Braco Dimitrijevic

Since the late ’70s, the Yugoslav artist Braco Dimitrijevic has been producing two different types of work, both of which mix together the ideas and materials of art, culture, and nature. In 1976 he began a series of installations that he calls “Triptychos post historicus” (Post-historical triptychs) each of which involves the juxtaposition of three types of objects: artworks borrowed from a museum or private collection, manufactured products taken from everyday life, and raw fruits or vegetables. Two years later he started making “Culturescapes,” a new series of works that, through somewhat more conventional pictorial means, apply the characteristic style of a celebrated artist (Pollock, Mondrian, Matisse, etc.) to images of different animals (tigers, fish, snakes, etc.), without any apparent connection between the choice of subject and the style; the result is frequently quite amusing. In simultaneous shows in two cities in Brittany, a couple of hundred miles west of Paris, Dimitrijevic showed recent works from these two series.

In La Criée in Rennes, a former fish market converted into an exhibition space, he recently installed three particularly interesting “Triptychos post historicus,” each one incorporating a painting borrowed from the local Musée de Beaux-Arts. The most spectacular of these three triptychs, La Guide de la voie lactée (Guide to the Milky Way), combined Picasso’s Tête de femme (Head of a woman, 1922), an automobile (a two-cylinder Citroën, one of France’s most popular cars), and a large quantity of potatoes. The potatoes were strewn in a continuous diagonal line from one corner of the gallery to the other through the open doors of the car, inside which the Picasso had been placed. The two other triptychs were on a somewhat more modest scale: Toutes ces morts pour une branche (All these deaths for one point of a star) consisted of Philippe de Champaigne’s mid-17th-century painting Le Christ au mont des oliviers (Christ on the Mount of Olives), five trumpets, and five apples arranged in a star configuration around the painting; and Le Message de la femme-poète (Message of the woman-poet) featured Laure Garcin’s Recherche de mouvement (Movement research, 1931), seven square white pedestals, with an old typewriter on one of them, and a dozen cucumbers. Dimitrijevic’s goal here, effectively and elegantly achieved by all three works, was to question our current notions of the value of these three types of objects and their role in human history. By juxtaposing an object that is as sanctified by our culture as an artwork is with modest, anonymous artifacts of daily life and products of nature, he convincingly upsets the validity of our hierarchical system of values. This would clearly be impossible if, instead of original artworks with an established, culturally determined value, he resorted to using reproductions.

At the gallery in Nantes, Dimitrijevic showed a group of “Culturescapes.” The paintings in this series, always mounted in a simple gilt-edged frame, incorporate animal images that parody the characteristic style of whatever artist Dimitrijevic chooses as his target—in this case the nonobjective geometric style of Kasimir Malevich. Here, stylized images of lizards floated together with monochrome squares or rectangles on pure white grounds that subtly mocked the founder of Suprematism. To push the confrontation to an extreme, in the center of the gallery Dimitrijevic placed a low, square vitrine that contained a live monitor lizard and one of his “Culturescapes” featuring a black square (complete with gilt-edged frame). The viewer was thus brought face-to-face with the question of the relationship between art and nature. Dimitrijevic, in a statement to Jean-Hubert Martin, once said: “I see these works, the Triptychos and the paintings, as the portrait of our planet, since, for someone who looks at the earth from the moon, there seems to be no distance at all between the Louvre and the Jardin des Plantes.”

Daniel Soutif

Translated from the French by Stephen R. Frankel.