The new Museum of Contemporary Art (MSU) set in Zagreb at the crossroads of Većeslav Holjevac and Dubrovnik Avenues is an architectonic achievement, which in the years to come will definitely become one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks. It took more than ten years since the decision to build the museum was made until it was opened in December 2009. Said to have cost 400 million Croatian kunas, or close to 55 million Euros, the creation of architect Igor Franić is unanimously referred to as the largest investment in culture since Croatia’s independence in 1991.
The work of many Croatian and international artists will finally see the light of day in the new museum. For years they have been hidden in the depot of the previous museum’s building. “We will finally see what we have. What the curators and the artists have collected and produced in the past 50 years.” said ahead of the opening night Milan Trenc from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb.
It took six years to complete construction. Its coming about has been turned into a work of art itself. Photographer Jasenko Rasol followed the process of construction with his camera over the years. The results of his work were presented in a photo exhibition entitled “The Museum before the Museum”.
The new building has 14,500 square meters, around 1/3 of which is exhibiting space. Its northern facade is adapted to host open-air exhibits. The museum has five floors and everything from a multimedia hall, spaces for smaller exhibitions, a library, children’s art corners, audio visual studio, restoration workshop, and a restaurant which intersects the floors.
The opening event in December 2009 was aired live on TV, and gathered not only the country’s political and artistic establishment, but also thousands of Croatian citizens who patiently waited their turn to enter.
One of the attractions on the opening night was the installation by the name of “ Slide” by renowned contemporary artist Carsten Höller. Belgian born Höller, who was a scientist before turning to art, has placed his intriguing, and also funfair slides in many museums the world over, including the Tate Modern in London. According to the MSU, the artist “was impressed by the lightness and the hovering structure of the building, and agreed to produce a double-slide, custom-made for Zagreb’s new house of modern arts.
The many items on the programme of opening night included installations by Polish artist Miroslav Balka’s “Eyes of Purification”, “Artist at Work” by Dalibor Martinis, ‘Battlefield” by Antun Božičević, and ‘Academic Poliptych” by Silvio Vujičić.
The centre of attention was nevertheless, the “Collection in Motion”, the first permanent collection of the new MSU. Created by curators Nada Beroš and Tihomir Milovac, it comprises five core conceptual units which then branch into further subgroups of works. The units are Project and Fate, Art as Life, Art About Art, Great World Enigma, and Words and Images. According to the curators of the collection, its name stresses “the changeability, mobility, and adaptability of the display as its most prominent characteristics.” The names for the core units come from names of particular art pieces included therein.
The MSU was founded back in 1954, under the name of Zagreb Municipal Galleries. It also included other units separating over time, including for example the Croatian Museum of Naive Art.
The MSU’s history section sections points out that “many artworks from the Museum's collection belong to the international movement of New Tendencies.” This movement was actually founded in the premises of the museum back in 1961. In the 60s and 70s, artists and art theoreticians, such as Victor Vasarely, Jesus Raphael Soto, Julio Le Parc, Otto Piene, Abraham Moles and Umberto Eco, have taken part in MSU’s activities.
The MSU’s collections include collected works of drawings, graphics, and prints, a film and video collection, photography collection, media art collection, sculptures, paintings, the Seissel Donation, as well as the famous Benko Horvat Collection.
However, as the MSU’s note on history reads, “because of the modest housing conditions, the museum has never exhibited its permanent collection in entirety” in the past.
Those times are history. Zagreb now has one of the most magnificent cultural edifices in this part of the world. It joins cities which have revamped their identity by creating imposing monuments dedicated to modern art.