Josip Vaništa, Deposition (detail), 1986, digital print on archival paper, multipart, each 18 7/8 x 13".

Josip Vaništa, Deposition (detail), 1986, digital print on archival paper, multipart, each 18 7/8 x 13".


Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein

Josip Vaništa, Deposition (detail), 1986, digital print on archival paper, multipart, each 18 7/8 x 13".

In a 1986 action titled Deposition, artists Josip Vaništa and Marijan Jevšovar and critic Radoslav Putar dutifully lugged one of Vaništa’s signature horizon-line paintings to a snowy forest outside Zagreb, Croatia, where they propped it against a tree. On return visits, the group would photograph the painting in its new environment, tracking the gradual damage to the snow-soaked canvas, until one day in the spring, when it disappeared altogether.

Decades earlier, Vaništa, Jevšovar, and Putar had served as founding members of Gorgona, an artistic alliance that, like Deposition, left little but archival traces in its wake. Active from 1959 until 1966, the group—whose other participants included artists Dimitrije Bašičević (better known as Mangelos), Julije Knifer, Ivan Kožarić and Đuro Seder, architect Miljenko Horvat and critic Matko Meštrović—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.” Drawing from the legacy of the 1920s-era Yugoslavian magazine Zenit, as well as contemporaneous groups such as Zero, Azimuth, and Fluxus, Gorgona published an eponymous journal from 1961 through 1966. Each of the eleven issues of the “anti-magazine” consisted of a single artwork by a single artist, without any accompanying text. In addition to Gorgona members, contributors included Victor Vasarely, Harold Pinter, and Dieter Roth. Mock-ups by Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, and Robert Rauschenberg never made it to print, while Mangelos, in keeping with his program of “anti-art,” explicitly designed his issue to remain unrealized.

That the magazine lacked manifestos spoke to Gorgona’s general resistance to institutionalization. In practice, Gorgona resembled more an association of like-minded individuals than a true collective. Its first public exhibition as a movement did not even occur until 1977, more than a decade after the group’s dissolution. Much like the serpent-haired sisters who gave the collective its name, Gorgona thrived in isolation, operating in a closed circuit that would anticipate many of the tactics of social media. For instance, in a kind of proto-newsfeed, during the height of their activities members would use standard mail to circulate “Thoughts of the Month,” a series of inspirational images or quotes from the likes of Samuel Beckett, Allan Kaprow, Lao Tzu, or Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Recently there have been multiple efforts to shore up the group as an art-historical brand. Earlier this spring, an elegant offering at Bologna, Italy’s P420 emphasized selected members’ more Minimalist leanings, placing Kožarić’s bemused bronze geometries into muted harmony with Knifer’s “meanders” and Vaništa’s silver-slivered horizon lines. This survey at the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein skipped the attempt to forge a streamlined aesthetic or unified narrative. Instead, the show strung together progressions of each artist’s output from the periods before, during, and after affiliation with Gorgona, leaving the dramatic divergences in style intact. Archival materials related to the group’s collaborative activities—from the anti-journal to copious correspondence and questionnaires, to “photo-performances”—were relegated to vitrines at the exhibition entrance, where Deposition was prominently displayed, as a nod to lost histories.

Intended as an introduction, these archives handily stole the show. Vaništa’s gleeful Collective ID, 1961, riffs off the group’s various physiognomies by matching a strip of passport-size portraits of Jean Marais, Paul Gauguin, Eugène Delacroix, and Gertrude Stein to the names of Kožarić, Knifer, Seder and Meštrović, respectively. Actual photographs of Gorgona capture the artists in a kind of cosplay of professional conventions. The photo-performance Adoration, 1966, lays out a narrative pantomime in which the other Gorgona members—decked out in top hats and dress coats—lambaste Knifer at his own opening, causing him to retreat into a corner in shame. But after recognizing the error of their judgment, they beg for the artist’s forgiveness, lavishing him with praise. A group questionnaire reveled in its absurdity, with prompts (in Serbo-Croatian) such as “Is Gorgona rebellious, indifferent or full of gratitude?”; “What are the seasons or month in which Gorgona feels good?”; and “Is Gorgona green, blue, or another color?” To the last, Vaništa replies, “Grass green,” Putar prefers “glassy,” while Mangelos describes it as “like tomorrow.”

Kate Sutton