The Siege of Oz, STAGE 1
In his current body of work The Siege of Oz, Nikola Vrljić, all the while with an intriguing distinction, is conceptually and formally continuing on in the direction already set by his previous exhibition The Circus!. Now, as it was then, the narrative is based on semantically loosely related sculptures which, even if they remain associatively disconnected, function very well as stand-alone works of art. This approach allows the artist to keep organically building on this narrative, currently exhibited in the Bačva Gallery, for the upcoming exhibition stages. On the other hand, Vrljić enables the visitor, inevitably confounded when faced with a monumental head, two sphinxes, a dancer with her leg raised up in the air, an iconic B-52 bomber leaning against a wall, and a crab, to create a narrative of his own. In terms of content, Vrljić remains his generation’s most prominent representative of figurative sculpture, equally convincing when dealing with male, female or animal motifs. The extravagant posture of the female figure with her leg held high is one of the most courageous sculptural solutions of the last couple of years. On the other hand, here stops all comparison with his previous work. Vrljić has won the acclaim of all those who had previously feared that competency in traditional sculptural craft had vanished from the local arts scene. And indeed, already at the very onset of his career Vrljić had made a significant contribution to naturalism in Croatian sculpture. This is just as true of the robust, firmly erect, belligerent male characters as of the the willowy animal figures.
A born sculptor, Vrljić obviously took pleasure in shaping the massive forms which, due to a good measure of physical and expressive credibility, powerfully dominate the space they are in. Their summary shapes, with no conspicuous details and roughly treated surfaces, had paradoxically even enhanced the sculptures’ raw believability. Even though the final material of the works had predominantly been acrylic resin, each sculpture could easily had been imagined in bronze. And here we touch on the neuralgic issue of the production connected with the traditional métier of a sculptor. Why even create something as a model that should then be cast in bronze, when this is effectively far beyond a young artist’s financial means? I would say that it is exactly with material that Vrljić’s current deconstruction of traditional sculpting begins, a deconstruction that allows him to bridge the gap between the traditional and the contemporary form of expression. Vrljić creates his recent works in polystyrene sheets, stacking them up to a desired height, and then shaping them by cutting into a desired form. In Vrljić’s hands the material presents itself as one that is easily shaped, enduring well the procedures of not only cutting and filing, but also subsequent interventions with various materials and colours for desired aesthetic effect. And the effect, precisely due to the use of contemporary materials and the decision that the finalised work will display not only the original material, but also the procedures of its primary manipulation, like the layering and gluing together of sheets, or their green and reddish, almost fleshlike colour, is outstandingly contemporary.
Going back to the semantic layers of Vrljić’s work, as previously, his proclivity for the grotesque in both content and form is well pronounced. We could say that the chosen theme of The Siege of Oz, which sounds like a reckoning with the society of spectacle, works in favour of his tendency to take a cynical commentary as a starting point in his interpretation of reality. Art can not change reality, nor even influence it, but no one, in a democracy, can forbid an artist to express his stance. Can one claim that in order to present an inauthentic reality, Vrljić has purposefully chosen synthetic, replaceable materials, or is this, as mentioned above, primarily an issue of production, the question, in fact, is of no essential significance, because unlike everyday life, The Siege of Oz is an altogether authentic artistic endeavour.
The Siege of Oz was exhibited in:
Meštrović Gallery, Split, Croatia in 2022
Bačva Gallery, HDLU, Zagreb, Croatia in 2022