A Fighter for the Dignity of Art

It’s strange to write about Sava Stepanov in the past tense. He left us suddenly on June 10th, amid preparations for this year’s Danube Dialogues Festival. It’s hard to believe that conversations with Sava will no longer be possible, that the good spirit of Vojvodina’s fine arts has left us and moved to a better place

By Vesna Latinović

A superb connoisseur of the Vojvodina, Serbian, and regional art scenes, he tirelessly documented and highlighted the most significant artistic phenomena and personalities of the 20th century for half a century. His departure is an irreplaceable loss for our cultural scene.

A gentle, noble, and prudent man of lavish talent, rich erudition, and a keen sense for recognizing valuable and unique aspects of art, I met him in 1996 at the very beginning of my gallery profession. The Bel Art Gallery quickly established a close collaboration with the Zlatno Oko Center for Visual Culture, so Sava Stepanov was the curator and author of numerous exhibitions, president of the Artistic Council of the Bel Art Gallery, and the artistic director of the Danube Dialogues Festival.

Over a quarter-century period, significant projects were realized, such as the Landscape Biennale; Joko, Lennon, Tito: A Conceptual Action; the Andy Warhol exhibition; international exhibitions of artistic flags held multiple times in the pedestrian zone of Novi Sad, which, in the year of the European Capital of Culture, produced a unique open-air gallery, the Flagpole Square in Limanski Park; the founding and program conceptualization of the Mira Brtka Foundation in Petrovaradin.

The Sava Šumanović Award launched in 1999 together with the Novi Sad Fair, has become a prestigious national award for visual and fine arts. Sava Stepanov chaired the jury, which unfailingly selected artists who met high criteria and, at the same time, were authoritatively “aligned” with the character of the contemporary world and today’s art.

Sava Stepanov gained an international reputation and respect through exhibition concepts that showcased our artists abroad. A fighter for the dignity of art and the positioning of Vojvodina and Serbian art in an international context, he curated exhibitions in Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Tokyo, Geneva, Paris, Piran, and Norwich. The most complex of these was the exhibition Premonition/Blood/Hope at the Künstlerhaus in Vienna in 2015, organized on the centenary of the First World War. Dr. Peter Zawrel, the long-time director of the Künstlerhaus, wrote upon Sava’s death: “My encounters with Sava were of great importance to me not only on a professional level – the obvious professional result was the exhibition Premonition/Blood/Hope at the Künstlerhaus in 2015, which I believe was the exhibition of the decade – but also on a human level. His personality, his humanity, and the way he spoke about art and the artist deeply impressed me.”

Sava Stepanov was a superb connoisseur and custodian of Serbian-Hungarian artistic connections, from which the Danube Dialogues emerged as a platform for regional artistic collaboration, affirmed mainly by the themes Sava Stepanov, as artistic director, set for his curator colleagues from Danubian countries. He chose themes and content that dealt with the sensitivities of contemporary man, especially fears and existential concerns, and his emotions.

More than a quarter-century of friendship and professional collaboration with Sava Stepanov was a life gift and privilege, and I am grateful that life provided me with that opportunity. All of us – family, friends, and colleagues – will miss his sharp mind, encyclopedic knowledge, lucid observations, especially his smile, irresistible charm, clever quips, warm words, and well-meaning lessons. Sava Stepanov wrote the artistic lexicon and cultural history of Vojvodina daily, leaving behind a remarkable legacy, a heritage for future generations that we must care for. The story of Sava Stepanov continues.

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