There is no doubt that the widest audience, as well as the art critics, perceive the oeuvre of Edo Murtić as the pinnacle and the representation of ideal, optimistic embodiment of the aesthetic phenomenon of socialist modernism, which essentially marked the second half of the twentieth century of Croatian art and then common, but now historic Yugoslav cultural space. In the field of visual expression, Murtić's painting with its vivacious intensity - especially during the Fifties and Sixties - optimally reflected the positive aspects of the then state politics on creation of a human socialist society close to Western democracies, which introduced concepts and practices of Non-alignment movement and self-management socialism into the global Cold War division. For the generation of my parents, Murti
's energetic colouristic explosions marked the end of post-war poverty and the proverbial greyness of socialist societies. Murtić's artistic charisma will make him a bridge that, thanks to his success on prestigious international manifestations such as the Biennials in Venice and Sao Paulo, and Documenta, connected the local art scene with its international counterparts. His personal charisma made him a prominent and influential cultural professional beyond his political affiliation, and his authority in advocating and promoting leftist, democratic and anti-fascist values remained unquestionable and influential, especially when they became endangered during the last decade of his life.
The Copernican turn in the post-war Yugoslav society occurred in 1948 when its lifelong ruler Marshal Tito severed all ties with Stalin, thus enabling the state to come out of the political shadow of Soviet bloc. In culture, this split meant abandoning the aesthetics of socialist realism and opening up to the international tendencies of high modernism. In visual arts it led to the variations of abstract expressionism. This change of state politics will fruitfully change the country and in the coming decades it will permit the development of one of the most vibrant and permissive cultural environments. At that time Murti
was already one of the leading painters. He was creating in the line of lyric realism, but his cycle of coastal landscapes, executed with energetic linear gestures and presented at the end of the Forties, already showcased the tendency towards reduction in presentation. Murtić will strengthen this painting paradigm during his stay in the United States from 1951 to 1952, where he befriended Jackson Pollock and met James Brooks, Willem de Kooning and Richard Diebenkorn, thus experiencing action painting at its very source. The result was the anthological exhibition Experience of America, which would tour Yugoslav cultural centres in 1953 and with its abstract elements caused reactions after which nothing on the local art scene was ever the same again. In the spring of the same year, in the gallery of the Society of Architects in Zagreb, a group of artists EXAT 51 (1950 – 1956) presented the first exhibition of abstract art in the socialist world, while Tito on his boat Galeb/Seagull sailed up the Thames and arrived to London as the first leader of a socialist state in history to set foot on the British soil. This important year and the mentioned exhibitions will mark the beginning of the rift that will to date determine a certain duality and dynamics of the local art scene. The movement of which Murtić is the most exposed representative will be developing the abstraction, reducing the expression to colour splatters and gestures following the high modernism’s aesthetic postulate of the autonomy of artwork. This aesthetic line will evolve into a prevalent art movement locally known as socialist modernism and will also represent an institutionally dominant and favoured creative paradigm. The other creative line developed its aesthetics on the heritage of constructivism, from which stemmed multiple neo-avant-garde movements characterised by programmed activism and subversive tendencies. Locally it is known as the art of the ‘second line’, which despite its strong presence in galleries and public spaces achieved its full affirmation and institutional valorisation only during the recent decades. The co-existence of these two opposing art directions, which often resulted in heightened media controversy and objective existential rivalry, really represented the abundant richness of local art scene, and thus made it completely different from the rest of the proverbially solid, monolithically rigid socialist societies. Murtić's generation of artists was the first in local history and its context of eternal periphery, to create in synchronicity with actual international aesthetic paradigm. They formed a cultural environment that will enable the following generations of artists to be in the forefront of the forthcoming international art movements.
Energetic gesture, powerful colourism and general vitality of the cycle Experience of America announced an aesthetic paradigm that Murtić would further develop during the Sixties into monumental abstract compositions of his trademark art idiom. In the Fifties his compositions will still be closer to the European variance of abstract expressionism, art informel and tachisme. It was precisely this style of painting, rich in pictorial matter scattered into splatters of colour that brought him the first international success and established him as an internationally relevant artist. Murti
will regularly exhibit and gain rewards all over the world. One of the curiosities from this period happened after his renowned presentation at the 1958 Venice Biennial, when Peggy Guggenheim knocked on the door of his Zagreb atelier and on that occasion bought a few of his paintings.
In a country that during that period had the greatest economic development in its history and in the atmosphere of the building boom, Murtić was commissioned to create monumental works that decorated representative public buildings, luxury hotels and churches. Like every prolific artist, Murtić has successfully developed his creative paradigm throughout the whole repertoire of visual art disciplines, from easel painting, graphic cycles and drawings to murals, monumental mosaics, compositions in enamel and ceramic, and sculptures. Murtić also capitalised his artistic success as an influential cultural advocate. Among other achievements, in 1969, together with a group of artists, he founded the still active Forum Gallery in Zagreb, which gained its high reputation not only with the exhibitions of local artists, but also of Murtić’s international colleagues such as Emilio Vedova, Antoni Tapies, Joan Miró, Rafael Canogar and Eduardo Chillida.
Behind Edo Murtić remains a great opus and an important message about the social role and influence of a great artist. After these premises, Murtić family proposed a donation of a large number of his significant works to the City of Zagreb. In addition to the personal archives and documentation, the donation represents the proposal of a museum which will, under the patronage of the Murtić Foundation, present the interchangeable presentations of his oeuvre, exhibitions by his contemporaries, and art that continues and develops not only the aesthetics of high modernism, but also the values of liberal democracy which Murtić during his lifetime promoted with his work, standpoint and reputation.