Milorad Krstić :
Spirit of the Műcsarnok / Kunsthalle Budapest
“...so fresh the hue, through our glass soul in such
music swims all that the eye can see...”
Lőrinc Szabó: Morning
Total art – this is perhaps the best way to describe the work of Milorad Krstić, for whom this is his second solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Budapest. The 2011 show entitled Das Anatomische Theater (DAT) can be interpreted as a kind of postmodern Gesamtkunstwerk, a theatrical production showcasing all the disciplines of art. Besides his unique depiction of historical facts, he also undertook to present the visual art, cinematography, philosophies, literature, music and choreographic art of the 20th century, while at the same time protesting in an indirect, Dadaist way against the problems that they raise.
At that exhibition, the pieces hanging on the wall were closely linked to the museum theatre performances. The theatrical dance production Ruben Brandt, Group Portrait of a Collector, was performed in the Kunsthalle’s exhibition space by the Csaba Horváth’s Forte Ensemble. The play was an important precursor of Krstič’s animated thriller Ruben Brandt, Collector, which is currently showing in cinemas. Thus, the story which began in Kunsthalle in 2011, when it was presented for the first time in the spiritual space of the apse of this important “temple” of Hungarian contemporary art, has been presented to the judges of the world’s most prestigious film festivals in 2018, as a new variation on the theme that was raised all that time ago. Now, in 2019, the Spirit of the Műcsarnok / Kunsthalle exhibition has become truly complete with this display of Krstić’s latest works.
The tradition of experimentally combining the various disciplines and genres of art dates back at least to the 19th century, and continues to this day. Total theatre, based on the Wagnerian concept of Gesamtkunstwerk, had a profound impact on the work of Adolphe Appia (1862–1928). A reproduction of Appia’s stage designed for the Festspielhaus (Festival Theatre), originally built in 1911 in Hellerau, now forms the centrepiece of Milorad Krstić’s exhibition in Kunsthalle Budapest. The Appia stage in the cathedral-like space of Kunsthalle’s apse, with its Ancient-Roman and Etruscan stylistic features, meets Krstič’s art on the dissecting table of Das Anatomische Theater in what – to paraphrase Lautréamont – could even be a coincidence. Nevertheless, the connection seems more likely to be intentional, as we know that everything is interrelated with everything else in the spirit of Gesamtkunstwerk. In this way, the various disciplines of art are made complete; indeed, one could say that this is how the past and future grow together, so that through art we can remain forever in the present.
Krstić’s latest works created for the current Kunsthalle exhibition span a diverse range of genres and techniques, from acrylic paintings to postcards serving as travelogues and arranged in a frieze-like sequence, from film works to the objectively drawn insectoid and humanoid figures in the display cases. All of them show the world that filters through the artist’s unique, surreal mode of vision, while various major works from the annals of art history are brought to life within them. The exhibition also has plenty of film-based elements showing the movements of the body, referencing and invoking the original museum theatre performance of 2011, and the initial ideas that were first presented in that very same space. In the web of visual-art, cinematographic, musical, choreographic and philosophical contexts, immersing ourselves in the finer details of Krstić works the visitor is constantly discovering new intertextual references that offer new interpretation of the works and the exhibition as a whole.
In the centre of the exhibition – the space filled by the reproduction of Appia’s stage – a looping animated series of GIFs of tattoos comes to life. The surreal works generate an exciting duality with their flesh-and-blood presence, often on very intimate parts of the body. Tattooing (the word originating from the Samoan word tatau, meaning “to strike”) is as old as mankind itself. There are various reasons for painting the body: it might express belonging to a group, an identity, or be used as a mark of stigma or exclusion. We have seen plenty of examples of both during the past century. Today, the purpose of tattooing is predominantly to reinforce and emphasis individuality and sexual identity, and this is something that Krstič himself places in the foreground, both in his drawings and in their positioning. The focus on the tattoos can be interpreted as means for the artist to catch the viewer’s attention in a way that is provocative, but dispassionately observational, without adopting a clear position. He is seeking the answer to how our body can become a tool for the direct communication of messages; and to what extent the marking of the human body becomes art.
Krstić’s self-portraits can be seen as homages. Each of the pictures, made in the styles of Leonardo, Agnolo Bronzino, Henri Matisse, Malevich or Peter Blake pays tribute to the original artist, and as self-portraits they virtually become artistic manifestos in their own right. The unusual reinterpretation of the original works secures their place in the Krstić universe, where the known certainties are overturned. In this way, the Janus-faced figures, the Bronzino-esque hands growing out of the face, or the Leonardo-like thoughts popping out of the head, all come across as natural. Even without an understanding of the artistic antecedents, the portraits on the canvases offer a complete experience and guide us to the art of Milorad Krstić. However, a recognition of the intertexts opens up additional new layers of meaning, enabling the interpreter to weave the web of relationships between the individual works, and the all-encompassing nature of the exhibition, even tighter.
Réka Fazakas, curator of the exhibition