New Tendencies

written by Darko Fritz

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The project international maps the plurality of art directions represented through exhibitions, symposiums and publications which were held under the terms of the New Tendencies, the New Tendency and the Tendencies [hereafter jointly as NT], in Zagreb and in other centres and locations for presentations, from 1961 to 1973, taking NT as a dynamic international network and a stage for different but unarguably advanced artistic theories and practices of the 1960s in the Contemporary Art Gallery [what is today the Contemporary Art Museum, Zagreb], within the City of Zagreb Galleries, which organized five NT exhibitions in Zagreb from 1961 to 1973, while major exhibitions were also held in Paris, Venice and Leverkusen. A joint exhibition of European artists in 1961 grew into an international movement that would be referred to as the NT, also significant for gathering artists, gallery owners and theoreticians during the Cold War, first from Eastern and Western Europe [and dissidents from South America], and, from 1965 onwards, also those from USA, the Soviet Union and South America, and subsequently from Africa and Asia. Such a unique situation was realized by the cultural and geo-political position of Zagreb, in the then socialist and unaligned Yugoslavia.


The exhibition bit international maps and positions three phases of NT:
1. Forming the international movement and its dispersion, 1961 – 1965
2. Introducing the section of ‘Computers and Visual Research,’ 1968 - 1973
3. Introducing the section of Conceptual Art, 1973.



The First Exhibition of NT in 1961


presented, as the very title suggests, the plurality of avant-garde of the time, with the whole array of themes and subjects: neo-constructivist and concrete art, tautological and monochromatic painting and visual research through algorithm works. Movement and light were introduced as themes and materials, which will subsequently be focused as the guideline of the following NT exhibition through the promotion of instable media and [inter]active participation of the audience with the work of art i.e. the result of the research. During the exhibition, participants, instigated by the unique meeting of like artists and theoreticians, spontaneously organized themselves into an international network, with the idea of continuing organizing biannual exhibitions. A larger group of artists met again in November 1962 in the Parisian studio of the GRAV group, while the next year of 1963 saw the NT 2 exhibition taking place in Zagreb, now as an international movement, a podium for profiled type of art of the new [industrial and focused on the future] era, which experiences itself as a social and artistic avant-garde that, through critical questioning of the visual, strives for social change, and which, through visual experiment and a positive stance towards science and the operation of machines, abolishes the notion of the complete – unique – work of art, thereby, just like earlier avant-garde movements, participating in abolishing art. The exhibition presents numerous works of programmed and light-kinetic art, while NT is profiled as the largest international exhibition and the most comprehensive network of the art stated.


The catalogue of the second NT exhibition (1963) features the text by Matko Meštrović, which was later revealingly dubbed the Ideology of New Tendencies, which it surely is according to its programmatic and theoretical structure. The text picks up where the ideas stated by François Morellet left off, who published a brief note in the catalogue of an earlier NT exhibition, in 1961: "We are on the eve of a revolution in art which shall be equally large as the one in the field of science. Therefore, the common sense and the spirit of systematic research need to replace intuition and individualistic expression". Demythologization of art and demystification of the creative process are also proclaimed through a positive approach to industrial production of works of art [the possibilities of multiplication so essential], team work and rational approach. Meštrović calls for speeding up the evolution and synthesis of science and art, within the framework of rendering humanities and art more scientific, as part of the long-term [utopian] process of overall rendering of all human activity into science. Meštrović considers that this process can be actively started within the framework of art immediately, ditto for the display of a global model, striving to act in the sphere of culture using a smaller scale, e.g. through the appropriation of scientific methods such as the experiment. The problems of scheduling all material and spiritual goods in equal measure and the return of scientific results into the public domain emerge. He does not see NT works as unique goods for the artistic market, but as "plastic-visual research that strives to determine objective psycho-physical bases of the plastic phenomenon and visual perception, thereby excluding any possibility of involving subjectivism, individualism and Romanticism..." [1]. Further, the thesis on final overcoming of art as we know it was developed, through developing the conscience of the world using a metamorphosis of the social into the artistic act, which actively transforms the whole world.[2]

The exhibition NT2 held in Venice had a different title than the NT2 in Zagreb a year earlier. The New Tendencies changed the title into the New Tendency [singular], as it was explained but two years later, since the singular was also accepted for the following, Zagreb exhibition in 1965, "because of the striving for the conceptual concentration of intentions and joint ideas". The clash between different factions within the NT movement also created the labelling of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ works and artists, according to ever stricter formal criteria. The democratic characteristics of the first NT exhibition were replaced by a dogmatic (single view) approach, presented and enforced on behalf of progress and the consistency of artistic ideas. What with inflexibility, the lack of compromise as far as ideas are concerned, but surely on account of lack of a democratic model of communication within an undetermined hierarchy of the movement, which understands itself as democratic and expands at the same time to increasing numbers of participants, NT faced own internal crisis and numerous squabbles in mid-1960s. From the outside, the ideas of NT enter the mainstream and are reshaped using simplifications, while their social engagement, once in the forefront, is being neglected. The symptoms stated can also be discerned in case of the Responsive Eye exhibition, held in the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1965, where numerous NT artists participated as well, but their work however was immersed in the commercial context focussed more on retinal effects that the social dimension of artistic work [after this exhibition, the term of "op art" appears]. Many artists, which was also internationally recognized, rendered own style in commercial directions and blended into the commercial system of the culture industry, which they often severely criticized earlier.


Within the two-year manifestation of “Tendencies 4,” during 1968 and 1969, a series of exhibitions and symposiums were held under the title of “Computers and Visual Research”.[3] The leading discourse on computers and visual research was the IT aesthetics developed by Max Bense and Abraham Moles, which was also presented in the new magazine of Bit International [nine issues were published from 1968 to 1973], and during presentations within the symposiums. Using the same methodology, new visual research with computers could now be analyzed with the help of the same principle used in earlier NT phases, and their aesthetic value “measured” in utmost rational terms[4].


Within the exhibition, Vladimir Bonačić also exhibited an installation in a public space, along gallery exhibits, a 36-metre long, computer generated light installation at the Kvaternik Square in Zagreb. Bonačić was a scientist who, influenced by NT, started doing works of art, expanding on his scientific work with aesthetic categories. That is, his works are regularly made following exact mathematics methods [the algorithm of which is contained in the title of the work], while viewing them leads to cognitive insights, through observing sequences of visualized symmetric or asymmetric compositions of the mathematic algorithm of the Galois field [a system of pseudo-random algorithms][5]. Bonačić probably, using his computer generated installations in the public space, realized, although briefly, the previously stated utopia of NT: the work is exact, science was humanized, art was rendered scientific, the work was realized by using machinery and programming intentional software and constructing new hardware, it can be multiplied, it is socially active and democratic – it even had a utilitarian function at the level of city lighting [which was then read as a critique of consumer society in the context of lighted advertisements in the public space[6]]. Up to 1971, Bonačić did three further installations in public spaces in Zagreb, and one in Belgrade.

Computer generated art within NT was seen in the context of the continuity of previously presented artistic ideas within the framework of NT, and positioned in a wider sense in new contexts. More than ever, the conjunction of theory and practice was realized through an array of exhibitions, symposiums and printed publications in the period from 1968 - 1973, and as such, this phase of NT is unique in world history in terms of continuous creation and context, and the connection between the theory and practice of computer use in art. Apart from continuing upon the original ideas of the NT ideology, the use of computers in the context of visual and artistic research also expanded the context of understanding the concept of programme in art, so often mentioned in the first phase of NT, which can now be located in the very software. New participants, mostly scientists from universities and private and public corporations, unconsciously radicalized the ideas implied in the constructivist, neo-constructivist and concrete art: the central position of the ‘idea,’ ‘structure’ and ‘concept.’ The standpoint of the Brazilian artist and an active NT participant, Waldemar Cordeiro, that computer art had replaced the constructivist one[7], can be traced through the history of NT.


The final exhibition “tendencies 5”, in 1973, was composed of three parts: “constructive visual research”, “computers and visual research” and “conceptual art”[8]. Organizers tried to merge these three artistic practices through the notion of the programme and by the works not being executed by the artist himself/herself. Radoslav Putar, the then Director of the Contemporary Art Gallery, used the term of “data processing” – describing the methods of conceptual art[9].


In the section of conceptual art, Sol Lewitt exhibits the "Wall Painting," created by the exhibition workforce, according to textual instructions encapsulated within a single sentence[10], which can also be viewed as a programme [the algorithm of descriptive geometry, expressed by text]. A media conscious work of "I am still Alive" by On Kaware was also exhibited, realized as five identical telegram messages, addressed in advance to Radoslav Putar, the Director of the Zagreb Gallery and President of the Organizing Committee of t5. The work structure can be considered a programme as well, using information and [tele]communication as its materialization, being simultaneously an institutional critique by its contents, and a speech by an artist in the first person singular.


The symposium of “The Rational and Irrational in Contemporary Art” was a unique place where participants from all three artist groups and accompanying theoreticians were engaged in an open dialogue, that was however characterized by mutual misunderstanding.


The manifestation of tendencies 6 was not fully held, just its part of the symposium Art and Society, in 1978, which can be read as the idea of the organizers to question social issues still remaining present, but the artistic practice and the contemporary new tendencies overweighing to the side of conceptual art, which will mark itself as the dominant discourse, and continuously set new canons of the contemporary art for decades to come[11].


In the NT case study, one can monitor the historical development of the relation of art, science and [new] technology, especially of the use of the computer in art, and the dynamic, and sometimes disproportionate, relation between the corresponding artistic practices and theories, in several settings in the period 1961 - 1973. Organizers and participants, within the very movement, and through several temporal phases, re-contextualized own actions. As examples of the use of new technologies and new materials, one can view most of the works from the initial position of NT in the beginning of the 1960s, while the position itself is more than clear through light-kinetic art and subsequently by diverse use of the computer in arts. The final phase, along with the first two, included conceptual art as well, that again uses different (tele)communication media such as video, Xerox, photograph and telex. . Furthermore, within the very NT, historical consciousness and the contextualization of the then recent work within art history is present, through the understanding of the programme in a work of art[12] and a more encompassing “dialogue with the machine," including corresponding formal [visual] and social aspects.


Artistic directions of the 1960s and of the beginning of the 1970s, presented within NT [e.g., concrete, computer and conceptual art] can seem irreconcilable at the first glance, but one can view them through the prism of understanding the notion of the programme and the relation to the machine, as suggested by the organizers of NT themselves. The first discourse on understanding the programme in art can be discerned in concrete, neo-constructivist, perceptual and light-kinetic art, and similar artistic directions that are characteristic of the first phase of NT up to mid-1960s, the other context in computer generated works, and, finally, in conceptual art.


Furthermore, through the NT case study, it is possible to monitor the development of institutional and extra-institutional [self]organization of artistic production and theory in the time period given. Except for the global network of NT itself, the development of individual artistic groups[13] and formations is significant, from those ‘purely’ visually artistic [e.g., Equipo 57 from Spain; Gruppo N, Gruppo T, MID, Gruppo 63, Operativo R and Azimuth from Italy; Zero and Effekt from Germany; Nul from the Netherlands, Anonima Group from USA, the Anonymous Group from Hungary], through inter-disciplinary artistic teams [e.g., such as Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visuel GRAV from France] who strived for and sometimes realized cooperation with scientists, to scientists who operate through teamwork naturally and who ‘crossed over’ to the artistic territory [Compos 68 from Utrecht, Vladimir Bonačić from the Ruđer Bošković Institute, Zagreb], or artistic groups which cannot be presented so in their homelands due to the dogma of soc-realism, but presented themselves as groups of engineers [Diviženije from USSR], inter-disciplinary corporate teams that appear frequently in case of computer visual research [Bell Laboratories and Calcomp from USA], and student groups gathered around university computer centres [Madrid, Vincennes, Buenos Aires].

The very process of organizing NT manifestations and international networking was marked by different types of communication and teamwork, and organizing different committees for particular programmes. Through popularization and by gaining in importance, NT passed through numerous disagreements between the organizers themselves and different factions, especially between the participants of the first phase of NT, which considered itself a movement. The peak of complexity of the organization of NT was reached during the manifestation of "tendencies 4," which, following detailed preparations, was realized within a year [1968 - 1969], in the form of 14 circular mails – newsletters [PI – the Programme of Information], a panelled competition, six exhibitions, two symposiums, the initiation and publishing of the initial three issues of the magazine "Bit international" and finally by publishing the exhibition catalogue.


In mid-1990s, during the peak of the internet revolution, hardly anyone was interested in the history of computer generated art. The keywords of the day in media and contemporary art were ‘international network,’ ‘the use of computers’ and ‘social engagement’ – all keywords that describe NT.


The reasons for ignoring the history of media art can also be viewed through its constant direction to the future, until the appearance of low-tech art by the end of the 1990s in case of artistic production, and from the start of academic fashion which started around 2004 in case of institutions[14]. Not speaking of computer generated art, but retrospectively reassessing the historical path of the first phase of NT [1961 - 1965], the words by Radoslav Putar from 1969 sound as if he had been talking about media art in general: "since NT were completely facing the future, and since these contained elements of that future within themselves, their core also conceived a negation of own inception"[15] Not even having a premonition just how the relations he envisioned would prove true for the development of local and world cultural industry and a violently peripheral position of Zagreb, the same text contains remarks by Putar that "the germ of the phenomenon and of this manifestation [NT] was conceived, developed and emitted in this environment ... there are also traces that elements of provincial limits on one hand, and cultural imperialism on the other, are already aggressively wrapping this up under the fog of silence and are preparing a definite negation" Cultural imperialism and its industry do not allow countries set on the periphery of the power map, such as Croatia, to present alone or outside the criteria given and the systems of control outside the positions of the centres of the same power, so larger presentations such as NT and similar phenomena, in order to be taken seriously, must accordingly be presented exclusively through the Western cultural mechanism, in case they wish to communicate at the global level. In case of NT, it is also the whole of Europe that has been marginalized, in terms of America[16]. It is forgotten meanwhile that NT is not cultural goods from Zagreb, Croatia, Eastern Europe or Europe exclusively, but that it belongs, even if viewing according to this caricature of limiting territorial definition, to a large number of countries, while it probably truly belongs but to the international cultural community of the modernist heritage, the product and part of history of which it truly is.


[1] Matko Meštrović, Untitled, New Tendencies 2, the catalogue, 1963. Published subsequently under the title of the Ideology of New Tendencies in the book Matko Meštrović: From the Particular to the General, Mladost, Zagreb, 1967, and  DAF, Zagreb, 2005. Also cf. the essay by Matko Meštrović: Rendering Scientific as the Condition for Humanization, the text from 1963 published in From the Particular to the General, Mladost, Zagreb, 1967, and DAF, Zagreb, 2005.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Regarding computer visual research in NT, cf. Herbert W. Franke: New Tendencies in Zagreb, in Thobias Hoffman and Rasmus Kleine [eds.]: Die Neuen Tendenzen - Eine europäische Künsterbewegung 1961-1973, Museum für Konkrete Kunst, Ingoldstadt, 2006. and Darko Fritz: Amnesia International in I am still Alive, Mi2, Zagreb, 2000, and Amnesia International - Early Computer Art and the Tendencies Movement in Bitomatik - Art Practice in the Time of Information/Media Domination,, Novi Sad, 2004.

[4] The first two issues of the magazine Bit international are almost completely dedicated to the same problems and authors. Also cf.: Cristoph Klütsch: Computer Graphic-Aesthetic Experiments between Two Cultures, Leonardo, vol. 40, no. 5, pp. 432 - 425, 2007.

[5] Cf.: Vladimir Bonačić, Kinetic Art: Application of Abstract Algebra to Objects with Computer-Controlled Flashing Lights and Sound Combinations, in: Leonardo, vol. 7, Oxford/New York: Pergamon Press 1974, pp. 193 onwards. On work by Bonačić: Darko Fritz: Vladimir Bonačić, Man and Space, no. 8, Zagreb, 2006, and Darko Fritz: Vladimir Bonačić: Dynamic Objects (1968–1971) - Computer-Generated Works Made in Zagreb within the New Tendencies Art Network (1961 – 1973), Leonardo, vol. 41, no. 1, 2008.

[6] Želimir Koščević, The Light of a New Urban Culture, in: Telegram, no. 479, dated  4 July 1969., pp. 17.

[7]  Constructivism belongs to the past, its contents which correspond to paleo-kibernetic era is computer art“, statement from Waldemar Cordeiro: Analogical and/or Digital Art, Symposium t-5, The Rational and Irrational in Visual Research Today, Match of Ideas, 2 June 1973, Contemporary Art Museum Archives.

[8] On conceptual art in NT cf. Ines Bauer: Conceptual Tendencies a Supplement to “Visual Research" – the openness of New Tendencies, in Thobias Hoffman and Rasmus Kleine [eds.]: Die Neuen Tendenzen - Eine europäische Künsterbewegung 1961-1973, Museum für Konkrete Kunst, Ingoldstadt, 2006.

[9] Radoslav Putar, Untitled, Tendencies 4, 1968/69, exhibition catalogue, Contemporary Art Gallery, Zagreb, 1970.

[10] "A straight Line from the Mid-Point of the Left Side of the Page through the Centre toward the Mid-Point of the Right Side", Sol Lewitt, Wall Drawing, 1973, in the catalogue Tendencies 5, Zagreb: Contemporary Art Gallery, 1973.

[11] E.g., in one such general survey of Art since 1900 by Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H.D: Buchloh [Thames and Hudson, New York, 2004], NT has not even been mentioned, except through minimum mention of the participants to GRAV, in the chapter under a significant re-contextualizing title French Conceptualist painting.

[13] On the groups from the first phase of NT, cf.: a chapter in The Appearance of Groups in the New Tendencies Movement, in Jerko Denegri: The Art of Constructive Approach, Horetzky, Zagreb, 2000, pp. 352 - 357.

[14] The first more significant conference was the REFRESH! First International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology, Banff New Media Institute, Banff, 2005., the continuation of which is re:place 2007, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2007, and the following one re:live 2009, which is to take place in Australia. Archives at The first conference partly produced the book of Oliver Grau [ed.]: MediaArtHistories, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England, 2007.

[15] Radoslav Putar, Untitled, Tendencies 4, 1968/69, exhibition catalogue, Contemporary Art Gallery, Zagreb, 1970.

[16] It is interesting to observe American arrogance embodied in the words by Frank Stelle: 'The GRAV actually painted all the patterns before I did - all the basic designs that are in my paintins ....I didn't know about it, and in spite of fact that they used those ideas, those basic schemes, it doesn't have to do with my paintings' – a radio interview from 1964, the transcript published in Artnews, September 1966, the quote from Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H.D: Buchloh: Art since 1900 , Thames ans Hudson, New York, 2004.