|Černigoj at the beginning of his "jeans" phase in Trieste (Trst), c. 1927|
I say Lipica is a "hamlet" but it isn't really even that: it's a glorified large farm which steadily expanded, as a home to one of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy's studs, for 350 years, before the Yugoslav period. Since Slovenian independence, the place has been built up as a tourist destination, with a new hotel, restaurants and a casino, in addition to the attraction of the beautiful white horses. However, very few people actually live there; most commute the few kilometres from nearby Sežana. Sadly, when I went on Friday, Lipica was cloaked in a thick mist. Although there was a strong tang of horse, and the occasional neigh from the void, none of the beasts were actually visible. Fog is a perfect camoflague for a horse that colour. I couldn't even see the brown and black Lippizaner foals, and I was told quite a few were in the fields with their mothers; the horses gradually turn white as they mature. Oh well. My guide told me that the place becomes very busy with tourists in the summer, and with locals on pleasant weekends; it being a dank December Friday, I was the only visitor there.
|A Lippizaner and foal. Er, when they are not hidden in thick fog.|
The museum, a big irregular space with different levels, is absolutely stuffed with everything that Černigoj left to them. This is maybe a mistake, as the focus really should be on the years of the 1920s and 1930s, and the late drawings, woodcuts and lithographs. Some of the paintings from the 50s and 60s really shouldn't take up the space that they do.
|Some of the 50s paintings. Hm.|
|"The birth of jeans in Yugoslavia"- Ljubljana, 1924. Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana|
|Portrait of Srečko Kosovel, 1926|
Amongst the friends that Černigoj made in this period was Srečko Kosovel, one of the most noted Slovene poets of the last century. Černigoj picked out his friend's round glasses and high forehead as the distinguishing points in a taut, dense network of carved lines in this lithograph, one of a series of similar lithographic portraits and studies made in the first eighteen months of exile. The two men had wanted to establish a journal called The Constructor, but this later became Tank after the poet's tragic death from meningitis, in 1926.
|Tank poster feat. Ferdi Delak, 1927|
In many ways, Černigoj was a victim of rather unfortunate circumstance. The second war saw him retreat further into private life, drawing from the human figure and occasionally emerging to decorate the interior of a church; in post-war Yugoslavia, he suffered the fate of many 1920s radicals across Europe, by being half forgotten and a radical from a time officially castigated by the prevailing ideology. Černigoj's suffering was recognised; he had some teaching jobs and exhibited extensively in Yugoslavia and Italy in the 1960s and early 1970s. However, by that time, younger artists with a more contemporary focus commanded attention, and Černigoj's later exhibitions aroused little interest or enthusiasm. He moved into retirement in the Karst in the late 70s, where students of the time remember him as a kindly and encouraging figure, and was forgotten after his posthumous retrospective in Slovenia, in 1985.
The gallery in Lipica is able to give a very comprehensive overview of the varied and tortuous path of Černigoj's career. Perhaps there is a little too much focus on the less successful aspects of his career, but there is rich and interesting material here to show that this is an artist who very much deserves a fresh look, in a European context. Černigoj has featured in recent exhibitions of Constructivist art in the US and Central Europe, and his theoretical statements in Tank have re-appeared in readers of the period. Even in death, however, circumstance conspires against him; his gallery is a puzzling presence here in Lipica, where it is unlikely to receive the wider audience that it deserves. However, hopefully the re-construction of his 1920s work at the Moderna Galerija, will encourage more visitors to come and look at this very interesting small museum more closely.