pavilion Serbia Rasa Todosijevic

The museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade , which opened in 1965 and is one of Europe’s oldest contemporary art museums, has a fantastic collection of modern art spanning the 20th century, including works by artists like J. Miro, A. Tapies, H. Hartung, A. Gotlieb, R. Rauschenberg, A. Warhol, R. Lichtenstein, J. Rosenquist, R. Hamilton, M. Bill, J. Albers, L. Fontan, V. Vasarely, D. Hockney, E. Paolozzi, P. Dorazi, M. Pistolet, F. Stell, as well as some of the former Yugoslavia’s most important artists and sculptors, including Marina Abramović, Raša Todosijević, Milica Tomić, Ivan Meštrivić and many others. The situation the run-down museum finds itself in — long on enthusiasm but short on funds — is emblematic of the contemporary art scene in Belgrade. It has world-class artists, but not much of a market and not many appropriate showcases for the work.

Six years have passed since the building of the Museum of Contemporary Art was first closed to the public for the reason of reconstruction and adaptation – works which to date have still not been completed. In fact the statutory period of one year was broken quite a long time ago. Because of frustration over its future, the museum has made an exhibition in the partially reconstructed space of the museum titled “What Happened to the Museum of Contemporary Art?” The show has included a timeline with documentation and debate about the reconstruction from newspaper articles, photographs, interviews, government statements and a video with curators talking about the problems of working in a museum without a building.

Sanja Ivekovicz, New Zagreb (People Behind the Windows), 1979 © The artist, Courtesy the artist and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade

The situation with the Museum of Contemporary Art is not the only case. Belgrade’s National Museum, that includes in its collection works by top artists such as Matisse, van Gogh, Titian and Picasso, not to mention rich collection from Prehistory and Roman period, closed its permanent collection to the public 10 years ago, though the museum still holds exhibitions in its foyer and in various spaces around Belgrade. Many Serbian artists and curators, frustrated by the lack of institutional support for contemporary art and a nonexistent art market, have either left the country or spend a good portion of their time seeking exhibitions, residencies and gallery representation outside their home country.

Aside from the October Salon, an annual international contemporary art show that is organized by the government financed Belgrade Cultural Center, there are few contemporary art programs supported by the state, such as: Belef, Mikser, Bina, Belgrade design week.

marina abramovic

“We cannot offer infrastructure to young people,” said Vladan Jeremic, an artist and curator. “How can you graduate with a degree in the history of art and curating and have never been to the National Museum to see what we have? Or to have never had a chance to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art? An entire generation has never seen these collections in their lives. How is that possible? (Via NY Times)”

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