing a traffic island, the plastic obstructed the road like an abstract giant. The artist's projects for the urban environment represent the heart of the exhibition.

Kožarić's text sketches are usually short, handwritten remarks, and are expressions of the artist's momentary spiritual and creative state of mind ("God, You Are Big! 01/30/2000"). They often display productive self-contradiction, as well as a questioning of his own position ("I see that, were I to work more, I could create something good, something substantial. That scares me! I. K. 87").

In 1971, Kožarić decided to paint his entire studio gold, including the door, the floor, his shoes, a matchbox, a cabinet, and sculptures from his different creative periods. This action negated the artworks' immutability and was an affirmative gesture towards all of the other objects: things previously considered worthless could be transformed into art at any moment, and, conversely, art's value could always be questioned.

With his skepticism of the rules and hierarchies in viewing art, Kožarić literally overturned everything considered a given in art history. For the 1976 Venice Biennale, he arranged a collection of his major sculptures so they appeared carelessly stacked ("Hrpa", or Heaps). Kožarić later explained that he developed "Hrpa" out of the confidence that he would be able to discard everything he had created up to that point, and make even better sculptures in the future. The idea for "Hrpa" first emerges in the early 1970s by the work "Pinkleci" (Bundles), which were filled with works and objects from the artist’s studio – a metaphor for embarking on new beginnings and leaving things behind. The exhibition represents the clustering motif with assemblages from the late 1970s, for which Kožarić primarily used everyday objects.

For an exhibition in late 1993/early 1994 at a gallery in Zagreb, Kožarić moved the contents of his entire studio into the gallery, where he worked for the exhibition period. This studio was presented at documenta 11 in 2002. Since 2007, when the City of Zagreb acquired the studio and entrusted it to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, Kožarić has initiated several transformations of the space, which contains approximately 6,000 works. About 360 works from the Kožarić studio will be presented in the exhibition, supplemented by loans from major public and private collections.

Because Kožarić repeatedly questions his achievements and remains unbiased towards his own work, the term 'freedom' frequently appears in descriptions of his works. The exhibition title itself refers to a statement the artist made in 2012. It was not a contradiction when, in 1976, at the "Office for the Deprivation of Freedom, Address and City Unknown" he made the request that "this monster somehow be gently removed" from him.

The exhibition's opening coincides with Croatia's planned accession to the EU.

"Ivan Kozaric. Freedom Is a Rare Bird" was organized by Haus der Kunst in cooperation with the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb.

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