A founder of the neo-constructivist group Eksperimentalni atelje (Experimental atelier), or EXAT 51 in Zagreb, Aleksandar Srnec was a key figure in the revival of geometric abstraction in postwar Yugoslavia, creating works like Construction 53 (1953), which reflects the influence of such prewar movements as the Bauhaus, Russian constructivism, and De Stijl. EXAT 51 was formed in opposition to socialist realism, attempting to redeem the reputation of abstract art in the eyes of Communist Party authorities by emphasizing its democratic potential. As Srnec and his fellow EXAT members argued, abstraction was not merely an elitist art-for-art’s-sake pursuit, but was key to a true synthesis of the arts that could eliminate hierarchies between mediums and genres and create new forms of social communication.
Though Srnec started his career as a painter, he began to experiment with wire sculpture about 1953, translating the abstract linear arcs of his drawings and paintings into three-dimensional constructs. Although he first suspended the wires within a rectangular frame, retaining a pictorial quality, in Construction 53 he gave the lines a more dynamic spatial presence, extending them out in all directions. Composition 53 suggests the armature of a futuristic architectural model, reflecting the EXAT group’s interest in merging art, architecture, and design into total environments. The sweeping curves of this openwork structure, however, also lend it a lyrical quality unlike the rigid, geometric forms in the work of Srnec’s predecessors. He later experimented with kinetic art, incorporating both light and movement to enhance spatial and perceptual effects.
Aleksandar Srnec worked in a variety of media, including painting and kinetic sculpture. He first studied at the Akademija likovnih umjetnosti (Academy of Fine Arts) at the University of Zagreb from 1943 to 1949. After graduation, he worked with the architect Vjenceslav Richter (1917–2002) and fellow artist Ivan Picelj (1924–2011) to curate and design exhibitions of contemporary Yugoslavian art. In 1951, the three men, along with other architects and the painter and filmmaker Vladimir Kristl (1923–2004), founded the Experimental Atelier, or EXAT 51. Their manifesto protested the Communist preference for social realist art, arguing for abstraction as an instrument of social change. EXAT 51 sought to bring together art, architecture, and design to improve daily life. Out of EXAT 51 developed the Nove tendencije (New Tendencies) movement, which focused on kinetic and optical art. Srnec began to make kinetic sculptures in the 1950s, later adding light and highly polished metals into his work during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1999, he was awarded the Vladimir Nazor Award for Lifetime Achievement, and in 2008 he received an award from the Croatian Association of Artists. A retrospective of Srnec’s work was presented at the Muzej Suvremene Umjetnosti (Museum of Contemporary Art), Zagreb, in 2010