History, architecture, performance: On Zlatko Kopljar’s body of work

Ory Dessau / 2019

In 2002 Zlatko Kopljar blocked the main entrance to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb. He did so with a twelve-ton block of reinforced concrete, corresponding in size to the measurements of the building’s doorway. Titled K4(1998–2002), the action was part of the group exhibition Here Tomorrow, in which curator Roxana Marcoci offered an examination of the contemporary Croatian art scene seven years after the end of the war in former Yugoslavia. However, since it kept the museum closed and inaccessible, the protective concrete shield of Kopljar’s K4implied that even in 2002 the war was not over yet. By sealing its entrance Kopljar referred to the museum as if situated in a stage prior to demolition. He marked the museum’s building as a future ruin among already existing ruins. Likewise, Kopljar’s sealed entrance also suggested that the premises were being purged, purified of the near past sediments and ghosts of the war.  

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The power and vulnerability of the firefly

Sanja Cvetnić / 2019

The fate of each artist is situated somewhere between the oft-cited words of Martha Graham, “No artist is ahead of his time. He is the time. It is just that others are behind the time”, and, perhaps even more well-known, and certainly more enduring, is the Old Testament wisdom – “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun”(Eccl. 1:9): this reflects the fates of artists who have been cursed and of those who have been divinized. Zlatko Kopljar (1962) is one of those artists who most profoundly experiences both fateful points, as well as the tension between both statements concerning artistic and human existence. In a quick survey of his oeuvre, if we filter by the key words of “time” and “artist”, many of his works apply. We encounter these elements in an art installation (1993) named after an inscription engraved on a metallic plate, Panta rhei (Τα Πάντα ῥεῖ), in which the beginning of one ofthe most famous Greek philosophical sentences is reinforced by the high voltage with which the work is charged and in an abstract video, K9 (2003), to which the artist’s own DNA forms the key. We see the topics “time” and “artist” in the tableaux vivantsportraying a company of “dead” painters in a series of photographic portraits of colleagues, maverick artists all, in K11(2007). And we find these elements in the striking stills from the performance K16(2012), in which Kopljar, dressed in his silver, phosphorescent suit, digs himself a deep grave that slowly swallows him up, along with the light that reflects off  his silver suit, glowing to the end, like a big firefly in the darkness.

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Reflections on a trail of blazing light

Kate Christina Mayne / 2020

In an upstairs gallery of MSU, Zagreb’s Museum of Contemporary Art, honey floods over a smallish, solid-steel, rectangular prism. The light reflects off the volume, through the faintly golden substance, and lends the sculpture an air of a sumptuous jewel. This combination of fluid and solid substance overrides any thoughts of minimalism that might be tacked onto it: the properties of honey suggest the touch of a finger or a fleck of dust could desecrate its presence. The two materials are distinct, yet both have their own relationship to fluidity, if at different temperatures. We might be forgiven for wondering if some kind of alchemical exercise were at hand. It has no title. Onlookers have very little concrete reference to go by, other than the object itself, which just lies there, basking in inquisitive, inexplicable beauty. 

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Zlatko Kopljar / Random Empty

Marko Golub / 2017

I do not think I know another contemporary Croatian artist whose works evoke a feeling of terror with such ease. As far as I know, Zlatko Kopljar does not like to interpret his works and even when he does so, he never analyses their particular elements or reveals hidden allusions, except those that are explicitly laid in front of the viewer and are more or less universally graspable. However, from his very first to his most recent, his works resist any unambiguous interpretation; they do not presume the viewer’s intellectual receptiveness, but immerse them into an intensive experience of things such as impotence, anxiety, the feeling of guilt and responsibility, the impossibility to communicate, loneliness, deafening silence, unbearable noise, fear, the proximity of death, sadness, anger, compassion, redemption and the likes. Kopljar has developed his whole career around receptiveness to strong emotions, conditions and presentiments, materialising it outside his own self by using a wide range of media from performances, gestures, video works, objects, poetic utterances, sound, narration and the combination of all those, but never has he – except in one case, the case of “compassion” – explicitly named them.

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Kopljar versus museums and vice versa

Željko Kipke / 2016

American artist of German descent Hans Haacke fell from grace with the director of the Guggenheim museum because at an independent exhibition in April 1971 he intended to inform on the background of the murky business with the real estate in some New York neighbourhoods (Harlem, Lower East Side).

The exhibition was cancelled six weeks before the opening, the curator Edward Fort Fry – as the museum’s external associate – was fired and the director Thomas Messer tried to justify these actions by saying that Haacke’s research was incompatible with the function of an art institution. Fifteen years later, the same conceptual artist exposed suspicious transactions with the real estate at another New York museum (Hans Haacke: Unfinished Business, New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1986–1987). Without any doubt, Messer’s explanation sounds ridiculous nowadays and it is hard to understand for the generations of artists who, if they feel like it, tear down the walls of galleries in order to publicly display their frustrations or disagreement with their organization, especially with the politics of leading institutions in the world of art.

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