Seventy artist’s books by Croatian artist Mladen Stilinović (Belgrade, 1947) will be presented in the library. Contrary to the customary approach to exhibiting valuable artist’s books – which are, after all, mostly shown in closed display cases - Stilinović’s books are displayed on the reading table.
In this respect, Stilinović is a trendsetter. To him, the essence of an artwork is in the relations between the topics that are raised and the availability to the public.
The exhibition’s title is derived from his first publication, of which 12 copies were made. They Spoke to Me to You from 1973is a good example of the way in which the artist demonstrates the interaction between the visual and the verbal. Each page has its own unique style to match the implement that he stumbled upon and that prompted the message formulated on that page.
Stilinović usually produces his books by hand, using the neutral and plain form of monochrome white A4 sheets covered with texts and drawings in pencil. He also combines collages and handwritten texts in - primarily - red and black chalk. Many of his books consist of loose sheets that, although they do have a linguistic sequence, are kept together with simple staples. Each sheet has its own impact, but the whole offers the reader more than just the sum of its parts.
Although the design and underlying concept of his artist's books are quite similar to the simple form of expression of the conceptual artist's book, he would rather not be categorised like that – even though there are clear parallels. Like conceptual artists, Stilinović plays with the relationship between language and image. He, too, wants his art to be accessible and affordable to a wide audience. In his view, books offer him this opportunity because they are easy to distribute, can be produced by the artists themselves and can express social opinions in pithy messages.
They also allow him to operate outside of the regular art scene so that he can fully concentrate on the message in his work and can determine the time and method of disclosure himself. Based on social opinions, Stilinović’s oeuvre responds to the society in which he lives: contemporary Croatia.
To paint a picture of the connection between Stilinović’s publications and the - primarily Western - artist’s book from the 1960s and 70s, this presentation juxtaposes his books with conceptual artist’s books by such artists as Stanley Brouwn, Seth Siegelaub and the projects Lucy Lippard put together in Vancouver in 1969. These conceptual artists demonstrate the use of language and art in an analytical manner. They reduce language to the essence of the statement, but externally, the result has many of the characteristics of Stilinović's artist’s books. There is more of a connection between the artist and the artistic expressions from the Fluxus period. They use language in a socially committed way that is sometimes accompanied by a great deal of verbal humour. The exhibition includes examples from artists such as Timm Ulrichs, La Monte Young and Wolf Vostell, but also shows the very rare publications of the International Artists Cooperation IAC (the Van Abbemuseum is the only museum in the Netherlands to possess the entire series!) and copies of Ovud, the Fluxus magazine. Neo-conceptual art uses a combination of the two and adds a melancholy cynicism, which is guaranteed by Pavel Büchler’s publications.