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Olga Jevrić – Space in a Habitat Ia,1966/74, Ferric-oxide, iron, 37 x 40 x 78 cm. Digital Archive of the Heritage House, Belgrade

OPENING: Thursday 27 June, 18:00 – 20:00

This summer PEER presents a group of sculptural works produced between the late 1940s and early 1990s by acclaimed Serbian artist Olga Jevrić  (1922 ­– 2014).

After studying at both the Belgrade Academy of Fine Arts (1943 – 48) and the Belgrade Academy of Music (1942 – 46), Jevrić initially pursued a traditional artistic path by creating figures, portraits and reliefs in the realist tradition of the time. By the mid 1950s however she began to move away from figuration and developed a unique language of abstraction, which had no sculptural precedence in Yugoslavia at that time.

Jevrić worked primarily with a mixture of cement, iron dust, rods and nails, to create a range of distinct forms that investigate the relationship between solid matter and void; weight and weightlessness; containment and release. The surface of the works are roughly textured and pitted as if created by nature, rather than the artist’s hand. Jevrić referred to her work as ‘spatial compositions’ rather than sculptures, suggesting how her musical training provided her with an understanding of how abstract form, like tone and timbre, can be used to highly expressive ends.

As a witness to the Second World War and its aftermath, Jevrić sought to explore the spiritual roots, cultural foundation and social conditions of the besieged, war-torn environment in which her work developed. She was also fascinated with and took inspiration from the limestone carved medieval tombstones – Stecci – that lay scattered across Yugoslavia, which subsequently formed an emotionally rich and complex source for her work.

A large number of Jevrić’s works are small in scale, some less than 10cm in height. These were sometimes created as models for larger civic sculptures in response to national competitions for public memorials commemorating the struggles of the Yugoslav people during the war. Although her Proposal for Monuments remained unrealised as pubic sculpture, these smaller pieces retain an immediate and powerful presence and serve as extraordinary sculptural works in their own right. Jevrić often worked in series, developing the same abstract configuration into medium sized works of around a metre in height, and then scaled up again to floor-standing works.

Notably, Jevrić’s work also resonates with some of the formal qualities of other post-war sculptural tendencies that connected with the prevailing human condition – expressive of vulnerability and anxiety as well as hope. In Britain this was articulated by artists whose work was identified by the critic Herbert Read as inhabiting a 'geometry of fear' (whose work she would have seen when it was collectively exhibited at the 1952 Venice Biennale). During the 1950s and 60s Jevrić undertook many study trips including to France, England, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Greece and Poland when she would have seen a range of other contemporary European artists’ works. In 1958 her international standing was confirmed when she was chosen to represent Yugoslavia in Venice. In 1966 she was granted a year-long study Ford Foundation Fellowship when she visited many major arts centres across the United States.

By way of bringing Jevrić’s extraordinary work to contemporary British audiences, Richard Deacon (who met the artist at her studio on a number of occasions) and Phyllida Barlow and have been invited to write personal responses to this artist’s work. These texts will be included in a planned publication to be launched in September. Both Barlow and Deacon have also generously contributed their ideas to the selection of works and the exhibition design. 

An exhibition that focused on Jevrić’s Proposals for Monuments was presented at the Henry Moore Institute in 2006, but this will be Jevrić’s first solo exhibition in London.