It’s usually impossible to keep a room full of artists from indulging in art-world gossip. But at the L.I.P.A. Gallery’s recent opening party for Yugoslav-born painter Tomislav Nikolic’s new show, it was hard to focus on the art biz, as the usual in-the-know chitchat was drowned out by discussions of NATO’s controversial bombing campaign in Yugoslavia. And, as you might expect from a largely Yugoslav crowd, both the artist and his patrons gave the American-led attack scathing reviews.
“My sister had to be evacuated from Belgrade two days ago,” said an unhappy Gordana Utzschneider, a flaxen-haired young woman from Montenegro. “Her dorm was right next to a police station hit by NATO bombs. She is very disturbed.”
Utzschneider (the name is her German husband’s) says she’s a solid foe of Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevicbut also of the NATO bombing. “A lot of Yugoslavs who looked up to the West are really disappointed that now the West is bombing them. It scares me that Milosevic will gain more power, and we’ll have him for another 10 years. You know, he thrives on war.”
Meanwhile, painter Nikolica diminutive, fierce-eyed man clutching a glass and swirling dregs of burgundy winewas expounding on his painting Red Portrait, his response to Yugoslavia’s spiral into vicious disintegration. The painting’s “frame” is an active element in its design: At Red Portrait’s center is a lividly scarlet, open-mouthed young man; around him runs a collage of Yugoslav magazine covers from the ’90s10 years of bad actors from Stepan Mesic and Radovan Karadzic to Milosevic.
“Nobody in Yugoslavia could imagine what happens today,” Nikolic says. “That the same communists could become these nationalists to hold on to their powerit’s unbelievable.” He gives a vigorous poke at the canvas featuring the fiery man. “In this situation the ordinary man becomes sick. The people are between lost and stupefied.” This seems to be his explanation, if not exactly his defense, of his countrymen’s support of Milosevic.
He says he sympathizes with the plight of the refugees, but has no good words for either Milosevic or NATO. Gesturing agitatedly at Red Portrait, he says, “Everyone is becoming a red head. You say that.” He shakes his head. “That’s it.”John DeVault
Tomislav Nikolic’s paintings are on view at L.I.P.A., 1635 Connecticut Ave. NW, to April 28.