Zoran Kržišnik – born in 1920 in Žirovnica, died in the summer of 2008 – after a short period on the stage, in 1947 he became the first administrator of the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana and in 1957 became its director. He led this institution for nearly forty years, until 1986, when he moved briefly to the International Centre of Graphic Arts, an institution founded upon his initiative and which had not long before made its home in the Tivoli mansion house in the Ljubljana city park. Among all his different campaigns, activities and enterprises, he is best known as the founder of the International Biennial of Graphic Arts, which he started in 1955 and for which he managed to win immediate international recognition. Membership of and active participation in various committees, commissions and juries at the most eminent institutions around the world over a number of decades bear witness to his reputation. After this unique career in Slovenia, Kržišnik (who was eighty-seven at the time of the interview, and youthful and active until the very end – he had recently, for example, completed his doctorate) spent his retirement mainly in Žirovnica in Gorenjska, in a house full of important works of art by his artistic friends from Slovenia and the former Yugoslavia, as well as world celebrities such as Robert Rauschenberg. It seems as if the house had been designed from the very beginning as an exhibition space and it is planned that the collection will one day be open to the general public.

Zoran Kržišnik is a representative of the “post-War” generation of artistic players who, at the beginning of their artistic journey, found themselves in a special situation due to the long, bloody conflict that had barely finished. The borders between states appeared solid and unyielding; it seemed that different nations had little in common and that due to the injustices of the War and different political principles communication was literally impossible. In the midst of this serious lack of justifiable reasons for coming together and communicating with each other art, with its positive standing, represented one of the few real opportunities and foundations for the normalisation of the situation. It offered an opportunity and a rationale for establishing contacts and escaping the prescribed isolation, and for the establishment and development of a new, more positive communal identity, which was then made use of not only by Yugoslavia but also its recent opponents, the formerly Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Quite quickly it was possible to sense the exceptional scope of this potential in exhibiting modern fine art, as well as the possibility of a very successful projection of abstract values, such as the presence of freedom, modernity, democracy, openness and so on in society. Modern art institutions found themselves in the role of propagandists and ideological projectors, maintaining this role thereafter.

It seems that in this regard modern art institutions also became more important than ever before, while the institutionalisation of modern art began to experience exponential growth, which continues to this day. It is only logical that with these new opportunities and obligations the importance of the directors and leading custodians of these institutions also increased and they were frequently no longer seen solely as the custodians of artistic collections, but their social and political activities began to be seen as a kind of a key mission. In this interview Zoran Kržišnik clearly describes the political nature of the Ljubljana graphics biennial and some of his other exhibitions, as well as giving a general evaluation of his political role.[1]

The interview also shows how the systemic development of the arts at that time already began to take the direction it now follows. An irregular international network was soon established (or built upon), through which regular exchanges and modern art presentations took place at a global level, first with custodians and later curators in the role of the person appointed locally to bring the latest information about art from the outside and present the most important contemporary international currents and trends, while also enabling local production to circulate as widely as possible and in as reputable a circle as possible. Thus a system was established, in which to this day a curator’s highest achievement (as well as an artist’s) is to climb as high as possible within this hierarchy, into the most esteemed circle, and create a stable position there, with as many contacts as possible, and the highest possible level of cooperation and exchange opportunities. This is the best way to justify the investment made by the community, as in this way the most efficient flow of art in both directions can be assured, i.e. eminent exhibitions at home and a good international placement of local and national art, while at the same time guaranteeing power and influence for the curator, as the effectiveness of his or her positioning of “goods”, ideas, content and activities, and the possibility of his or her influence on the network itself is mostly directly linked to the importance of his/her position in the network hierarchy.

Kržišnik fully understood these new conditions and successfully formulated his strategies accordingly. He managed to make his way into the circle of the world’s most important players in art and even to identify the resources and conditions at home, where the situation was not exactly favourably inclined towards his activities, for a biannual exhibition. The exhibition functioned as a “basic platform” for his exchanges with the artistic system, in which one of the most basic rules is that you have to invite if you want to be invited and give awards if you want to receive them yourself. Kržišnik even attempted marketing artistic works in the West – in connection with which, considering the view we now have of the former political system, it is surprising that even just thinking in that direction was possible, let alone actually establishing a sales gallery in New York.

With regard to Kržišnik, we can see great confidence and awareness of the strength of his position; we can sense that the ground is being laid to take advantage of any opportunity that arises for the curator to begin directing attention towards his authorship, while the exhibition will be his “exhibit”, his expressive vehicle. In this respect, Kržišnik retained a traditional approach and in the conceptualisation of exhibitions and catalogues kept himself in the background in relation to the artists. Moreover, in his case the basic principles for placing and combining works remained nationality, school, style, formal similarities, i.e. a few very narrowly defined categories that still did not offer the creator of the exhibition free creativity or room for contextual and thematic manoeuvring, or at least greatly limited these.


Interviewed by Beti Žerovc

Due to your specific career, you are in an ideal position among Slovene fine art protagonists to comment on the phenomena of curatorship in modern art, particularly as it seems that from the very beginning of your career you very well understood its rationale. At a time when this could not have been easy, you managed to establish in Slovene art a very strong international exchange and were successful to the extent that you were, among other things, a member of the third documenta committee. You have obviously always been exceptionally good at organising events. The Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts was, for example, from the very beginning structured in a similar way to modern biannual exhibitions – from its basic aspects, such as strong sponsors from the world of commerce, to details such as a twenty-five percent discount on rail tickets for exhibition visitors. Even the criticisms you received resembled the ones modern curators receive, namely that you were too managerial and that you had your pet artists whom you pushed and favoured. So, where exactly do you see yourself in relation to modern curatorship?

I suggest we begin by going as far back as possible. I found myself in the Museum of Modern Art as a representative of the post-War generation that faced the key question of how to wriggle out of the grip of socialist realism. That was our priority and one of the possibilities was the establishment of a biennial of graphic art in Ljubljana. In Venice, where in 1952 I assisted commissar Šegedin, I met Zoran Mušič and we began discussing how we could relax the existing situation just a little. When Mušič received an award in Cortina d’Ampezzo in the shape of a grant for Paris, he invited me there. And so I went to Paris, somehow bypassing official channels – the Museum of Modern Art – for consultations with artists and it was there that our biennial was really organised. I collected 144 graphic works, practically the whole of the École de Paris, and smuggled them to Ljubljana. This was the foundation of the biennial. Various curators and directors of institutions began to appear at viewings in Ljubljana, such as Gustave von Groschwitz, the director of the biennial of graphic arts (colour lithography) in Cincinnati. At that time there were already a few exhibitions specialising in graphic arts, such as the Bianco e nero (white-black) in Lugano (Mostra internazionale di bianco e nero, 1950), where Božidar Jakac was among the artists who exhibited and after his return he proposed a similar exhibition in Ljubljana. As you mentioned documenta, let me tell you that Arnold Bode, its organiser, also came to Ljubljana at that time. We talked a great deal. I explained to him my idea of a graphics biennial in Ljubljana, while he talked about his idea about documenta.

That’s interesting, which year are we talking about?

That was in the early 1950s.

Why did Bode come to Ljubljana?

I think he was simply travelling, collecting data, refining his thoughts on how his event would look in practice. Later, I went to the documenta twice as a commissar from my country. So, if we now consider the difference between us and today’s curators, I don’t really see any great differences, except in those specific factors that result from a differently shaped society. Just like today’s curators, I knew very well then that if I wanted to start the biennale, I had to have, for example, the whole of École de Paris behind me as a kind of a “visiting card” that would open doors and ensure that others would also want to work with us. And that’s exactly how it was, on the strength of the fact that I persuaded the reputable École de Paris to participate, twelve countries replied that they would also take part. If you compare the organisation of a similar modern event, such as Manifesta, I don’t see a great difference.

But what you describe is already very removed from the activities and position of a traditional museum curator who is, above all, a guardian of objects which he or she – closed in a museum – nurtures, studies and describes.

Of course. For me, it was the social aspect that was most important in this work. We set up the biennale in order to make our way into the world. It was a way of opening doors. And – thankfully – I managed to attract important graphic arts experts for the jury, such as the well-known critic from Venice Giuseppe Marchiori. They were key personalities in the whole of fine arts. This was a confirmation that our event was the beginning of something that was worthy of mention. This first biennial represented the first step with which we indicated to the Yugoslav authorities that another way existed. Of course, there were always political difficulties, especially during the period when the East reacted strongly to abstraction. At that time, for example, Khrushchev spoke about abstract painting, saying that “abstract paintings look like daubs done by a donkey’s tail”. A serious “examination” of the event took place at that time. Thankfully, Krste Crvenkovski came to Ljubljana upon Tito’s order, an open-minded, literary man and a Slavic studies specialist, while also the vice-president of the Yugoslav government and minister for culture. After seeing the biennial, he supported us and after that things began to run their course fairly smoothly. In order to convince him even further, I accompanied him to Paris and Venice. It was a funny situation. He never said where he was going and they were looking for him all over Ljubljana. In short, I think that at least the basic origins of what is now termed curatorship were already established then.

If I were to give a very rough assessment of what a younger protagonist in modern art world would now think, it would be that, after World War Two, Slovene fine art was somehow completely divorced from that in the rest of the world, in the West, until the late 1980s, early 1990s, when some kind of exchange between the two blocs was established, which could at least conditionally be called a unification or at least incorporation. You probably did not experience this polarisation in the same way.

The social withdrawal from extreme Russian socialism was also in a way a withdrawal from social realism. Later, the idea of non-alignment arose and at that time I proved to Marshal Tito, via Crvenkovski, that the biennial of graphic arts was actually a materialisation of what was being referred to as openness, which was then seen as non-alignment. We were already talking about a dialogue between West and East and attracted China and Russia to the first biennial. This was approximately seven or eight years before Russians returned to the Venice Biennale. But we approached them differently, with a direct invitation to present whatever they wanted. We did not interfere in the selection as we did, for example, with École de Paris, where we wanted to get specific representatives, the best of that school; the Russians and the Chinese did their own selection. Our establishment of a kind of a symbiosis between East and West was achieved. All the subsequent biennials were organised on these foundations, and so we became a unique environment in the graphic arts, i.e. we exhibited everything, practically the whole world. This aspect was then combined with the most competent juries possible. The members were always verified individuals of the highest rank, such as the directors of museums like the Guggenheim, the Tate Gallery, the Moderna Musset in Stockholm, the Museums of Modern Art in Tokyo, Melbourne, Rome, and so on. To me, the jury was at that moment just as important as the artists, as it created the ultimate seal of approval on the global fine arts scene.

So, you didn’t experience the transition in the late 1980s so drastically?

No. I just continued the main plan, both officially and “under the table”. If I remember, for example, how things went with the Russians: at subsequent biennials we somehow got an opportunity to get, via Riga, everything that was on the “black list” in Russia. That was one thing, for example.

You have to explain this more clearly. What did you get via Riga?

The works of Russian artists which would never be sent by Moscow officially, as they were not recognised, but we simply included them as a special group in addition to the official selection.

Who were these artists? And how and why via Riga of all places?

Artists there and those in Russia who had channels in Riga contacted us themselves. At the biennale we then arranged them among the “pure” representatives of social realism. It was a kind of a diversionary tactic for enriching the biennale.

And the Russian officials had no problem with this?

No, none. We also had very good relations with the Bulgarians and were given very progressive things from them. The Krakow Biennial was started at that time, following the Ljubljana example. There, they even came up with the idea of setting up an event alternating between Ljubljana and Krakow, but to be honest I wasn’t keen on that and we didn’t agree to it. Later, biennials spread all over the world, but we, having been among the first, had good relations with the newer events. Tokyo, for example, established its biennial following our example and thus we had always good contacts in the Far East. We were quite frequent guests at the Tokyo Museum of Modern Art and we somehow managed the whole of the Far East from there. I always took care of these contacts personally and when an opportunity arose, I proposed Masayoshi Homma, the director of the museum in Tokyo, as a member of the Conseil international des musées d’art moderne (CIMAM) and invited him to be a member of the jury for a major exhibition of graphic arts in San Francisco. And thus Homma, Bill Liebermann, the director of MOMA New York, and I were on the jury. This was an exhibition at which eleven thousand graphic works were collected and we had to examine them as if they were on a conveyor belt. Janez Bernik won, followed by Kosuke Kimura. This is how personal ties were formed and Ljubljana somehow coordinated the world fine arts stage.

Are you among those who believe that now the difference that existed during the post-War decades between Yugoslavia and other eastern countries is less apparent? As if no one feels like dealing with the special status Yugoslavia held and therefore it just gets bundled up with other eastern countries?

We definitely enjoyed a special status. When we used to arrive at the Venice Biennial, it was always something special. For nearly a decade we had a very specific dialogue with the Spanish pavilion, which represented a kind of a Fascist state on the extreme right, while we were on the other side, open Informbiro people if you like, representatives of a country that was escaping extreme socialism, while still being connected to it. And we always received attention. It is interesting that in spite of everything, we always had good relations with the custodian of the Spanish pavilion, who was a Franco supporter, but at the same time professionally quite progressive. Franco somehow tolerated him because Franco himself was actually a “Sunday painter”. The Italian prime minister at the time, Amintore Fanfani, was also a “Sunday painter” and as he was good enough, I personally invited him to our biennial and he did in fact exhibit here. During the exhibition he came to Ljubljana and said to me at dinner: “You know, I haven’t come to just look at my exhibition, but to ask if you can help me establish contact with your Tito; the situation is such that we on the right and those on the left who are more open should talk to each other.” I established contact via Stane Dolanc, who was sufficiently open to such things. I know I have digressed here, but what I’m trying to say is how curiously these things are unintentionally connected with politics. On the global stage and especially on the axes Ljubljana-Vienna and Ljubljana-Klagenfurt we often talked in this way. Whenever a political crisis arose between Austria and Slovenia, the late Boris Kraigher would ring and say: “You know what, organise an exhibition, I need to meet up with their president.”

And you then realised these “combinations”?

Of course. We opened an exhibition, while the politicians resolved their problems. This, too, is part of curatorship, art management… The difference between the way we managed and the way it is done today is that we did it for common social goals…

Well, this is what modern curators say, too. I’ve never met one, young or old, who didn’t tell me that he worked for noble goals.

You’re quite right, but the position now is different. The custodian (curator) in the past mostly performed his professional work in regular employment. Modern curators are usually “freelance producers”. The difference is in the economics.

But let’s go back to what we were discussing; don’t you feel that recently the exchange between East and West in the arts has drastically increased?

No. For example, if I think of my late friend, art critic and philosopher Giulio Carlo Argan. When he became the mayor of Rome, he visited many presidents in the East and West because he wanted to realise his idea that art in the East and West should be confronted and evaluated much more specifically and clearly. Not everything began in the famous Eighties: what did begin was a discussion about having to start everything from scratch and it was very difficult to acknowledge continuity. It seems to me that, in terms of functionality, such efforts were there at least most if not all of the time.

Tell me, were there any important protagonists from the East on the world or western art stage even before the fall of the Berlin Wall? In spite of everything, you seem somehow a lonely “between East and West figure”.

Of course. But you have to also be clear about the opposite case: I personally got a retrospective exhibition of Marij Pregelj to Bucharest and it was well received there. Which means that there already had to be a new orientation, with all its artistic progressiveness. Dieter Malow, the director of the Kunsthalle in Nuremberg and a very good colleague of ours, paid particular attention to the dialogue between East and West. In setting up a biennial of constructivist art he often took my advice and this event in Nuremberg was very interested in looking to the East. For him, I chose a collection of works by Gabriel Stupica, Janez Bernik and Vladimir Veličković.

Who in the West were the key advocates of art from the East? And why, on the basis of what did they advocate it?

Definitely Argan, Pierre Restany, Ryszard Stanislawski, Will Grohmann, who played an important role as the editor of an excellent publication Skira, and others. They all advocated East European art on the basis of its quality. On the basis of autonomy, whereby the social order does not alter quality, just like it doesn’t change art, whether it is made above or below the table.

Among your projects, I was particularly interested by the sales gallery you founded in New York. How did that happen? Did it work? How and for how long?

It worked, but not for long. You see the problem with Adria Art Gallery was that those participating in the project – businessmen – didn’t understand how these things are done. I said clearly: get an American, a professional, pay the going rate and the gallery will succeed. But they didn’t understand this and the gallery was managed by someone who was at the same time selling baskets, Elan skis and so on. When we finally did get a nice lady who was very familiar with the art scene, it was already too late, even though the gallery had stood a good chance at the beginning. At the opening there were people from the seven best-known American galleries of the time. Ljubljana television still has the footage of this event. When I was still there a few days after the opening, a Texan businessman came to the exhibition. He said: “I leave on my jet tomorrow and I’d like to buy a few things, if you can deliver them to me at the airport by tomorrow morning.” He chose and bought twelve or thirteen works. After a few months, when I was back in Ljubljana, I heard that the gallery was to be closed. They closed it because Elan was at that time not yet sponsoring Ingemar Stenmark. As the skis didn’t sell, they closed it all down. And that’s how it all fell through. Among other things, an agreement that we were to furnish a part of the famous Pan American building with works of art. What I’m trying to say is that these attempts went terribly wrong because those who made the decisions at home were not capable of understanding what is needed in such situations. They found it difficult to pay the going rate to a gallery manager, even though they could have made a great deal of money. But anyway, we tried. We also had the idea of opening a gallery in Paris and Köln, but it never happened…

If we now talk about the art market in connection with the biennial in Ljubljana, I have for a long time been wondering about a specific matter. The award given to Robert Rauschenberg in 1964 at the Venice Biennial constantly reappears as a turning point in the change in power relations between America and Europe and between artistic criteria and the influence of the market on biannual exhibitions. To put it bluntly, the award is said to have happened because American art dealers gained the upper hand within the management of the art system and ensured that Rauschenberg received the award in Venice. Prior to this, the artist was given an award at the Ljubljana Biennial. How and why? What is your comment on the award to Rauschenberg in the light of these assumptions?

When I was organising that biennial, I found out that a certain “lady”, who lived in America, but was originally from Vienna, was organising an exhibition of Rauschenberg, Johns, Oldenburg and another artist. She rang me from New York, told me what she was doing and asked me if we were interested. I said yes and she came to Ljubljana personally and brought all those things. The jury already included Pierre Restany, Werner Schmalenbach and the Pole Ryszard Stanislawski. We were already perfectly aware that this was part of a pop art trend. After a long discussion we decided that it was so impressive – the lady brought complete graphic sets – that we gave him the award. It is interesting that American and European journals immediately took hold of it

So, you decided exclusively on the basis of quality and impressiveness, without any connection to the market or influence from an art dealer?

It was a purely artistic decision, a professional one.

Was Leo Castelli already Rauschenberg’s dealer when the latter received the award in Ljubljana?

Yes, he was, but he didn’t know that Rauschenberg would get the award. The lady who brought the works printed things herself. She had a small printing workshop on Long Island and that’s where it was all created. We were not influenced by any Castelli, any Ileana Sonnabend or anyone else. But they made good use of this later at the Venice Biennale, where Rauschenberg had an exhibition at the American consulate, which was his big break. When we wanted to organise an exhibition for him in Ljubljana afterwards, he was already taken over by private art dealers and the price of transport and insurance became too high for us, even though Rauschenberg was very interested. In all the catalogues, his CV states that he received his first award in Ljubljana. This was really a new chapter and a very interesting one for our biennial. At the same time we supported more established artists and confirmed the high value of artists whom there were attempts to destroy, or at least push to the margins.

And how did you experience the late Sixties, early Seventies? Was your personal world strongly marked by student demonstrations, radical philosophies, the rise of sociology, etc.? Did it touch you at all?

It was perfectly clear that there were great shifts taking place. We tried to persuade younger custodians – or curators in today’s terms – to draw attention to the key names that were appearing within this new constellation. With regard to this, we also had very good cooperation with certain institutions, such as the British Council.

And what were your feelings in connection with exhibiting contemporary art when a figure like, for example, Harald Szeemann appeared?

Well, Szeemann cooperated with us, too, at the beginning of his career, when he was still committed to traditional art. Of course, at documenta he broke away from that. Later, he became an advocate of the Eastern bloc, including Zdenka Badovinac and all the others. And we got new works precisely via these individual custodians from other countries. When Jure Mikuž later worked for the biennial exhibition in the Ljubljana tobacco factory and invited institutions, he in fact used the same principle that we had used before. We would turn to individual museum employees who were involved in graphic arts and they would suggest names to us. Our selection was thus always a “gold reserve”, established names, while half of the exhibited material was obtained in the way I described.

Do you think exhibitions are an appropriate medium for political declarations?

I think exhibitions have been taken over by politics too much. Especially as some curators are very well paid. When we were creating the biennial, we never paid anyone specially. We invited people to Ljubljana and gave them accommodation, but we attracted them on the basis of their interest, as the biennial was sufficiently interesting for them to simply want to appear in Ljubljana.

But you cooperated with the political sphere, too.

Yes, but that was something else. It was us who were using politics through persuasion, not the other way round.

You think that is possible? To be stronger than politics, money…

Listen – I don’t want to brag, but we managed it. I managed to convince a few people in politics that this was their future. I proved to these people that we could be a source of liberalisation, which is not brutal in the sense of socially tense situations, but that fine art can be an instrument of a slight liberal opening. That’s how it was. You know, through establishing ourselves in art, the world wrote about us favourably, proclaiming that we were an open society. Then, for example, I was able to say to politicians, in this case to France Popit, even about Giulio Carlo Argan, who was practically a communist, that he was more important as a philosopher than a temporary politician.

Do you feel that the exhibition medium has changed? Exhibitions revolve around themes, curators can follow personal stories and impulses…

In our time, art set certain norms for itself in which a custodian would try to find what was best, of the highest quality. I don’t know if always successfully. But now, it’s just the opposite. Today, a curator adopts the standpoint: “I’m God Almighty, I don’t care about anything, I can do what I like.”

Could a curator be an artist in the sense of a theatre or film director?

Hm… I remember when we were creating the exhibition Dal pensiero al mano. It was an exhibition of 130 artists from Picasso to very recent ones, each represented by one key work. What did the exhibition do? It established the highest quality, it was perfection, a condensation of an idea that was pure. Today, it’s different – the difficulty is the relationship between the content and the packaging. The packaging can be a stronger factor that the content that the exhibition was created for. I was in this business for sixty years. If I were to create an exhibition now from that golden period, with the strongest artists I worked with – I don’t know – perhaps I would have the feeling that I had climbed to the level of a good director. That doesn’t mean that the brilliant idea which was the origin of the whole thing is at the same level, no, it’s actually slightly higher.

As you were designing these exhibitions, what were your criteria for assessing the exhibits?

When I was creating an exhibition, I thought about whether the exhibition satisfied my narrow environment or whether the selection suited more global criteria. The biennial gave us the scope, we simply knew things. It’s almost like the load-bearing calculations for a building, but where in the end you can’t avoid subjectivity. Let’s say that I added my own personal feeling to what was mathematically arrived at. I don’t know, am I making myself clear here?

During your career didn’t artists change, too?

I think artists, by and large, conform simply in order to remain on the scene.

Probably not only to remain on the scene, but in order to survive. Curators yield a great deal of power now and it was the same in your case.

There was power, but it was controlled somewhere else. If I was a believer, I would say that we took the situation as something sacred. We felt that we served something, that we were doing our best to manage things in such a way that they reached the desired level. Now, on the other hand, I have a feeling that, if you’re very skilful and you possess enough arguments and instruments, you can elevate things to a very high level, things that don’t actually deserve it.

Can you believe that curators who are now 30 or 40 tell me the same? We are committed to this and that…

Which is why I am saying that these comparisons are really impossible. The time dictates a completely different approach. If I were a philosopher, I would start wondering whether the period of social realism was closer to the philosophy as it was then than contemporary art is to the philosophy now, which is in fact a philosophy of success and money. I understand that you are saying to me that the younger ones are saying exactly the same. So everything needs to be analysed, left and right. But is that possible?

A final question. A director, the chief custodian of a large national institution, especially if he carries out this work for a longer period of time, should not have any lasting personal preferences or love for a specific art. The problem is that if he does not “abandon” the art that is closest to him and his generation, he begins to hinder the next generation. Or the opposite, if he abandons his own generation, he lets down his friends, probably his most intimate criteria. How can this Gordian knot that I see as the most frequent criticism of your work be cut?

This is a very fitting question. It is, above all, a question of tolerance, from start to finish. Another thing is a feeling – I will express myself badly and I have been quoted extensively because of this – a feeling, which, like an ear for music, you either have or you don’t. It’s just like in music, where someone who is tone deaf cannot play well. And the third issue is great discipline, even though no-one can remove from himself everything to the extent that when deciding he would be able to see everything as if it were on the same level. You have to try to confront that which is closest to you with all that is good on the other side and know at the same time what’s bad on this side. You don’t succeed in this on your first day, but only when you have been in the business for a long time. Not that I’m advocating the length of my career, which was, let’s say, at least a half too long.

Do you think that someone who is today, say, 60 years old, can truly recognise the artistic potential in people who are 25?

Not very easily. If I remember how we reacted when we were at that age and how we see this time now, not just in our own area, but everywhere; how people live now, the structure of society, the pressure society exerts on us today. We are increasingly becoming its prisoners. And what is the essence of this period? Everything is prescribed for us: we are ordered to do this and prohibited to do that. All these pressures are stronger than they used to be. In a way we were freer then. Today everything is so defined, you never know whether you’re allowed to eat with a spoon or not, whether you can go along this road or not… If you accept the new social order, all the media variants, all the information, the way of dressing and communicating, if you try to accept all this, you begin to understand this new reality and its definition of art. But it goes without saying that tolerance is needed. And we’re back to what we said about curators.


* The interview was recorded in September 2007. First published as: O kombinacijah (On combinations). Zoran Kržišnik, Likovne besede, winter 2007, No. 81–82, pp. 24–31; then reprinted together with an introductory study in the book: Beti Žerovc, Kurator & sodobna umetnost, pogovori, Maska, Ljubljana 2008, pp.3648. Interview shortened by V.T.

BACK TO TEXT [1] We must not forget here that custodian of modern art was at the time a very new and not completely formed profession, especially in view of the fact that the two consecutive World Wars hindered its establishment. It was in the United States, between the two Wars, where key steps towards the establishment of this profession occurred, a process led by Alfred Barr, the famous director of  MOMA in New York. After World War Two the profession really took off in Europe, particularly on account of intensive international cultural exchanges.