On December 20, 2022, a retrospective exhibition of Nina Ivančić, a prominent Croatian artist and long-time professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Split, will open at the Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibition includes works from the mid-1970s to the recent series of collages in a geometric style. This is beyond doubt one of the most significant opuses in Croatian contemporary art, which, despite all changes in styles and motifs, and the diversity of poetics and media, displays a consistent artistic idea. Every stage of the artist’s creative process is carefully thought out, which results in visually attractive works of undeniable artistic value, in which exceptional craftsmanship is always consistent with the concept and adjusted to it, and is manifested equally in her colourful and gesturally sumptuous paintings from the first half of the 1980s and in her later artworks, dominated by aristocratic reticence in expression.
Created in the transition period from modernism to postmodernism and the later neo-modernist turn of the second modern, Nina’s art went through different phases, always “a step ahead of the critics and the prevailing norms.” She matured artistically in the mid-70s, at the time of the emergence of new media and materials, when new forms of artistic action and expression were established, such as performances, happenings, spatial interventions, and artistic actions, and when the process of dematerialization of the art object was brought to completion with conceptual art. The increasingly present innovative routine and self-assertive activism of the New Art Practice were not inspiring to Nina. The decision to build her artistic position within the traditional medium of painting must have seemed retrograde at that moment, especially since she was not interested in painting as a mere consequence of the working process, something that the current primary painting was insisting upon. Time would soon show just the opposite. It turned out that Nina, in fact, heralded the prevalent strategies of the decade to come. Therefore, it is not surprising that she welcomed the 1980s and the noisy return of painting to the art scene after a lean iconoclastic period. She turned into one of the leading personalities of the New Painting, unreservedly indulging in the vices and pleasures of the painting act, in pictorial opulence, broad and free gesture, in unfettered adoption of different manners and motifs. With a cultivated expressionist gesture, she created scenes of organic exuberance on the borderline between real and unreal. She built her scenes with allusions, fragments of symbols and allegories, which suggested rather than constituted an interconnected iconographic whole.
Although the geometrization process began earlier, the finial break coincided with the artist’s departure to New York in 1986. Like several years before, Nina anticipated the transition from the hot trans-avantgarde of the beginning of the decade to the cold trans-avantgarde of the new geometry (neo geo). Dynamic compositions of biomorphic forms were replaced by a flat grid of geometric forms and rectilinear drawings, restraint, and a completely muted gesture. But despite this reduction of form and gesture, the artist retained a highly cultivated painting ductus, manifested in balanced colour harmonies, measured decorativeness, and a dynamic relationship between the filling elements. Nina’s geometry, however, is not a consequence of the reduction of natural forms or an embodiment of mathematical and gestalt laws. There is no physics or metaphysics hidden behind the optically activated and attractive surface, and even less ontology or a utopian project. It is a postmodern reference to the legacy of geometric abstraction. Viewed in the context of citation and simulation strategies of postmodernism, Nina’s paintings from the 1980s are a sort of dialogue with the ultimate modernist categories. By adopting, paraphrasing, and simulating the stylistic features of expressionist or geometric art, she reduced the key topoi of high modernism to rhetorical figures, i.e. to culturally mediated conventions.
During her stay in New York, Nina introduced the ship motif in her paintings, which ten years later would be joined by the airplane motif. In parallel, she experimented with different media, producing photocopied collages with clippings from books and magazines, ship-objects cut out of Forex, and drawings of ships and airplanes in pencil and charcoal. In her paintings and drawings of airplanes and ships, the artist did not make reference to the actual object, but rather to its conceptualized representation. She adopted a mode of presentation that was characteristic of the technical display of products in specialized magazines. Due to the need to describe the objects as detailed as possible, she suspended the traditional conventions of depiction, allowing the observer to see what usually remained inaccessible to naked eye, which further highlighted the artificial nature of the image. Whether it is the mimetic illusionism of a realistic painting or the engineering realism of a technical drawing, Nina always builds the picture according to the rules of certain representational models. Thus, she returns the object to the painting in order to affirm the latter’s objective character. In other words, the painting as an artefact is not defined by external references, but by its own material order: the flat surface of a specific substrate, the material trace of the used medium, the format and the frame, which is a borderline against some other reality and simultaneously a constitutive factor of the body of the painting. And yet, this minimalist artistic expression and emphasis on the physical dimension of the medium by no means implies giving up on the aesthetic requirements, which despite all sorts of reduction, or precisely because of it, come even stronger to the fore.
Nina’s entire oeuvre points to an artist very well acquainted with the criticism and revision of the principle of high modernism. Despite the fact that, in her own way, she has accepted contributions to the theory and practice of conceptual and analytical art, and regardless of the current environment in which painting no longer has a privileged position, as it has been overruled by technically produced, electronically generated, and mediated images, for Nina the painting has remained an elite aesthetic and artistic object that embodies the idea of painting as a discipline that implies specific skills.
Nina Ivančić (b. 1953 in Zagreb) graduated painting from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 1977, in the class of Prof Šime Perić. In 1979, she completed the Master Painting Workshop in Zagreb, with Prof Ljubo Ivančić and Prof Nikola Reiser. In 1987, she received a Fulbright scholarship for the MFA Program in Painting at the Columbia University, New York. From 1986 to 1993, she lived and worked in New York. Since 1999, she has been teaching painting at the Art Academy in Split. She has presented her work at more than thirty solo and numerous group exhibitions at home and abroad, including the Youth Biennale in Paris (1982) and the Venice Biennale (1986, 1995). Her works are included in various private and public collections. She has received a number of awards, among others the Binney and Smith Inc. Fine Art Achievement Award (New York, 1987) and Vjesnik’s Josip Račić Fine Art Award (Zagreb, 2003).