By Balasz Takac
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.
The artistic production of the early post-war period in a newly formed the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia was characterized by the arrival of an entirely bold and explicitly modernist aesthetics proposed by a new generation of artists willing to reject traditional, representational patterns and emerge in experimentation. The Yugoslav art space all of a sudden became populated by different artistic persuasions, despite the initial appropriation of the Social Realism inherited from the Soviet Union (that came to an end in 1948 after the state’s leader Josip Broz Tito defied the Russian grand statesman Stalin).
When it came to sculpture, a few significant individuals appeared; and many of them were women. An exceptional spirit and a leading sculptress of the time was undoubtedly Olga Jevrić; she managed to propose an entirely different and truly modern approach to the form and the use of material. Throughout the decades, Jevrić created an impeccable oeuvre characterized by raw, expressive, and abstract sculptural language.
The artist is righteously recognized as a crucial figure in a broader artistic context and her doings can be perceived in parallel with the works of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and even Louise Bourgeois. In order to present her work internationally and validate it accordingly, London-based PEER gallery decided to present Jevrić’s retrospective encompassing works made between the late 1940s and early 1990s.
The Artistic Development of Olga
This prolific artist studied at both the Belgrade Academy of Fine Arts (1943 – 48) and the Belgrade Academy of Music (1942 – 46). Initially, she was focused on producing traditional portraits, figures, and reliefs in a realistic manner. However, during the mid-1950s, Jevrić plunged into abstraction which was quite innovative at the time; it can be even said this was a pioneering move since there weren’t similar attempts in a pre-war period.
Namely, the sculptress started experimenting with a mixture of iron dust, cement, nails and rods, rods and nails, which resulted in captivating expansive forms reflecting both the formal issues (such as the relationship between solid matter and void, weight and weightlessness, containment and release), as well as the anthropological issues (the state of the human existence related to the WW II atrocities, as well as personal explorations). Jevrić produced what she used to call spatial compositions which referred to her musical training and the understanding of the abstract form, while she was very much inspired by the limestone carved medieval tombstones known as Stecci scattered throughout Yugoslavia.
Jevrić’s works are either miniatures or impressive large scale works often produced in series. The small ones were sometimes made as proposing models for national competitions for public memorials commemorating the anti-fascist struggles of the Yugoslav people during the war.
None of the proposals were released as public sculpture; however, these small ones are exceptional sculptural works in their own right. The large versions show Jevrić’s talent and skillfulness to the full extent; her mental and physical ability to overcome different challenges imposed by the material and the construction.
Olga Jevric at PEER
The work of the great sculptress was noticed internationally; throughout the 1950s and 60s she traveled to France, England, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Greece and Poland, and in 1958 Jevrić represented Yugoslavia at the Venice Biennale, while in 1966 she received a year-long study Ford Foundation Fellowship spent in various cities in the United States.
For this occasion, PEER asked Phyllida Barlow and Richard Deacon (who meet the artist on several occasions) to contribute to the exhibition by delivering their personal impressions regarding Jevrić’s work (those texts will be included in a publication to be launched in September), and sharing their standpoints regarding the selection of works and the exhibition design.
Interestingly so, this will be Jevrić’s first solo exhibition in London, and it will coincide with a display of small scale sculptures and early works at Handel Street Projects.
Olga Jevric: Sculpture will be on display at PEER in London from 28 June to 14 September 2019.