Olga Jevrić: Proposals for Monuments

Institute exhibition
3rd February 2016 - 17th April 2016
Gallery 4

Olga Jevrić in her studio
Staro Sajmište, Belgrade

Photo archive / Heritage House, Belgrade

Olga Jevrić (1922-2014) is a Serbian artist who was active in the second half of the twentieth century and instrumental to the development of abstract sculpture in Yugoslavia. Born in Belgrade, she studied piano at the Belgrade Academy of Music (1942-46) and sculpture at the Belgrade Academy of Fine Arts (1943-48). At the beginning of her practice, Jevrić produced figures, portraits and reliefs, focusing on realistic representation. However, by the mid-1950s, she had moved away from figuration to pursue an abstract sculptural vocabulary, of which there was no previous tradition in Yugoslavia. Jevrić embarked on an exploration of mass, volume and texture, investigating relationships between solid matter and empty space. She worked principally with a mixture of cement and iron dust to create modelled masses pierced and articulated with iron rods and nails.

Jevrić made numerous small works, some of which were conceived as independent artworks, others as models for large sculptures. Amongst the latter was a series of ‘Proposals for Monuments’ created in response to national competitions for public memorials, which were key sculptural events in this period, intended to commemorate the struggles of the Yugoslav peoples during the Second World War. The first in the series was submitted to a competition to design a memorial to the fallen soldiers in Prokuplje in which Jevrić was awarded first prize in 1951. It drew upon the forms of Stecci, medieval Balkan tombstones sited in wild, open landscapes that were exposed to the elements. Whilst this model was never realized and few of Jevrić’s works were created on a large scale or placed in an open-air setting, the idea of Stecci and of the memorial echo through her oeuvre. Her sculptures are entirely abstract, but the forms are rich in metaphorical overtones and highly expressive, with their surfaces textured and pitted as if shaped by natural forces. They are often presented on slabs of stone, gathered by the artist from the hillside around Belgrade Fortress that overlooks the city, bringing the landscape into the gallery space.

In 1957 Jevrić had her first exhibition in Belgrade at the Gallery of the Union of Fine Artists of Serbia. She quickly gained international recognition, showing her work in the Yugoslav Pavilion at the 29th Venice Biennale in 1958, and then the following year in Antwerp, Padova, Milan and Turin. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s she travelled through Europe and America for study purposes, spending time in Britain in 1955. Whilst Jevrić’s work is little known in Britain today, she exhibited here in the first part of her career, including in a three person show at the Drian Galleries (London, 1961) and in group shows of Yugoslav art at Tate (London, 1961) and the Hayward Gallery (London, 1970).

This focused exhibition is the first solo showing of Jevrić’s work in Britain. It displays a number of her ‘Proposals for Monuments’, including a version of the Prokuplje Memorial of 1951, and one of six exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1958. The ‘Proposals’ are placed within Jevrić’s larger corpus from the 1950s to the early 1970s in order to chart her consistent development of an original sculptural idiom across a period of twenty years. Whilst some of the works on display are presented as models for memorials and others as small sculptures, they all have the monumental embedded within them.

The exhibition draws upon the Olga Jevrić Legacy in the Art Collection of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Belgrade (SANU), the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade (MSU) and the image archive of Heritage House, Belgrade. Together with Handel Street Projects, London these organisations have generously facilitated the project.

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