Since 1953 and the Posthumous Exhibition of Emanuel Vidović, the Museum of Fine Art has organized over five hundred different exhibitions, both from its own collection and the visiting ones: from solo exhibitions of contemporary authors through retrospective, monographic, and commemorative to group, thematic, and educational ones. In an effort to present current events on the art scene, remind of significant opuses, and preserve the less significant ones from complete oblivion, all with the aim of attracting and educating the visitors, the topic of animal motifs remained open. It should be recalled that in the past twenty years, the Museum has organized several solo exhibitions of artists of the middle and younger generations that are related to or refer to the said genre, and if one adds similar exhibitions in other cultural institutions, then animalistic tendencies in the work of Split’s artists become more obvious. This proves that the animal world, from the cave paintings of the Palaeolithic period to the artefacts of ancient civilizations and modern or recent art, remains a rich thematic source with a great interpretive and symbolic potential. The temporal and spatial framework of this exhibition has nevertheless been narrowed down so that the pre-modern times have remained out of focus, while the selected artists belong to the art circles of Split.
Split’s general public could obtain their first idea about animal motifs as an artistic preoccupation in 1908, at the famous First Dalmatian Art Exhibition, by looking at the sculptures by Branislav Dešković. The 25-year-old artist from Pučišće with a Parisian address was presented through three of his portraits and six works depicting animals: a dog, an ass, and several horses, including two equestrian statues. Apart from Dešković’s artworks, animals were present in two sculptures by Ivan Rendić, who lived in Trieste, and in one painting composition by Virgil Meneghello-Dinčić from Split. If we take into account that there were twenty-eight artists with about 155 exhibits, it must be stated that animal motifs were barely represented at the most prominent event in the history of Split’s modern art. Some artists were simply reluctant to portray animals, and may have been guided by the assumption that the potential buyers would not be interested in animalistic art.
As far as Split is concerned, it should be borne in mind that none of the artists who participated in the Split art scene, both in the past and today, have focused exclusively on animal motifs. The legacy of modernism includes paintings, sculptures, and graphics in which animals are only part of the composition or, in rare cases, the exclusive content of the artwork. The fact is that the animal world is becoming increasingly interesting to artists, in which we can see the impact of growing global awareness of the animals’ right to exist and the need to preserve the vulnerable, insufficiently protected zoosphere. Artistic activity, in turn, can contribute to a more humane and considerate public attitude towards animals, so we hope that this trend will continue.
The exhibition Between Heart and Stomach: Animalistic Motifs in Split's Visual Arts presents selected works from the opus of eight male and one female artist. In chronological order of their years of birth, these include Emanuel Vidović, Branislav (Branko) Dešković, Ivan Mirković, Antun Zuppa (Zupa), Andrija Krstulović, Petar Jakelić, Ljubica Buble Dragojević, Edvin Dragičević, and Vinko Barić. Taken as a whole, their artistic work extends through modern and contemporary art. What they have in common is the visibility of animal motifs in their opuses, their poetic profiling and artistic expressiveness. Owing to their artistic engagement, an exhibition has been created in which animal beings briefly become more important than humans. The reality of our world, however, is quite different and abounds in their exploitation and minimization. Perhaps the exhibited bestiary will remind one or the other person of how important the animal world is and how lonely we would be without it