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Feature 20 Dec 16

Hidden Treasures of Belgrade’s Museum Scene

There is a lot more to Belgrade’s art and history offerings than just the usual tourist attractions.

Srdjan Garcevic
BIRN
Belgrade
Belgrade street. Photo: Pixabay

With the National Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art set to be closed for a while longer, there are still no comprehensive collections on display to explore Serbian and ex-Yugoslav history and art.

However, Belgrade’s cultural scene is diverse and there is plenty to explore outside of the Museum of Yugoslav History, Tesla Museum, and the assorted galleries and museums around Knez Mihailova. Venture out and you can find hidden nooks, private museums and recently revived Legacies that tell stories of Serbian and Yugoslav art in intimate and striking settings.

Legacy of Petar Lubarda
Iliciceva 1
Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm

A stone’s throw away from the Yugoslav History Museum Complex, the
Legacy of Petar Lubarda displays works of one of the most accomplished Yugoslav artists in his former family home. Lubarda’s colourful, raw works, reminiscent of the barren and dramatic landscapes of his native Montenegro, achieved international recognition during the 1950s and 60s. His career peaked when he beat Picasso and Dali for a Grand Prix at Sao Paolo Art Biennial in 1953.

His life was as dramatic as his colourful, expressionist works. Born in Montenegro in 1907, Lubarda went to Belgrade and then Paris to pursue art studies. After roaming Europe and spending WWII in German and Italian captivity, Lubarda returned to Yugoslavia where the victorious Partisans executed his father, a retired royal army officer.

After spending the latter part of the 1940s in semi-exile, travelling across Montenegro, his distinctive powerful style caught the eye of the Yugoslav art establishment. He then rose to prominence, with works commissioned to decorate major government buildings, including the Palace of the Executive (aka SIV, now Palace of Serbia) and Dom Sindikata (House of the Unions) in Belgrade.

The Legacy displays 24 paintings, several hundred drawings and personal possessions, including a series of family photos taken in 1920s Montenegro. Look out for a door with panels that still bear Lubarda’s sketches.

Museum Macura
Zenit 1, Novi Banovci
Opening hours: May – October only, Saturday – Sunday, 12pm – 6pm, by appointment at +381 64 47 29 629

The most exciting new addition to (greater) Belgrade’s museum scene is a temple to 20th century avant-garde perched above a bend of the Danube in Novi Banovci. The museum and its grounds are a sanctuary for bold and transformational ideas of modern art movements, such as Zenitism and Yugo-dadaism, and house an extensive collection amassed by Vladimir Macura, a Serbian art collector and dealer who resides in Vienna.

The exciting artworks display transgressive creativity that fermented in Yugoslavia out of the ambition of local artists to both connect with new movements brewing in Paris, Zurich and other European cultural centres, and to also use their liberating ideas to create authentic local movements.

The grounds are a work of art in their own right as well as a statement of Macura’s ambition. The museum building, designed by Ivan Kucina, is an elegant monolith: part mid-century modernist Bond villain’s cove, part cabinet of curiosities.

Finally, the visit is an experience in itself. Before seeing the collection, the visitor is warmly welcomed and offered coffee and home-made lavender syrup. While sat in the wonderful garden one is expected to admire the view of the Danube majestically meandering through the woods and fields, connecting Belgrade to Mitteleuropa farther afield–a metaphor for Museum Macura’s own ambition.

Paja Jovanovic Museum
Kralja Milana, 21/IV
Opening hours: Thursday 10am-6pm, Saturday 12pm-8pm, Sunday 10am-2pm

Paja Jovanovic was the most accomplished Serbian painter of the Belle Epoque academic realist school. He was born in Vrsac, in former Austro-Hungary, in 1859 and then went to Vienna, where he enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts, where he painted orientalist images of the Balkans, as well portraits of the bourgeoisie.

His way to stardom was paved by his painting “Wounded Montenegrin” which was lauded by the Viennese Academy in 1882. His career took him to Munich, London, Paris and finally back to Vienna, where he passed away in 1957.

Close to the Serbian political establishment and clergy, he painted many exuberant historical paintings using motifs from Serbian history, including “Serbian Migration” and “Coronation of Emperor Dušan”, which are etched in most Serbian school children’s minds. His connections with local potentates led him to paint famous portraits of the Karadjordjevic royal family and Tito.  

The museum is hidden in an elegant building across the road from Beogradjanka, and it offers a glimpse of pre-WWII bourgeois life. Three rooms are decorated with Jovanovic’s furniture from Vienna, including an impressive neo-renaissance portal, and display many sketches and small-format works showcasing Jovanovic’s talent. The most impressive are the nudes ofhis wife, elegantly capturing lightness and warmth of his style.

Legacy of Milica Zoric and Rodoljub Colakovic
Rodoljuba Colakovica 2
Opening hours: Wednesday-Monday, 12pm – 8pm

Bequeathed to the Museum of Contemporary Art by an art-minded communist power couple, along with their vast collection of Yugoslav art, the Legacy is currently used as a gallery to display parts of MCA’s collection during its marathon renovation. The old art-deco villa where Zoric and Colakovic lived was refurbished in 2010, based on designs by Zoran Radojcic (of JDP fame), and is now a light, striking space in the leafy, patrician Dedinje.

The current exhibition runs through December 19 and displays works by Djordje Andrejevic Kun, a socialist realist artist who captured horrors of the WWII and the oppression of communists in 1930s Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The collection of his prints and paintings goes beyond propaganda, typically associated with the style, and shows a deeply personal view of a talented artist who experienced horrors of WWII and political struggle first-hand.

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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