Before the year of 2007, the Museum of Contemporary Art (Muzej Savremene Umetnosti) was one of the must-see sights of Serbian capital of Belgrade. This cultural institution, surrounded by Ušće park and the rivers of Sava and the Danube, which confluence nearby, collects and displays art produced in Serbia and former Yugoslavia since 1900, and is home to many important foreign artworks as well, spanning a variety of media.
Due to renovation, and subsequently to several deadline push-backs, the facility’s door was closed for ten years, until it was finally open again on October 20th, 2017. To celebrate this much-anticipated occasion, there is now Sequences. Art of Yugoslavia and Serbia from the Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, a splendid historical exhibition which shed light on the remarkable artistic production of the Balkans.
The Museum of Contemporary Art was designed by prominent architects Ivan Antić and Ivanka Raspopović in 1960, which received the October Prize of the City of Belgrade on the same day of the facility’s grand opening - on October 20th, 1965. Its activities, however, began as early as 1958, when the Cultural Council of the People’s Committee of Belgrade established the Modern Gallery, whose purpose was to supervise the development of contemporary art in socialist Yugoslavia.
The Gallery then became the Museum, one that followed both practical and theoretical experiences of other great museums worldwide. Because of its particular shape, architectural style and an idyllic location, it was soon dubbed “crystal at the confluence” and became one of the capital’s landmarks and one of the most important museums in Belgrade.
In 2007, the MoCAB was closed for public due to the adaptation, reconstruction and extension of its building. A whole decade and several controversial events later, the Museum finally welcomed its visitors again. The opening attracted as many as visitors, and was accompanied by a seven-day activities program, which included the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra and participants of the Belgrade Dance Festival.
The opening of the reconstructed building of the museum in 2017 is a very significant happening for Belgrade and Serbia. The best possible testimony to this fact is the attendance. “During the program 7x24, 50.124 people visited the museum, and until October 27th another 15.710. In total, 65.834 visitors so far,” confirms Katarina Krstić, the Library Curator at MoCAB.
“I would also like to mention that MOCAB has realized numerous programs in its exhibition venues (Salon MOCAB and Gallery legacy of Milica Zorić and Rodoljub Čolaković) during the ten years of reconstruction, but the building reconstructed in accordance with highest museological standards, gives the opportunity for presentation of significant international and domestic programs,” she adds.
One of the things which distinguish the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade surely is its large, versatile art collection. Its creation began around the time of the foundation of the Modern Gallery and, by the time the museum opened, it counted as many as 3.500 works of art.
Today, the institution focuses mainly on the Serbian and Yugoslav art, while observing the European and worldwide art scene as much as possible. The collection itself is made of several departments and subcollections, featuring a Collection of Painting from 1900 to 1945 and another after 1945, as well as those of Sculptures, Prints and Drawings, and New Art Media. In total there are around 8.000 pieces.
Of course, most of the MoCAB-owned artworks were made by prominent 20th century Yugoslav and Serbian artists of the area: from early Modernist Nadežda Petrović to Cezanne-inspired artists and Cubo-Constructivists such as Sava Šumanović and Jovan Bijelić, the master of Art Nouveau and Symbolism Ivan Meštrović and the expressive figure-maker Petar Lubarda, and finally to new age artists such as Uroš Djurić, Milica Tomić, and Biljana Djurdjević, among many others.
When it comes to foreign artists, the MoCAB’s collection comprises quite a line-up of graphic works of many big names, such as Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Georges Braque, David Hockney, Robert Rauschenberg, Eduardo Paolozzi, Josef Albers, Lucio Fontana… There are also two notable paintings by Max Ernst and Andre Masson, and the digital artworks of George Maciunas, Ken Friedman, and possibly the most famous Serbian artist - Marina Abramović.
The long-awaited return of one of Serbia’s most important cultural institutions surely needed to be properly celebrated; in fact, as much as being an homage to the Serbian and Yugoslav art, the Sequences exhibition is also one to highlight the brilliant architecture of the museum building itself.
The artworks on view, dating from the beginning of the 20th century to present and created by artists from the former socialist federal republic, follow a possible trajectory of the biggest avant-garde movements of the 1900s. Aiming to reaffirm MoCAB’s collection of paintings and other works, and offer a new framework by which we can become acquainted with and understand the art made on the Balkan territories, the show puts forth some of the neglected and marginalized phenomena which were, and are, part of the European scene.
Through thorough curation, the artworks on display are divided into sequences, each corresponding to a certain style, tendency or movement - Modernism, abstraction, Zenitism, Slovene Constructivism, Surrealism in Belgrade, the Neo Avant-Gardes, all the way to new artistic practices, objectivity and media. Each of these got their own “level” of the museum, this way leading the visitor from the ground floor up and proposing a timeline of the Yugoslav and Serbian contributions to artistic visions worldwide. At the same time, the show confirms how (in)directly involved these artists were in global affairs, while staying true to the depiction of the spirit and the socio-political situation in their homeland.
Conceived by Dejan Sretenović and curated by Mišela Blanuša, Zoran Erić and Dejan Sretenović, Sequences. Art of Yugoslavia and Serbia from the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art is a permanent exhibition, currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, Serbia. Apart from raising awareness about the impressive artistic production of the area, this show and the museum itself working at full speed again will definitely help future generations of artists and nurture them towards a brighter future on the local and international culture and arts scene.
All images courtesy the author, 2017.