Every three years, the Moderna Galerija stages an exhibition selected by an independent curator of new Slovenian art. This year is the 6th triennale in the series.
This U3 Slovenian art triennial focuses on how artists from across the generations reflect today on reality and the depiction of activities and relationships in the world around them. It foregrounds artistic proposals about history, the environment and the social as much as intimate relations with community, family and friends. It is not centred on the inner life of the artist but on his/her relationship with external people and institutions. To choose for the external is a choice to reflect the current strengths of the Slovenian art scene as well as a recognition of longer artistic tendencies in this country towards overidentification and strategies to seek connections with other fields and subjects outside of the traditions of l’art pour l’art.
Realism: a brief history
The question of realism has produced many of the sharpest debates between radicals and conservatives in visual art over the past 100 years. As the first modern artist, Gustav Courbet’s realism shocked a bourgeois art public looking for beauty and drama in painting. Later, the battle between the painters of everyday life and the ambitions of the avant-garde for new visions of a new world defined modernism. Realism at this time was understood as a safer or less radical choice for artists, yet it always retained its value as a more direct form of communication with a wide public than abstraction or concept art. Indeed, the doctrines of socialist realism as developed in the Soviet Union were intended to produce an art that was comprehensible to and inspirational for the proletariat, as well as a means to control undesirable questioning and experimentation. Throughout the period of modernism, both realism and the avant-garde battled against each other across Europe and beyond, neither gaining a final victory. The growth of new media, first through art photography and later video and digital imaging added new levels to the realism debate with the capacity to directly capture an image of the real and reproduce it in a form of art. Photography offered an even more direct relationship to surrounding reality than ever possible before, while collage and later digital editing created the means to fictionalise these apparently direct, indexical media.
The Slovenian context:
Since 1989, realism and “the real” itself has made something of a comeback in general, and not only in terms of image making and depiction of reality. Artists in the last twenty years have been intervening directly in surrounding conditions, or bringing those conditions and relations between people into the gallery or museum unaltered except through naming it art. This exchange with the real is particularly present in the Slovenian context, where it has an even longer history going back to the beginnings of NSK. Here, from techniques of over-identification to the construction of self-organised institutions that hover somewhere between fact and fiction, artistic projects write new histories or campaign for change in social conditions. There is also an access to the corridors of media and political power for artists in Slovenia that is quite exceptional in Europe and sometimes allows for direct intervention in the system. While some works here are determinedly political, other actions are carried out with a playful irreverence that charms as much as it raises political awareness. It seems there is a particular sense of absurdism here that provokes the status of things and challenges the rhetoric of state and institutional identities. This humour extends to making objects as much as to depicting people and social institutions. In this environment, social interventions can be direct without losing critical distance, appearances can be taken seriously and realism allows itself to both comment on and document reality.