2018 November 10 / 15:00
Round Table
Beti Žerovc

In recent decades Yugoslav high-modernist monuments relating to World War II have been enjoying favourable attention, often accompanied by an indefinable discomfort. This could possibly be related to the perception of a modernist abstract artwork as inherently linked to the capitalist system, where its quality is conditioned precisely by the great individual freedom the system provides. In this regard, the fact that high-modernist abstract objects underwent such remarkable development in the public sphere of Yugoslav socialism, which is today often stigmatized as totalitarian, appears to be an anomaly.

One quick and customary solution for this uncomfortable contradiction, one that is in line with the reasoning just mentioned, is the nonchalant representation of these monuments as if they accidentally fell into the Balkans "from the sky" and are not the product of a deliberate Yugoslav policy, a certain ideology and an effective cultural and political system.

However, even a precise study of the monuments does not resolve the matter, as behind their emergence we find a complex collision of incoherent motivations ranging from the intentional political propagandistic use of modernist art, similar to the one that was carried out by the capitalist West, to the predilection of many Yugoslav politicians for modernist art and other enticements of the bourgeois world.

Can we understand these objects as a way to search for the Yugoslav Third Way, or at least as symbols of this pursuit, or are they just a kind of Trojan horse of capitalism in socialism?

Beti Žerovc, a Slovene art historian and art theorist, teaches at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ljubljana. Her areas of research are visual art and the art system since the mid-nineteenth century with a focus on their role in society. In 2018 Žerovc co-edited the book The Lives of Monuments: World War II and Public Monuments in Slovenia. Her previous book, When Attitudes Become the Norm: The Contemporary Curator and Institutional Art, was published in 2015 and reprinted in 2018.

Credits: The Tourist and the Monument to the Revolution of the People of Moslavina in Podgarič, Croatia, photo/courtesy: Beti Žerovc.