History of postmodern art in the last four decades is an inexhaustible source in which many artists, using the language of the quotation, mimicry and reception modes questioned the roa that art travelled from its inception to the present day. Understanding the art from the 1970’s of until today depends on earlier visual experience of seeing and relies on the base of “images” stored in our memory, originating from fields such as: advertising, film, scientific papers, popular culture, art, even family snap-shot photos. Oftentimes, works of art find clear “inspirations” in stories, tales or modern myths, presented by the mass media, which are an integral part of the collective memory. Even in the 1970’s, Suzan Sontag Susan Sontag expressed her views, from which it can be concluded that the theory of photography expresses the idea of a photographic language as a system of social and cultural coding. Instead of observing photographs as evidence of the artist’s originality, photography is understood as a game of symbols, the meaning of which is located within a broader cultural field. According to this and similar theories, the meaning of an image is not always under the control of its author, but is generated on the basis of references found in the other images or sign systems. When looking at photographs, the observer finds in them something he already knows, as the key to their understanding comes from the cultural heritage of (mostly) Western civilization.
Popular iconic “images” are a frequent topic of questioning among artists who use photography as their medium of expression. Vrcelj and Tatarević are showing a series of portraits – photographed staging of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. On their photographs they fully simulate the atmosphere of the “original” work. By dissolving the photographic medium to its limits, they produce get effects similar to those for which the Leonardo’s work is so famous. However, Vrcelj and Tatarević will not emulate the Leonardo’s signature style all the way. The set design is set up so it serves the viewer as a set of “clues” which introduce him into the plot of the photo. At the same time, the appearance of the set design, because of the lack of details, reminds of the fact that that was artificially built. All these clues bear attributes of deliberate artificiality, which became one of the elements of the content of these photographs. The set design, just like the “actors” helps the viewer to see that photographs are not a document of a specific event, but that it is a specific type of theater.
In their “Mona Lisas”, Vrcelj and Tatarević open up new areas of artistic dialogue, introducing the content of well known figure composition immortalized by the history of art, and use it to make a kind of photo-wallpaper. The blending of historical, historified and contemporary is fully achieved, and thus conceptual abolition of differences in times when these scenes were created. The strategy of criticism of Vrcelj and Tatarević becomes instantly recognizable.
Vrcelj and Tatarević will deconstruct the famous masterpiece from the 16th century not only by using a different media (photography), but also for the fact that for their “Mona Lisa” they select people from their surroundings. “Mona Lisas” on these photographs are both male and female figures, allowing artists to introduce into their work a dialogue on the topic of equality of portrait subjects, as opposed to the centuries-old dominance of the female body as the ideal of beauty.
By choosing for their deconstruction act precisely one of the most recognizable and mostly reproduces part of the history of Western art, Vrcelj and Tatarević raise the question of evaluation of art and its place in the Pantheon of confirmed icons of art history. Coming from the margins of the European cultural sphere, in the context of the current socio-political integrations, these artists question the existence of generally recognized holders of the European cultural heritage and their perception in the memory of the local community.
Looking from the perspective of contemporary value judgments, Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa” is a media star, with over 70 000 likes on Facebook, unique conditions of storage and the only painting in the world with personal security. Photographs by Vrcelj and Tatarević provide a unique answer to all the questions of valuation of works of art and defined cultural codes: we can all be the Mona Lisa!
Curator – Art Historian