It’s a sculpture month at Collegium Artisticum. Both galleries are filled with the work of two contemporary artists who work in three dimensions. Daniel Premec’s exhibition, Spiked, which opens tonight at 7pm, may be more familiar to Sarajevo audiences, but Alem Korkut’s work, which opened to the public last week, will be a real revelation.
Korkut, who was born in BiH but who has spent all but the first year of his student career in Croatia, is something of an enigma. Here is an exhibition full of witty and well-crafted sculptures and installations, produced by an artist who surely deserves a much bigger reputation than the one he currently enjoys. Disrupted by the war, his career has developed, underpinned by a position in Croatian academia. But this is no dry or learned exhibition from an artist who is comfortable in the confines of an academy, rarely straying beyond its confines. Korkut’s practice is steeped in European sculptural history and contemporary practice, and displays a rare invention and irreverance towards materials, traditions and textures.
Take, for example, the installation Hommage à Rodin- Man with Broken Nose of 2003/4. The viewer is confronted with three cast heads, all with damaged noses; in the background, a video plays showing the making of these heads, being variously kicked, headbutted and punched. The dull thud of the blows echoes throughout the gallery as the video plays. As well as being quite funny, the video undermines the stereotype of the cool, calculate craft of modeling, bringing its sometimes spontaneous and physical nature to our attention. Rodin’s overwrought and densely layered modeled heads, of course, cast a long shadow over the early modernist sculptors who would have followed in his footsteps- Constantin Brancusi, Henri Matisse, Jacob Epstein, and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. This well-constructed installation shows a view of the legendary French sculptor, with the benefit of a greater historical distance, and a wryly-raised twenty first century eyebrow.
The series of near-abstract wall-mounted casts Division, of 2007, works on several levels. Fashioned in aluminium, MDF and epoxy resin, these pieces offer a subtle interpretation of movement and texture. A widening slash, like a bullet wound, travels through the centre of these sequential rectangular pieces, disturbing their moulded texture. Strangely, the slash is more marked in the aluminium cast than the pure white resin pieces. This geometric rupture also calls to mind Carl André’s late 1960s definition of sculpture as “a cut in space”, a definition offered at a time when attempts to pin sculpture down were falling apart. These pieces, therefore, offer an ironic commentary on a professional persisting in a seam of artistic inquiry, that is no longer possible to define adequately.
The interactive relief Greeting, finished three years ago, offers another backward nod to high modernist endeavor. Initially, the work appears to be a completely blank relief, but, after looking at it for a short while, this seeming emptiness is transformed by a wave like movement, slowly rippling down the panel. Waves and the disruption of formal perfection are recurring themes also in Korkut’s static work.
Perhaps the most striking display here, however, is the installation of twelve sculpted heads- Circle. This display a dozen portrait heads in a tight circle, all modeled with varying degrees of intensity. Some are very heavily modeled, whilst others are almost perfectly smooth. Made from clay, this appears as a commentary on the self-referential nature of the artistic ego, and also as a refreshingly honest self-portrait. The starkness of these individual portraits perhaps offers some parallel to pieces such as Marc Quinn’s Self-Portrait in frozen blood, an icon of early 1990s yBa art.
Yet any such parallel is only a formal one. It is harder to imagine a greater distance between the brash and occasionally brainless self-promotion of yBa, and an artist such as Korkut. This is a subtle yet rich show which both invites and rewards close looking. Korkut appears content simply to work hard and produce rather than engage in the self-promotion that so many see as vital to developing a visible practice in contemporary art. The results here, in this exhibition, certainly stand as a vindication of this strategy.
Alem Korkut’s exhibition was organized by the Gradska Galerija in Bihać, in collaboration with Collegium Artisticum. The exhibition will be open until 21 July and is free. A catalogue, with a really important essay placing Korkut’s work in the context of the sculptural history of BiH, written by Irfan Hošić, is available, priced 5KM.