Milan Konjović’s Paintings: Continuity of Modernity

the 14th permanent exhibition

On the vast Serbian, Yugoslav and European art scene, Milan Konjović appeared with a rather small series of cubist paintings during the early twenties of the previous century. At that time, together with Dobrović, Šumanović, Radović and Bijelić, he made the first significant modernist step in Yugoslav painting.

After that, in the atmosphere of the still-fresh traumas from the recently finished Great War and the premonitions of a new war catastrophe that spread around Europe during the thirties of the previous century, Konjović was formed as an expressionist painter.

He established painting based on an authentic interaction of art elements (lines, colours, substances) that remained constant in his entire painting career. He followed this modernist concept from the thirties even during the postwar forties. Therefore, he was in a constant conflict with those who advocated the politically installed “socialist realism”. But due to Konjović’s exhibition “People” and Lubarda’s exhibition of his first abstract paintings, which were set almost simultaneously in the spring of 1951 in Belgrade, socialist realism was overcome, and Yugoslav art set off in the course of moderate modernism.

In the following decades Konjović continued with the modernity of his paintings. Renowned Lazar Trifunović said that his “painting of gestures and actions” has “an everlasting and always contemporary message, because the gestures turns the form into a symbol of the artist’s sense of the world, and his painting action exhausts his human excitement”.

Finally, in his late eighties, during the eighties of the previous century, Milan Konjović painted his “Byzantine cycle” in which he “tore down” the strict scheme of icons with strong expressive brush strokes and intense colours. This kind of painting, precisely because of the strong expressionist momentum, and its own usage of “quotes” from art history, quickly took the top position in “the art of the eighties”, which was current at that time. Thus, at the very end of Konjović’s total opus, his painting once again confirmed its universal efficacy and “applicability” and the artist confirmed his ability of intuitive response to the current impulses from the world and art. Nevertheless, Milan Konjović certainly cannot be discussed as an engaged artist because he was, throughout his entire oeuvre, devotedly dealing with the neutral “grand topics” from the history of painting (portraits, nudes, landscapes, still life); but on the other hand his active attitude towards the world and the time in which he lived and worked cannot be denied. This familiarity with current events stems from his distinctive “painting of gestures and actions”, from his strong and loose brush strokes, intense colors, blood boiling expressionism, the essence of the painting’s plasticity and its continuous modernity. Milan Konjović is among the artists who managed to harmonize the mission of a painting with its essence. This is the reason why, even nowadays, his art with its eternal modernism represents an inexhaustible source of effective aesthetic, ethical and humanistic messages. Obviously, the pictorial autonomy of Konjović’s paintings makes it attractive even nowadays, because it is in accordance with Filiberto Menna’s modernist thesis that “art has the right to its own individuality - not to become dissociated, but to give example and be model to other forms of knowledge and practice.”

Sava Stepanov

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