Vilko Gecan
House in New York, 1932
51,5 x 40 cm

Along with Milivoj Uzelac, Vilko Gecan represents a kind of ‘second wave’ of modernist painting in Croatia, the period which coincides with the duration of World War I, that is, the period between the two world wars. This is due to the exceptional quality of his painting, but also the fact that the most prominent modernist painters in Croatia, Josip Račić and Miroslav Kraljević, died young, not even thirty years old. Further deepening of the aesthetics of modern painting in the works of Gecan and Uzelac is most visible through the influence of Expressionism, and later partly also the increasing presence of advertising iconography in their works. All four painters have had almost identical beginnings: they moved from Zagreb to Munich to attend the Academy or another painting school, and then to Paris.

“House in New York” belongs to Gecan’s American episode when he lived in Chicago and New York from 1928 to 1932, hoping to achieve success in a new market, still unaffected by the crisis. The painting deviates from the usual depiction of the metropolis. Not managing to fully adapt to the American environment, Gecan does not portray New York as a city of skyscrapers, but a city where buildings are in traditional proportion to man. He often goes to the banks of the Hudson River where he paints unurbanized or industrial areas, trees, one-storey buildings, anything that reminds him in some way of the suburbs of Paris or Zagreb. When he is not out painting in plein air, he stays home and paints still lifes and portraits. “House in New York” is a descriptive watercolour. Gecan depicts a type of New York building without stylization; the forms are clearly delineated, the surfaces are filled with colours that correspond to the actual scene. Gecan has never officially belonged to New Objectivity, a European art movement from the period between the two world wars that insisted on realism and the social engagement of art, but he was never closer to it than in the American phase of his work.

Text: Klaudio Štefančić, curator of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2022
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Foto: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2022

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