Cortesi Gallery is delighted to present The Concrete Utopia. Ivan Picelj and New
Tendencies 1961-1973, an exhibition dedicated to explore the production of the
Croatian artist Ivan Picelj (1924-2011).
Inaugurated at the gallery’s London space last May, The Concrete Utopia arrives to
Lugano after a warm reception from the public and critics, enriched by works by
Piero Dorazio, Walter Leblanc, Heinz Mack, Henk Peeters, Otto Piene, Paolo
Scheggi, Jesús-Rafael Soto, Grazia Varisco.
As a result of a collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary art in Zagreb
(MSU), which houses the artist’s personal archive and library, and with Anja-Picelj
Kosak, daughter of the artist who passionately followed the development of the
project, this exhibition represents an unmissable occasion to look with fresh eyes at
the international movement Nove Tendecije (Croatian for New Tendencies), of
which Picelj was protagonist and pioneer.
New Tendencies was born in Zagabria, Croatia (then Jugoslavia), in 1961. In that
year, the Museum of Contemporary Art hosted the first exhibition that saw the
participation of artists and critics from all over the world, who pursued the idea of
“art as visual research” - from groups ZERO e GRAV, to groups N e T.
Beyond paying homage to Picelj’s extraordinary contribution to the neo-avantgarde
of the 60s and 70s, this show also aims to confront his work with the production of
the artists affiliated with the New Tendencies.
On display there will be works by leading figures of Düsseldorf’s group ZERO: a Fire
Painting (1964) by Otto Piene, who took part in every movement’s exposition
between 1961 and 1969, and a Lichtrelief by Heinz Mack, an aluminum sheet folded
and curved to rhythmically reflect beams of light. Mack’s production and research
had a lot in common with the movement’s one. In fact, he was present in
Jugoslavia in 1961, 1963 and 1969, and also in the exhibition held in Leverkusen in
On that same year, Walter Leblanc was amongst the participants to the Nouvelle
Tendance. Propositions visuelles du mouvement international, a presentation of New
Tendencies, held at Palais du Louvre and at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris.
His Mobilo-Statique LB 36 (1962), plays with the viewer’s gaze, unsettling his
perception with the apparent movement of blue and red hues, colours preferred by
Picelj himself, who used them in his CTS-1 (1966), which he realised in threedimensional
enamelled metal modules.
Mercuriale (1970) by Grazia Varisco will tell the role of one of the few women artist
within the New Tendencies, to the last edition of which took part also the
Venezuelan Jesús-Rafael Soto, with two works and an environment on the line of
Escritura (Writings) (1973), exhibited at Cortesi, where the surface appears to reveal
a mysterious script that visually recedes in a vertical forest of painted lines.
Another fundamental addition to the show is the Italian Paolo Scheggi, with his
layered monochromatic work Per Una Situazione (1962). Scheggi was a friend and
close collaborator of Picelj; together they discussed ways to extend the movement’s
operational scope, as shown in a set of period photographs portraying the two
talking together, taken during the fourth edition of New Tendencies, in 1969, and
included in the comprehensive catalogue edited by Mousse, which features a
compilation of widely unpublished research notes, documents and photographs.
From the finely carved wood reliefs, to the early 60s shimmering metal
compositions in brass and silver; from the optical experimentations and the
modules in painted metal of the mid-60s, to the chiseled metals of the early 70s,
left au naturel or with a touch of black that plays with light’s absorption and
reflection, Picelj’s works have entered the collections of major international
museums, including the MoMA in New York and the Victoria & Albert Museum in
However, the artist was still lacking recognition from the market, therefore Cortesi
Gallery strives to bridge this gap with The Concrete Utopia. Ivan Picelj and New
Under the Patronage of Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb (Muzej Suvremene