Olga Jevrić’s work has a special place in the pantheon of post-war European sculpture. Born in Belgrade in 1922 Jevrić developed her unique visual language at a time when, amidst the ideological constraints of Socialist Realism, there was little space for personal expression. Yugoslavia’s 1948 schism with the Soviet Union marked the start of a new era for the country. A turn to the West led, amongst other things, to a Henry Moore exhibition, which travelled to Belgrade, Zagreb and Ljubljana in 1955. The following year the exhibition Modern Art in United States: Selection from the Collection of MOMA NY toured the country, while 1958-9 saw the important architectural exhibition Built in USA: Post War Architecture do the rounds of Yugoslavia.
Dating from first part of the 1950s, Olga Jevrić’s earliest abstract works consist of a series of proposals for memorial monuments, none of which were ever realised in the monumental way she had envisaged them. Principally this was because these sculptures, or – as she liked to call them – ‘spatial compositions’, belonged to the domain of ‘high modernism’, abstractions of a non-associative type, they were the first such works in the history of Serbian sculpture. Jevrić typified them both as a departure ‘from learned schemes’ and as an opportunity ‘to be true to myself and to give myself freedom’. Her early work is fundamentally linked to medieval Balkan Stećci, monolithic medieval tombstones scattered around Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro, leading Jevrić to assert that she could not have made her sculptures anywhere other than in her home country. They are, she explains, informed by ‘war, uncertainty, the slaughter of innocent people, social upheavals and disorder of all social norms’.
Jevrić claims her sculptures derive from the ‘the system of constructing based on dialectical structural principles’. They represent a leap from a sculpture of the body to a spatial abstract sculpture. Through this movement they manage to unite opposites, bringing together an expressive, rebellious existentialist attitude with decidedly constructivist tendencies. Although she made bronzes, her true material was concrete mixed with iron dust which would oxidise to give these works their colour. It was a period when traditional sculptors’ materials were being replaced by industrial materials. It was also a time when Olga’s preferred choice of concrete and iron was becoming omnipresent in Yugoslavia, state-of-the-art modernist towns, such as New Belgrade springing up everywhere. If they were giving shape to a new Yugoslavia, then these materials were also prompting new ways of making sculpture. From now on ‘sculpting’ would be referred to as ‘building’, a term Olga often used. She deployed a variety of techniques. In her early works an initial idea would find form in clay, before being covered with molten metal, most often iron. Later, she would mix cement with iron dust, a compound she called ‘feroxide’. Larger works she would produce in parts, constructing a frame of wooden slats covered with wire mesh, the whole over-poured with the ‘feroxide’ mixture and held together by iron rods.
Olga Jevrić (1922-2014) graduated from the Belgrade Music Academy in 1946 where she studied piano. In 1948 she graduated from the Belgrade Art Academy. She also studied History of Art at Belgrade’s Faculty of Philosophy. She was a member of Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, contributing to the Visual Arts Encyclopaedia of Yugoslavia and was the founder of the Dictionary of Visual Culture. Her work was included in Yugoslav Pavilion at the 1958 Venice Biennial. The following year she showed in Galleria Notizie, Turin and then, in 1962, at Drian Galleries in London. The same year, her works were included in the exhibition ‘Contemporary Yugoslav Painting and Sculpture’ at the Tate Gallery and then in 1970 ‘Contemporary Yugoslav Sculpture’ at the Hayward Gallery. In 2014, eleven of her small works, ‘Proposals for the Monuments’, were shown at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds
In parallel with our show at Handel Street Projects there will be a comprehensive survey of Olga Jevrić’s work at PEER, London from 28 June – 14 September. It will be the first of its kind in Britain.
Handel Street Projects would like to thank Olga Jevrić’s family, Milesa Radivojević and Marko Djukić, our colleagues in Belgrade, Academician Dusan Otasević, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts Curator Zaklina Marković, Heritage House Director Filip Brusić Renaud and their Curator Dejan Vucetić, Museum of Contemporary Art Chief Curator Zoran Erić and their advisor Dr. Rajka Bosković, Serbian Ambassador in London Aleksandra Joksimović, and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia for their help, support and advice.