The Gory Glory of Jugokeramika

The recently closed exhibition in the Museum of Arts and Crafts “The Porcelain Sheen  of Socialism“ presented three decades worth of industrially molded designs within Jugokeramika Factory, emphasizing the design trends and especially the designers’ axis (Jelena Antolčić, Anica Kuhta Severin, Dragica Perhač and Marta Šribar), who demonstrated the whole array of Yugoslav design despite the thankless position of women in the industry.

In the former Yugoslavia, the fifties were marked by rapid renovations, forced industrialisation and gradual turning toward the West. Extremely strong avant-garde streaming expressed through EXAT’51 as well as newly established theater, music and film festivals; first publications of magazines such as Svijet (The World) or Arena along with the airing of TV programmes formed a new type of social stratification. It is quite easy to characterize such an economic miracle as Yugoslavia’s Golden Era which proceeded to become even more consumerist in the sixties. Thus, that’s the general context in which the Jugokeramika factory began with its production in 1953.

Hence the exhibition “The Porcelain Sheen of Socialism” with a somewhat nostalgic overtone implies a sentimental journey in time. The fact that it is possible to find certain dining sets in your grandmother’s cabinets which will remind you of your primary school meals, confirms such an assumption. It is not by chance (or is it?) that the exhibition opening coincided with the shutting down of the Inker factory, ruined during the market economy transition (in 1991), thus it seems that this exhibition performed last rites on the factory. Throughout the complete production, as well as in the catalogue’s introductory, exceptionally severe criticism of factory managers can be observed. It is evident that the managing directors of Jugokeramika, and later Inker, lacked marketing strategies despite having brilliant designers. On that account alone, the Museum of Arts and Crafts marketing scheme is excellent: if you didn’t chance to buy a cup, set of cups or vases in the NAMA or any similar shop, you can now exclusively purchase it in the Museum shop. It is a somewhat paradoxical fact that the industrially designed service, once upon a time aimed at mass usage, is now becoming accessible as a rare collector’s item or souvenir. Unfortunately, at the moment, there’s nothing else left for Jugokeramika. Aside from reminiscing about the good old days.

At the same time, the exhibition of Vienna classical porcelain from the Marton Museum collection is taking place at the Museum of Arts and Crafts. An utter contrast to the elegant minimalism and functionalism of Jugokeramika’s sets! The Vienna porcelain is of bourgeois provenance, steeped in the sheer luxury and lavishness of its design and structure. It is a sort of imperial privilege in itself.  By juxtaposing the Jugokeramika exhibition in the same Museum area with the Vienna porcelain, their significance is inevitably being compared and contrasted. On the one hand, craft-master manufactures working at an imperial palace, on the other hand the working-class employed in factories and managing machines. On the one hand, eighteen-century-long imperialism of the Austrian monarchy, and on the other hand the 1950’s and ’60’s Yugoslavian self-government concept. However, within the concept of musealisation, it’s seemingly possible to place such contrasts under the common denominator of exclusive utensils targeted at the elite. For that matter, the exhibition of the Vienna porcelain, bears the title Showpieces, marking objects of extraordinary quality, and as such, may only belong to the extraordinary. It appears to be more important to present Jugokeramika as a phenomenon of extremely successful industry in Yugoslavia and the beginning of mass production, rather than the history of utensils design through following trends. Yet, the conventional museum exhibition framework often represents exactly the history of a certain artifact through inspired, creative individuals.  The critic and theorist Boris Groys emphasises that for the reception of art the museum per se is superfluous, to the point of being detrimental due to the contrast between the profane environment where the object is situated, and decontextualised museum premises. He furthermore explains how museum evaluation is solely the act of creating a tangible line between the objects that will make the collection cut and those that will be thrown in the trash, so to speak.

Maybe our next step should be awareness of the fact that the value and quality of certain objects is not created at the moment of museum’s authorisation as a supernatural force, but that in such cases only a little common sense is necessary. The donation of utensils that complete the museum collection should not be the Inker factory’s final move, it would rather be far more important to revive manufacture and hold on to a quality product. This way, we’ll probably start importing our own designs under a foreign name, or continue to view them under glass showcases as we do today.