Kunstsammlung NRW

The Croatian Avant-Garde

The Mediterranean coast of Croatia has always been a much-favored destination. With good reason, as author Julian Heynen discovers: there, a varied landscape is interspersed with ancient towns and beautiful beaches and islands.

Heynen characterizes Croatia's art scene for #32.

The capital of Croatia – which became an independent state again in 1991 – stands in the shadow of the spectacular metropolises of this European region. Today, Zagreb is essentially a typical provincial capital dating from the old Austro-Hungarian monarchy, to some extent reshaped and substantially expanded after 1945, during the period of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. A livable, but not a particularly exciting town.

A Worthwhile Detour

For those interested in the artistic avant-gardes of the later twentieth century, a detour is definitely worth the trouble. Like Yugoslavia's other constituent republics, the Croatia of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s was home to an avant-garde scene that was able to promote substantial activity within a semi-official zone. But this was no localized or isolated phenomenon “behind the Iron Curtain.” Instead, these artists were fully aware of parallel movements in the rest of Europe, engaged in exchanges with artistic colleagues, and were thoroughly conscious (even if conditions were at times more difficult than in the West) of being part of an international avant-garde. But this central European avant-garde was barely noticed in the West. It is virtually absent from the art-historical overviews produced in the ensuing decades, with the exception of individual artists such as Christo or Marina Abramović, who chose to live in the West. Only in recent years have these central European movements been slowly rediscovered.

The Museum for Contemporary Art in Zagreb

In Zagreb, a Museum for Contemporary Art – the MSU (Muzej suvremene umjetnosti) – was founded as early as the 1950s. In late 2010, a large new building, located in the new town across the river, was completed and inaugurated. The architecture itself sets high standards, but cannot necessarily do justice to them. The spaces within are not easy to utilize, and in detail, the construction at times leaves something to be desired. All the more astonishing, then, is the highly concentrated and informative collection of Croatian contemporary art, especially from the 1960s and 70s. Found here in particular are abstract and concrete tendencies, including kinetic works, and exemplars of conceptual and performance art, along with photo and video works.

Again and again, the western visitor encounters surprises: many works dovetail seamlessly with familiar trends, yet there is no question of the simple adoption of western tendencies. The dates of production already suggest otherwise. Instead, one is reminded of a forgotten reality, namely that artistic Europe is a unity – one that even the Cold War was unable to tear asunder.

From Krk to Dubrovnik

So during your next vacation on Krk or Korcula, or in Zadar, Split, or Dubrovnik, you might consider a detour to visit this museum, weher you can discover works by Ivan Kozarić, Julije Knifer, Mladen Stilinović, Selja Kameric, Zlatko Kopljar, and many others.


  1. 13.02.2014 16:36 Lehmann
    Da kann ich nur zustimmen, schreibe momentan über Kameric, Stilinovic pp.,sehr spannend, was dort zu entdecken ist.Wobei Kroatien von der EU-Mitgliedschaft prima profitiert. Ganz im Kontrast zu BiH und Serbien. dort gab und gibt es ebenso spannende Entwicklungen,auch wenn derzeit die ökonomischen und politischen Entwicklungen grauenhaft sind. Die Biennale in Konic (südlich von Sarajevo) und ein Besuch zu Treci Beograd empfehle ich ebenso eindringlich, auch, oder gerade weil wenn es sich hier um außermuseale, spannende "Arrangements" handelt.

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