Olga Jevrić, Proposal for a Monument. Zev, 1958, iron, 4 1⁄2 × 5 1⁄8 × 2 3⁄4".

Olga Jevrić, Proposal for a Monument. Zev, 1958, iron, 4 1⁄2 × 5 1⁄8 × 2 3⁄4".

Olga Jevrić

In a selection of works dated 1955 to 2001, several poised, boulder-like works by the Serbian artist Olga Jevrić (1922–2014) absorbed light into heavy gray, brown, and orange surfaces derived from ferric oxide, iron, cement, terra-cotta, and bronze. The ensemble had a grounding quality that was also uplifting. Invested with movement, certain constructions driven through with iron rods appeared to have forced themselves out of the earth. Inspired by the twelfth- to sixteenth-century stećci, or medieval tombstones, found in vast numbers in cemeteries across the borders of southeast Europe, Jevrić would not, however, have invited interpretations endowing her sculptures with powers of their own. “I use material as a means. I am not subservient to the material,” the artist states in the voice-over accompanying Space and Time, 1982, a video tour of her solo exhibition that year at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade. Displayed in the gallery’s back room so that one encountered it separately from the main installation, this seven-minute film was made for Belgrade TV and has the assurance of a manifesto delivered as poetry.

Jevrić defined her spirituality from an idiosyncratic materialist perspective, expressing it through the forms she built—she preferred the term building to sculpting—over long periods of time. The gestation of Small Intersection Ib, 1985–2001, squat and bodily, with its two long, thick arms, like fossilized logs, sandwiched tightly by a vise, straddles the 1998–99 Kosovo conflict. Its airlessness becomes oppressive, particularly when the work is compared with Articulation of Space Ia, 1956, and Axial Configuration, 1969–71, which capture cuboid components that look as if they once might have been rotating. Proposal for a Monument. Zev, made in 1958, the year of the artist’s representation of Yugoslavia in the Venice Biennale, is a triangular iron unit, prised open by dowels, that is painfully spiky and at the scale of a maquette. It was set on an eye-level shelving unit affixed to the wall. Up until this first solo exhibition in London, only Jevrić’s unrealized monuments had been shown in the UK, at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds in 2006. Jerko Ješa Denegri has commented on these memorials’ lack of “clear symbolism” and “consequent resistance to ideological exploitation.”

Resistant also to containment within socialist-modernist or art informel pigeonholes, Jevrić’s methods and materials are still relevant to the work of established sculptors such as Phyllida Barlow and Richard Deacon, both of whom assisted in the design of this show, and to the practice of younger British artists, among them the Berlin-based Beth Collar, who also uses terra-cotta. According to the Belgrade Heritage House, six years beyond the point of her Belgrade survey, Jevrić began to focus on incorporating iron rods “deep in the tissue of the sculpture”; knowing this helped me connect emotionally with the grace of the pieces at Peer. Music, which was important to Jevrić, who dually enrolled at Belgrade’s Academies of Music and of Fine Arts in the 1940s, assumes the role of another curious connective thread. The soundtrack to Space and Time comes from Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 film Zabriskie Point—which makes one wonder how Jevrić positioned herself, after her 1966 Ford Foundation Fellowship year in the US, in relation to the student uprisings in 1968 Belgrade. I looked at the metal and wanted to know more: The rods of Weaving Through Space, 1969–78, stretched into the air like strings pulled taut, broken, then petrified.