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Ivan Kožarić, 1963. Photo: Branko Balić.
Ivan Kožarić, 1963. Photo: Branko Balić.

Ivan Kožarić (1921–2020)

Modernist sculptor Ivan Kožarić, a leading figure of contemporary Croatian art for more than six decades, and who repeatedly defied convention through playful, sometimes impossible encounters in public space, has died at age ninety-nine. After taking a central role in the avant-garde of late-’40s former Yugoslavia, Kožarić in 1959 cofounded Gorgona, a widely influential Croatian collective (and short-lived “anti-magazine”) premised on spiritual kinship and artistic autonomy. “I am not an artist,” he once said. “I came to a position where I now can say I am on the trail of art, and this is enough for me.” Although his searching practice would attract an international following, Kožarić remains best-known in his home country, especially in his longtime base of Zagreb, which hosts many of his simple but exuberantly open-ended public sculptures, such as a bronze sphere titled Prizemljeno Sunce (Grounded Sun), 1971, which sits in the heart of the capital. In 2004, artist Davor Preis installed nine planets around the city to “orbit” Grounded Suncreating a scale model solar system.

Born in Petrinja, Croatia, in 1921, Kožarić attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in the ’40s, then apprenticed himself to Antun Augustinčić, whose renown as one of the most significant Croatian sculptors of the twentieth century’s first half would be matched by his pupil in its second. In addition to sculpture, Kožarić worked in a range of media including photography, assemblage, installation, and painting. In 1959, alongside painters Marijan Jevšovar, Đuro Seder, and Julije Knifer; critic Radoslav Putar; and architect Miljenko Horvat, Kožarić cofounded Gorgona, whose members sought to forge aesthetics—and a language for them—outside of the state’s socialist practices, often by subverting public space, which was rarely truly public in Yugoslavia; one of Kožarić’s memorable proposals involves slicing off the top of the local Sljeme mountain (the project remains unrealized). As critic Kate Sutton wrote in a 2017 Artforum review, the association was “not bound by an aesthetic allegiance so much as by a Dadaist-tinged disregard for convention, which they lovingly touted as the ‘Gorgonic spirit.’”  

Although the group disbanded in 1966, that Gorgonic spirit would live on in Kožarić, whose mischievous approach would find him, in 1993, moving his entire studio into a Zagreb gallery, where he continued to work throughout the duration of the exhibition. The installation was displayed in 2002’s Documenta in Kassel and now belongs to the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb (MSU). Kožarić’s long exhibition history also includes the Venice Biennale (1976) and the São Paulo Biennale (1979) as well as a major survey at Munich’s Haus der Kunst organized by Okwui Enwezor and MSU in 2013, the year Croatia joined the European Union.