1950 - 1956
The EXAT 51 Group (Experimental Atelier 51) was founded in Zagreb and began its activities with the reading of Manifesto at plenary meeting of the Croatian Association of Artists of Applied Art, held on 7 December 1951. Bernardo Bernardi, architect and designer, read it in the name of all the members and signatories of the Manifesto: Zdravko Bregovac, architect; Ivan Picelj, painter, graphic artist and designer; Zvonimir Radić, architect; Božidar Rašica, architect, stage designer and painter; Vjenceslav Richter, architect and sculptor; Aleksandar Srnec, painter and sculptor; and Vladimir Zarahović, architect. Vladimir Kristl, painter and animated filmmaker, joined the Group later.
The Group began to come together at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb during the Second World War. Ivan Picelj and Aleksandar Srnec knew each other from 1941, and in 1943 they began to study at the Academy. The third important person in forming the initial new stands about the purpose of art, and preparing the ground for the EXAT 51 Group, was architect Vjenceslav Richter. Richter and Picelj met in 1946 to design the Slavija Hotel in Opatija, and a year later Picelj introduced Richter to Srnec, and the nucleus of the future Group EXAT 51 began to develop.
In their activities members of the group, young architects, artists and designers, abandoned traditional expressions in the fine arts and emphasized the heritage of geometric abstractions and avant-garde thought.
They followed the theory and practice of the Bauhaus movement and saw abstraction as synonymous with the right of the artist to experiment and choose his own artistic expression.
In 1949 Ivan Picelj, Vjenceslav Richter, Aleksandar Srnec and the architect Zvonimir Radić made designs for the Yugoslav Pavilion in Paris, and in the same year Picelj, Richter and Srnec made designs for the Yugoslav Pavilion in Vienna and the Yugoslav Pavilion in Stockholm, preparing the ground plans and interiors and making all the architectural drawings. In 1950 they were engaged to design the Yugoslav Pavilion in Hannover, and in the same year Picelj and Radić also worked on the Yugoslav Pavilion for the International Fair in Chicago.
In their activities members of the group, young architects, artists and designers, abandoned traditional expressions in the fine arts and emphasized the heritage of geometric abstractions and avant-garde thought. They followed the theory and practice of the Bauhaus movement and saw abstraction as synonymous with the right of the artist to experiment and choose his own artistic expression. Therefore, it can be said that the principal goal of EXAT 51 was the freedom of expression rather than abstraction as such. The first spiritual heritage they tapped was the practice of Gropius’s Bauhaus in Dessau, the Hochschule für Gestaltung (1919-1933). However, it was the establishment of the second Hochschule für Gestaltung, the New Bauhaus, founded in 1953 in Ulm under the leadership of Max Bill, that was a more important influence. EXAT 51 theory and practice rested on the ideas of Gropius and Max Bill, on their aspiration to achieve Gezamkunstwerk – the organic reunification of all the fine arts. The EXAT 51 vision of artistic creativity was a continuation of the cultural heritage of movements of the first half of the twentieth century, which championed meaningful space design.
When we analyze their work it becomes obvious that these young members of the group were combination of practical artists and theorists who could breathe life into the EXAT ideas declared in the Manifesto, justify them practically and theoretically, and each continue for many years to work in their own authentic style based on these postulates.
Through experiments with forms, materials, media, and tools of drafting and design they helped to advance a movement that spread throughout Europe at that time (similar to the Espace group in Paris or the Movemento Arte Concreta in Milan). Within this movement, EXAT 51 promoted an active art, taking political chances and creating novel expressions.