London

Braco Dimitrijevic

As traditional painting the work of Braco Dimitrijevic is chic, stiff, diagrammatic, and impersonal, an insult to the masterpieces it parodies. By calling his show “New Culturescapes” he can sabotage this criticism and gain free play in the area of his choice. The show focused on modernism and returned to a prevailing theme of Dimitrijevic’s career—the application of democratic principles in art, society, and history. A cat may look at a king; by the same token a painted tiger may stroll elegantly through a Dimitrijevic-painted Jackson Pollock abstraction as in Dimitrijevic’s Two Steps Ahead. Cross the gallery; now two painted tigers walk across a simulated Pollock. The title this time is Three Steps Ahead. It is unclear whether getting ahead is a matter of blending with one’s environment, becoming one’s style, or ignoring it.

Titles are important. Without words, The Story Says “Life Came Out of the Water,” a simply drawn black-and-white fish lying in the middle of Piet Mondrian’s Pier and Ocean, is no more than a play between abstraction and realism, generalization and specificity; the title suggests a parallel between the theory of evolution and the historical progression implicit in the idea of an avant-garde. But animals continue to evolve—will masterpieces, too, be made redundant by “progress” in art?

Dimitrijevic leans toward a sort of cosmic ambiguity. In Beyond the Great Bear a night sky, encircled by a sleeping golden snake, holds stars and a small version of Mondrian’s Lozenge in Red, Yellow, and Blue, 1925. As usual, an aphorism is approached but never delivered: is the Mondrian a self-sufficient universe of its own, far away from the rough and tumble of earthly life, or is it a miracle of virtuosity rewarded with the status of a heavenly body? Juggling imponderables, juxtaposing distant time scales, shifting abstract grounds to earth, air, and water, Dimitrijevic loses his chance to make specific points. The pieces suffer from an excess of ambiguity. They have not resolved the difficulties that result when all of the levels of meaning Dimitrijevic wants to unite are consigned to the medium of painting. Worst of all, the rift between Dimitrijevic’s statement of the need for a revaluation of heroic modernism and his lack of urgency in arriving at answers suggests that in him an abdication from humdrum contemporary concerns is masquerading as a posthistorical mentality. Perhaps, Dimitrijevic seems to be saying. Sunday painting wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

Stuart Morgan