Braco Dimitrijević

In My Father’s Studio in Paris 1937, a large color photograph by Braco Dimitrijević, a majestic lion stands guard over a painting by Vojo Dimitrijević, Braco’s father. Across from it the father’s palette lies on a white-draped pedestal. The relationship between culture and nature is a theme here, along with the question of “art about art”; juxtaposing ceremonial elegance and bizarre irony, Dimitrijević disrupts the mindless idolatry everywhere directed toward art. Taking off from works of classical Modernism that have been raised to the level of cult objects, he quotes Pablo Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Fernand Léger, Jackson Pollock, Piet Mondrian, and many others, both in his paintings and photographs and in installations incorporating the “goods” already on hand at the various sites of his exhibitions. “There are no mistakes in history,” Dimitrijević has said, adding, "the whole of history is a mistake”—or perhaps an arrangement of banalities, of chance occurrences and significances, a vortex into which the human individual is sucked from the moment of birth.

Meaning and chance, meaningful chance and chance meanings—these are the coordinates that shape Dimitrijević’s work, in a kind of grid of decisions preceding the art itself. The true spectators in his array of trophies are the animals that have become components of the images. Leopards race through a thicket of lines from Pollock, a Pollock savannah; the patterns of their coats mark them as partners in a dialogue with Pollock, and as a danger hidden in the grasslands of creative signmaking. Dimitrijević sets up a similar dialogue when he swims a diamond of Mondrianesque grid—the utopian cosmos of Modernism—within a naive image of the cosmos of sky and stars. The whole roundel is enclosed by the body of a snake, the seductively beautiful creature of sin and death which is all but omnipresent in Dimitrijević’s work. It slips into every conceivable form, seducing and destroying every image of purity—a red-blotched snake, for example, slithers about the round cosmos of a suprematist composition in blue.

History knows no mistakes, but is one large mistake. Perhaps its mistake is that constant error over signs, which, once set free (in art, in life), lose the meaning they originally bore, and blindly represent. But what if those signs were repeatedly reinvestigated from fresh perspectives, including the perspective of animals, representatives of nature, from whose soil our culture has distanced itself? Dimitrijević calls these paintings “Culturescapes,” and they might be seen as scenarios of the flight from culture back to nature, but his staging of the relationship between the two in no way simulates an actual dialogue between human civilization and the primordial. Nature as quoted in these pictures is a substrate of cultural codes: it’s a part of the system developed by humans for decoding existence. It is meaning in conflict with error, or even with the senseless.

These elegantly designed, smoothly staged paintings, color photographs, and installations highlight the creative play of ideas and avoid the seductions of nostalgia. No matter how theatrical or dramatic, the works are characterized by a quality of flatness, which strips the symbols they deploy of entrenched meanings and interpretative errors. Dimitrijević’s juxtaposition of art quotes, sentimentally loaded animal pictures, and coolly designed compositions does however conceal a certain danger. At times this intellectual play chokes on its own elegance. The game becomes no more than a game, a sarcastic joke. Yet even in platitudes, the work offers an intellectual and spiritual refinement infectious with the pleasures of culture.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.