Cetin in Croatia
Amajor exhibition of the art of Anton Cetin, a distinguished Croatian-Canadianpainter opened in Rijeka on October 2, 2002. It was organized by the StateArchives in Rijeka (DAR) and theCity Gallery “Kortil.” It served also to inaugurate the new, expandedgallery of the State Archives, which is now one of the most attractiveexhibition spaces in Rijeka. The city supported the exhibition and donated spacein its most prominent exhibition facility, the “Kortil.” Anotherco-organizer was the GH, Globalna Hrvatska, a Croatian NGO making itsdebut as promoter of cultural links within the Global Croatia. The exhibitionwas opened by Professor Maja Frankovi, the Head of City of RijekaDepartment of Cultural Affairs. The author was present at the opening andpersonally oversaw the setting up of the exhibition, conceived and created bythe well-known Croatian art critic and gallerist, Lilijana Domi, who isalso the President of the GH.
Anton Cetin was born in Bojana near azma in Northwestern Croatia onSeptember 18, 1936. From an early age on he displayed an interest in art, and heenrolled in the Arts and Crafts School in Zagreb where he took his degree in theclass of Professor Ivan Šebalj in 1959. He continued his studies at the ArtAcademy of Zagreb (1959-1964), and graduated in graphic arts in the class ofProfessor Marijan Detoni. Cetin visited Paris for the first time in 1964, and hesettled there in 1966. The image of “Eve,” Cetin’s symbol of the femaleprinciple of life, was born in Paris in 1967. Cetin embarked on a new adventurein 1968 when he crossed the Ocean and settled in Canada (Toronto). He publishedhis first graphic series, Eve and the Moon in 1975, and in 1988, incooperation with the Croatian poet, Stjepan Šešelj, he produced a map AmerikaCroatan America. Both authors were received by the Holy Father Pope JohnPaul II in Rome in 1989. Cetin’s paintings were the topic of two movies, onein Germany (1990), another one in Toronto (1993). His works were selected by theprestigious Circulo del Arte in Barcelona in 2001.
Among honors Cetin has received we single out his meeting with the PrimeMinister of Canada Pierre Eliott Trudeau in 1976, and his selection as theArtist of the Year of the Croatian-Canadian Art Association in 1987. Acomprehensive monograph was published in Zagreb in 1986. Cetin has received twoCroatian state decorations – the Order of the Croatian Danica with the Imageof Marko Maruli, and the Order of Croatian Interlace.
So far he has had more than 80 one-man exhibitions, and hehas also participated in more than 150 group exhibitions. The Anton CetinGallery was opened in his native azma in 2001. His latest major exhibitionin Croatia was in Zagreb in 1996.
Almost one hundred paintings and drawings have been displayed at the DARand the “Kortil.” They mostly represent Cetin’s work during last fiveyears, with some going back about a decade, to create a link necessary forunderstanding Cetin’s newest phase. Among the exhibits are examples from hisanswer to the events of 9-11, 2001, entitled “A Universe Disturbed,” anddrawings from his recent “azma Cycle,” including some of the finestand most lyrical within his entire opus. It is truly a feast of beautiful color, line, and shape.Ms. Domic rightly says in a the handsome catalogue which accompanies theexhibition: “A Cetin painting can bereduced to four symbols. Three of them obvious – woman, bird, flower, whereasthe fourth symbolic place is literally a place, i.e., the unlimitedpicture space in which the woman, the bird, and the flower levitate. This spacecan hardly be defined by the language of visual arts, as it is neitherbackground, nor perspective, nor illusion. Still, it is defined by a background,the surface of paper or canvass which remains what it was: endless, without anyindication of depth, without any attempt to simulate infinity, even withoutelements which distinguish the left from the right, above from beneath.Cetin’s space remains unlimited, just like the Universe, or it is defined onlyby Cetin’s linearity, which has become a concept liberating the symbolin this process accompanying it until it turns into a pictogram. Anton Cetin’speculiar expression is defined, as we have stated, by summing up the symbols,cosmic summaries conveying lapidary serenity. Therefore, within the planetarycorpus of contemporary art we recognize them as Cetin’s symbolic syntax.”
So, Cetin is a universal artist, much sought for in Canada and elsewherein the West. To what extent is he also ours?
Contemplating the oeuvre of Anton Cetin, a doyen of Croatian artcriticism of the 20th century, Josip Depolo, wrote: “Cetin’semigrant fate may have severed him from the old country from time to time,”but “in no case has he been erased from the index of Croatian artists and fromthe history of contemporary Croatian art. He remains its inseparable companion.Cetin’s concentrated poetic symbols are going to represent a link in thechapter on purism in Croatian figuration, which has been lacking in the Europeancontinuity of (recent) Croatian art.”
After his departure and a prolonged absence is such an artist “lost toCroatia”, as Grgo Gamulin maintained in the case of Maksimilijan Vanka; ordoes he after all belong to “our index” as Depolo believed? Awards, prizes, and honors Cetin has received in Canada clearly show himas an artist of the Canadian mainstream, using a language understood by themainstream public, i.e., the universal language of art. Cetin does not operatewithin an ethnic, “Croatian” vocabulary, briefly a vocabulary of kitsch.
The creation of the new, sovereign Republic of Croatia has opened apossibility of new insights into that other half of Croatian national beingwhich has been moving, for over two centuries, abroad, primarily overseas.Although this possibility has not yet been fully realized (and exhibitions suchas this one are a step toward its gradual realization), it is quite clear thatwithin this new concept of Croatian global presence, a new index, unthinkable at the time of Depolo’s writing, hasbeen imposing itself. The index of a Global Croatia and its culture.
Cetin thus cuts across several indexes – Croatian, North American,Universal, and, which is of a special importance for ourselves – a GlobalCroatian index, a special version of an index of values which are (also) ours,and which are awaiting a more thorough historical and critical review. In thatchain which is slowly being put together in front of our eyes, the art of AntonCetin will surely represent a link of great importance.
The city of Rijeka could be seen as a window – Croatia’s window tothe world, and a window the world steps in and enters Croatia. It is a majorport and communications center, and it is also a major “cultural port” or a“gate”. The English Department at the School of Arts and Sciences, underleadership of Professor Branka Kalogjera, is one of the main centers of study ofCroatian expatriate literature The city has an active branch of Hrvatskamatica iseljenika, headed by Ms. Vanja Pavlovec. Cetin’s exhibition ismeant to inaugurate the practice of showing at least one Croatian diasporaartist per year. Traditionally a cosmopolitan and middle-class city, Rijekaseems to be taking its “window” role seriously. And this, I think, is good.The more “windows” and “gates” among Croatian communities around theworld, the better. And the greater is my optimism about a better and more securefuture for the entire Global Croatia.