Untitled XXV, 1976
175 x 60 x 92 cm
The ghastly, burnt and enfeebled figure in Stjepan Gračan’s work Untitled XXV, is a paradigmatic concept of Biafra, a group of artists who used the shocking embodiments of victims to violently and fiercely criticise reality, the generally accepted petty-bourgeois conventions, but also the prevailing concept of Abstract art. The victim is embodied in the horrific distortion and dramatic movement, typical of Biafra, an individual who suffers because of politics and other people’s whims, ideologies and interests. In futile suffering, man becomes a monster.
In 1967, Stjepan Gračan (Prugovac, 1941 – Zagreb, 2022) obtained a degree in sculpture from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. He specialised in monumental sculpture after attending Antun Augustinčić’s Master Workshop, where he remained until 1971. In 1970, he founded the Art Group (Atelier) Biafra, together with sculptors Branko Bunić, Ratko Petrić and Miro Vuco. This group of socially engaged artists who worked in the expressionist style of New Figuration, criticising the contemporary world, was active until 1978. They took their name from the abandoned and devastated wing of the student dormitory in the centre of Zagreb where they lived, and together they staged fifteen group exhibitions. Since most of Gračan’s earlier oeuvre was destroyed in the fire that engulfed his studio in 1979, the tragedy of Gračan’s figures from the Biafra period is best represented by the four sculptures acquired at an earlier date for the NMMU collection. Since 1975, Stjepan Gračan often worked in theatre and television. In 1988, he became a professor of sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, where he later served as dean. He also participated in the founding of the Academy of Arts and Culture in Osijek. He staged as many as 30 solo exhibitions and created 28 public monuments, including the monuments to Vladimir Nazor in Zagreb, August Cesarec in Osijek, and the Frog Monument in Karlovac.
Lada Bošnjak Velagić, museum consultant of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb