Following Tršar’s survey exhibition in the Gallery of the Prešeren Awards Winners for Fine Arts in Kranj (2017) and the exhibition of works on Japanese paper in the Gallery Murska Sobota (2018), the interinstitutional project MONUMENT – DRAGO TRŠAR continues with a survey exhibition of Drago Tršar’s monumental sculpture at the Moderna galerija in Ljubljana. The subtitle of the exhibition is Monumentality and Multitude.
The exhibition opens on Thursday, 14 June at 8 p.m. at the Moderna galerija, Cankarjeva 15. It will be opened by the president of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts Mr Tadej Bajd, PhD. The exhibition will also celebrate 70 years of the Moderna galerija and 7 years of the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova. This year the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts celebrates its 80 years. The exhibition is also a part of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018.
The exhibition is a collaboration between the artist Drago Tršar and the curator Marko Jenko, PhD. They have focused on works larger than 70 cm – in height, width or depth, while some of the works are well over 2 meters in size. The exhibition puts on display more than 50 works from public and private collections in Slovenia and abroad, mostly in bronze and ranging from the 1950s to the present. It also includes archival material and video footage of works, archival and drone aerial videos of several monuments and other public sculptures in Slovenia and abroad. The installation of the exhibition is technically very demanding, so great thanks are due to Moderna galerija’s technical crew and the additional assistance of Rotar Art d.o.o. We also owe a debt of gratitude to the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana (ALUO) and the team of restorers led by Nada Madžarac, M.A., Liza Lampič (Moderna galerija), Jurij Smole, M.A., and Tamara Trček Pečak (ALUO).
The editor of the catalogue is Marko Jenko, PhD, who has also written a study and compiled a list of Tršar’s monumental and large-scale sculptures. The catalogue will include over 200 reproductions and a comprehensive bio-bibliography assembled by Bojana Rogina (The Archives, Moderna galerija). While the exhibition is focused on size, on dimension, the study that appears in the catalogue brings to light another essential aspect of Tršar’s oeuvre, which is rather crucial and particularly topical from the point of view of today – the multitude or the mass-multitude, as defined decades ago by Zoran Kržišnik, the author of the first monograph on Tršar. The exhibition curator Marko Jenko, PhD, expands on and refines Kržišnik’s findings in his study. The catalogue will be published in late June.
Drago Tršar was born in 1927 in Planina pri Rakeku. After finishing secondary school in Rakek, he attended an evening class in drawing led by France Gorše in 1944 and 1945, after which time he spent eight months working and studying in the studio of Boris Kalin. After the liberation, he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana, graduating in sculpture in 1951 under professors Boris Kalin, Zdenko Kalin, Karel Putrih and Peter Loboda. In 1951 and 1952 he pursued postgraduate studies in sculpture under Frančišek Smerdu. Between 1951 and 1959 he worked as a freelance artist. This was the time of his first commissions for public sculptures and monuments, which abound in his body of work. Between 1953 and 1955 he was a member of Group 53. He traveled to Paris, to Italy on a Prešeren Foundation grant (1956-1957), to Egypt in 1957, and to the Netherlands and Belgium. His 1957 work Manifestants still stands in Middelheim Park, which is part of the Middelheim Museum in Antwerp. Later he made study trips also to the Soviet Union, Germany, and again Italy. In 1956, he was invited to the World Exposition in Paris. In 1958, his work was featured at the Venice Biennale, and in 1959 at Documenta in Kassel. In 1960, he took the post of Assistant Professor for sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana, becoming Associate Professor in 1967, and Professor in 1974. He was also a member of Group 69. In the 1960s he participated in various sculpture symposia, e.g. in Seča, Aranđelovec and Danilovgrad. He has received numerous awards, including the Sculpture Award at the 1st Mediterranean Biennial in Alexandria in 1955, the Prešeren Foundation Award in 1968, the Rihard Jakopič Award in 1972, and the Prešeren Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. In 1991, he became a corresponding member of the Slovene Academy of Sciences and Arts and in 1995 a full member.
It is no exaggeration to describe Drago Tršar’s oeuvre as exceptional, both in terms of the sheer number of works and their great variety; in addition to sculpture, his work extends from drawing, painting, set design and printmaking to ceramics, tapestry, book design and more. It also testifies to the artist’s industrious nature, which keeps him going to this day. His exhibition history, too, is exceptional and includes many international successes. Linked to this is the mark he left on the public space in Slovenia, Yugoslavia, and internationally with his public sculptures and monuments. In 1967, ten years after he had developed his “crowd or mass compositions”, came one of the watershed events in his life: the Guggenheim Museum in New York included his Manifestants in a representative exhibition of sculpture worldwide. He exhibited internationally also at survey exhibitions of Yugoslav art. Art critics and theorists often point to Tršar as the most important representative of sculpture of his generation, especially in light of his departure from the full or traditional rendition of the human figure, which gradually became increasingly stylized, as can be seen from Janica (1953), and then evolved into compositions of figures, or rather, crowds and masses that became increasingly abstract over time. The most imposing example of such figurative compositions is Tršar’s best-known work: Monument of the Revolution in Revolution Square in Ljubljana. The underlying experience is one that also deserves consideration in the present day. In 1975, after the unveiling of the monument, Tršar described his work in an interview thus: “I saw the revolution, I took part in many volunteer work brigades, and it has left a stamp […]. A crowd is always something positive in my eyes, I always seek only positive things in it. I couldn’t have expressed the time, this movement with a single figure.” Tršar’s thoughts, expressed visually or in words, whether they refer to the field of art or further afield, reveal far more than just the time and place in which they emerged, i.e. 20th century Slovenia and well beyond. For they reveal something of the dilemmas of our time – dilemmas that in fact date back decades. Which brings us back to one of the central aims of the project at hand: to reveal something of the time and space in art, not just around it – through Tršar’s work, words, and views, past and present.