Sculptor Ivan Meštrović – Cultural and Political Diplomat of 20th and 21st Century

  • Abstract:
    Beginning of the 20th century in Eastern and Central Europe was a turbulent period of the disintegration of the old states (Austro-Hungarian Empire) and the formation of the new ones (Kingdom of Yugoslavia). The repercussions of those events spread till the end of the century. Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović (1883 – 1962) played a decisive role as the creator of the south Slavic political ideas. He used the platform of exhibitions abroad to announce and expand the identity of the newly formed nation and to establish its position as cultural and political factor. During his Parisian period (1908 – 1909) he conceived the Vidovdan temple, the mythological paradigm of the liberation of Slavic peoples, and their transnational identity, which he introduced on the XXXV. Secession exhibition (Vienna, 1910). The following year while participating in the International Exhibition (Rome), he decided to exhibit in the Serbian pavilion, not in the Austro-Hungarian, making a strong political statement. In the years to come, his engagement intensified– he was the founding member of the Yugoslav Committee (1914 – 1918), a group of South Slavs from Austria-Hungary seeking to join the existing south Slavic nations in an independent state. Meštrović used the platform of one man exhibitions (Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1915) and joint projects (Exhibition of Yugoslav Artists, Petit Palais, Paris, 1919) as the tool of the dissemination of cultural and political diplomacy. In the period of the breakup of the second Yugoslavia, in the nineties, his role had been reassessed, providing the path to revision of his political and artistic persona. After the two decade hiatus, during which he was absent from big exhibitions, the entrance of Croatia in the EU was marked with his exhibitions (Paris, Stockholm). The paper will give historical review and its interpretation in the light of recent events.