Kata Mijatović: What do you think about the role or “function” of art in the 21st century?
Branko Franceschi: Art has always had the same function, from the beginning of time until the present. I think of art as a form of cognitive activity that reflects how we resonate with the universe and, of course, society through symbols and visual codes. That is the function of art in its existential sense—it helps the survival of humankind. Braco Dimitrijević once said that he is a philosopher who expresses himself with images. Since one image is worth a thousand words, it is the fastest way of communicating that all-encompassing awareness of the reality which surrounds us.
Mijatović: Is contemporary art today able to be a relevant influence on the evolution of social relationships?
Franceschi: Art alone cannot induce the revolution, but it affects the ways people think; art actively informs the mental framework that defines our relationship with reality and society, and that is one of the reasons it remains relevant.
Mijatović: To what extent can contemporary art escape the culture of spectacle and its attendant banality while still retaining its visibility in the media?
Franceschi: Actually, it’s all about choice or strategy. Art that is shown in the mass media as the most visible exponent of the “society of spectacle” is already consumed, sucked up into the mainstream and unable to influence any position of power; it is indeed being consciously and successfully manipulated. Considering the reach of mass media, the chances are slight that even a nucleus of some restorative or subversive thought remains active. It’s up to the artists to judge how such exposure might benefit not only their personal fame and interests, but also the dissemination of their messages. One should also consider the fact that contemporary technology enables the co-existence of parallel communication channels that are not so entirely controlled.
Mijatović: What is the extent that artists can retain their creative freedom while also remaining active in the art market? To what extent does the art market participate in the creation of trends in art?
Franceschi: The contemporary art market and the influence of dealers and collectors are crucial to the formation of trends in art. I believe that there are a certain number of artists who don’t care about trends and the market, like yourself, although this certainly doesn’t help their existence. However, this is why we have to ask ourselves if contemporary society understands the importance of free creativity, and the extent to which it is ready to embrace or even recognize it, and then ensure the necessary financial support. It’s obvious that public financial support of culture is declining on a global scale, and so the American model of private financing for culture has also started to prevail in Europe. However, I believe that a certain number of artists will always, at any cost, avoid the dictates of the market.
Mijatović: What do you think about the position of Croatian contemporary art when considered in a larger European, or even global, context?
Franceschi: Considering the representation of our artists at the prestigious international exhibitions, Croatian contemporary art has quite a good position, which doesn’t mean that it couldn’t and shouldn’t be better. In past few years, within the context of the continued integration of Eastern and Western Europe, there has been significant institutional interest in the research, acquisition and presentation of the art of the Croatian neo-avant-garde. This will, no doubt continue to positively influence the perception of Croatian contemporary art.
Mijatović: What is the role of the art critic or theoretician?
Franceschi: It is simply about the active and principled valuation and mediation of art, and also to bring contemporary art closer to the public, particularly by providing information about how to understand innovative artistic strategies and procedures.
Mijatović: How do you perceive the role of the curator within an art project?
Franceschi: Fundamentally, a curator has to ensure the successful communication of an artist’s work to the public—from conceiving and managing an interpretation of the work, to the practical aspects of the presentation and production of the exhibition itself. So a curator’s role is more or less obvious in a horizontal sense. But in vertical sense, that is, in defining a particular project, it can vary from mere interpretation to a full creative collaboration. This is why relationships between curators and artists sometimes become quite intense.
Mijatović: What are your experiences with artists?
Franceschi: Just as with anybody else—good and bad: I always consider them successful by the quality of the result, rather than by the interpersonal aspect of the relationship.
Mijatović: What do you think about the presence of art criticism and theory in Croatian contemporary art: Is it influential to the art? Does it pursue the issues relevant to art? How much media exposure does it get?
Franceschi: I believe that competence in art theory, attention to information, and greater general knowledge are the key factors of any relevant art creation. Unfortunately, although it’s been proven that the more broadly educated artists are also the most successful, general knowledge is largely neglected at academies of fine arts and their programs mainly aim at mastering technical aspects of art disciplines. Of course, working from the dictates of any current theory, or influential critic, is bound to fall short. Regarding media exposure, that art is generally covered only at the information level, and without critique is due to the media’s general editorial policy. There are periodicals and media programs that publish art theory and criticism, but unfortunately these circulate only within the inner circle of the interested public.
Mijatović: In your opinion, where are the focal points of contemporary art within the global art scene?
Franceschi: The predictable global art centers are still active, but it’s also certain that political changes and globalization have contributed to the layering of the art scene. Asia and the Middle East are becoming more interesting, and not only as new art markets, but as new areas of creativity with specific themes that fit exceptionally well into the versatile language and multi-disciplinary character of contemporary art production. Naturally, what we’re most concerned about is the flourishing of art scenes and the development of museum infrastructures in Eastern Europe after its integration with the West.
KATA MIJATOVIĆ is a multimedia artist who works primarily in the medium of performance and video. At the 55th Venice Biennial, Kata Mijatović represented Republic of Croatia under curatorship of Branko Franceschi. She lives and works in Zagreb, Croatia.Branko Franceschi
BRANKO FRANCESCHI from 1987 to 2004 was a program director at the Miroslav Kraljevic Gallery in Zagreb, from 2004 to 2008 director of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka, Croatia, from 2008 to 2010 director of HDLU in Zagreb, Croatia. Since 2010 he has been the director of the Virtual Museum of the Avant-guard Art. Franceschi was the curator for the Croatian pavilion at the 16th Sao Paulo Biennial (2004), 52th Venice Biennial (2007), 11th International Architecture Exhibition, Venice Biennial (2008), 55th Venice Biennial (2013), co-curator of the ARK D-0 Biennial, Konjic, BIH and member of the curatorial team of the International Biennial of Young Artists, Bucharest (2006, 2012).