Zagreb is full of young artists and talented curators. But where exactly is the cutting edge of the city’s contemporary art scene to be found? In sharp contrast to London or Berlin, Zagreb doesn’t really have a functioning art market; there is only a handful of private collectors, and as a consequence there are no gallery-dealerships in the city that promote new work. What keeps contemporary art going in Zagreb is the network of galleries run by public-funded institutions, non-profit associations, or by groups of enthusiastic cultural activists who have banded together to create their own scene. What follows is an entirely subjective list of twelve organizations that have a reputation for presenting art that is current, compelling, or head-scratchingly strange. Some of them may well be located in weird corners of the city; tracking the down will at least expand your urban horizons.
Often overlooked for the very simple reason that it is not adequately promoted, the magnificent modernist rotunda housing the HDLU is probably the best place to start your contemporary arts safari. First of all, it usually has 2-3 exhibitions running at the same time; secondly, the building itself – with its domed central space and endlessly curving walls - makes an ideal backdrop to whatever is on show. HDLU stands for the Croatian Society of Fine Artists – so in a way it’s their job to mount as wide a range as possible of exhibitions by artists working in all kinds of different areas.
Run since 2003 by Zagreb’s most-celebrated curatorial team, WHW (a name that originates from the classic question of consumer economics ‘What, How and For Whom?’) Galerija Nova represents the political-theoretical wing of the Zagreb arts scene – although this should in no way put off the non-believer. WHW-curated shows reveal an enduring fascination with the socialist heritage of Central Europe and a commitment to the socially-engaged activism of today. Exhibitions frequently feature big-name artists and are sufficiently compelling visually to carry any amount of underlying theory. WHW are as active abroad as they are at home, curating the Istanbul Biennale in 2008 and the group show “Really Useful Knowledge” currently at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.
Another Zagreb curatorial team that has forged an international career, Kontejner has never bothered with a regular gallery space, concentrating instead on organizing festival-like events that bring together a large group of local and international artists grouped around a specific theme. Usually taking place every autumn, Kontejner’s main events are the three triennial festivals Device Art (next due in November 2015), Extravagant Bodies (pencilled in for autumn 2016), and Touch Me (2014’s edition is just finishing; it is due to come round again in 2017). Each of these festivals involve cutting-edge art that’s also on the cutting-edge of science, with a range of interactive works and experiments that explore the boundaries between mind, body, environment and machine. As an art-show-cum-festival a Kontejner event is unique; Kontejner is one of the few organizations active in the Zagreb art scene that has become an internationally-recognized cultural brand.
Kontejner also organize the one-night-only art events held monthly at the Močvara club (www.mochvara.hr), with sonic multi-media installations a speciality.
Currently led by former Močvara-Gallery head Marijana Stanić, 90-60-90 is the organizational umbrella for exhibitions held in Pogon Jedinstvo, a former factory hall (part of which is also occupied by the Močvara club) currently used by various counter-cultural organizations grouped under the Pogon (www.upogoni.org) banner. The factory setting is used to good effect in 90-60-90’s visually stunning exhibitions and installations, frequently involving sound, visuals and other media. Recent years have seen some a lot of major artists from Croatia and the neighbouring region setting out their wares on Pogon’s factory floor – Stanić is one of those curators that the big names will go out of their way to work with. Exhibitions here tend to last 2-3 days only, which only adds to their sense of being an event.
Located in a lovely old house on bar-lined Tkalčićeva street, the ‘incubator’ is a real labour of love; a gallery established by a single-minded art enthusiast in order to showcase a varied selection of work by predominantly young, local artists. Exhibitions range from the conceptual to the figurative, and there are prints, paintings and photographs for sale.
Miroslav Kraljević Gallery
Fifteen minutes’ walk from the centre in the basement of the INA oil company building, Miroslav Kraljević is definitely one for the art theorists, would-be curators and state-of-culture trend spotters among us. Staging solo and group shows featuring a large than usual number of established international names, it’s probably the one gallery in town that will give you some idea of where contemporary art is actually at. The 2014 season opened with an exhibition by Duncan Campbell, the Irish artist who went on to win the Turner Prize later the same year. The only drawback is that there are so few exhibitions per year, frequently with large gaps inbetween each one – so check the programme carefully before heading out.
The space belongs to the Zagreb municipal library service and is used as a public reading room for their collection of newspapers and magazines. Somehow, looking at art on the walls while elderly locals sit at tables leafing their way through the small ads only enhances the experience. The quality of contemporary work here is good, and despite being some way from the centre it is quite near the Lauba Gallery (see p.000) – so a visit to them both can be combined.
Named after the clothes store that used to occupy the building (they liked the sign above the door so much they never bothered to take it down), Greta is arguably Zagreb’s best example of a small non-profit gallery that shows relevant new work and also boasts a highly motivated regular public. Traditionally Greta holds one exhibition a week with the opening party on the Monday night, but such is the gallery’s popularity with local artists that Greta frequently ends up hosting an event every few days
Hidden in an unassuming hut just behind the sublime French Pavilion in Zagreb’s Student Centre, Galerija SC is one of the cult locations on the Zagreb art scene. It was here that Croatia’s first wave of conceptualist, far-out, preconception-shaking exhibitions and happenings happened in the 60s and 70s. One of the exhibition openings in 1978 was the occasion of Zagreb’s first ever punk rock concert. Not quite as epoch-defining as it used to be, Galerija SC remains one of the most reliable names on the list, with a regular programme of events featuring relevant, frequently younger-generation names.
One of the new generation of do-it-yourself cultural organizations, Trenutak39 is one of the more uniquely intimate art spaces in Zagreb, housed in a private apartment on the 6th floor of a residential building near the Savski Most tram terminus. Founded by a group of friends in the creative industries who simply decided it was time to do their own thing (Trenutak means ”moment” in Croatian, a reference to their quite literally spur-of-the-moment decision to team together and create some culture), the gallery organizes at least four group exhibitions per year, with the changing seasons providing the theme. They also host solo shows, provide residencies to artists who want to stay in the flat and create, and hold a range of arts-and-crafts workshops for adults and children. Friendly, eccentric, and with a refreshing disregard for the boundary between academic and amateur art, Trenutak39 is a welcome anecdote to some of the theory-heavy art curating that goes on elsewhere.
A play on words based on the Croatian name for henbane (‘bunika’; it’s a plant that has hallucinogenic effects but can also be poisonous), Boonika is another loose union of creative types who have backgrounds in design, computer graphics and art management. Boonika’s basic aim is to provide independent artists, designers and illustrators with a platform for promotion and networking – the kind of mutual support that is essential in a country that lacks commercial gallerists and agents. The organization has a gallery space, a commercial wing called Booteeg (making T-shirts and affordable accessories designed by Boonika members) and a computer graphics studio called Boonar. The gallery programmes an impressive mix of shows, featuring everything from street art and illustration to up-and-coming younger-generation painters. Boonika also organize the Independent Festival of Creative Communication, next due in May 2015.
Institute of Contemporary Art
By far the most irritating non-profit gallery in Zagreb is the so-called Institute of Contemporary Art (Institut suvremene umjetnosti), largely because they devote so little attention to the aspect of gallery administration that is most important – providing potential visitors with accurate information. Their facebook page advertises current exhibitions very well, and even states the opening hours, but contains no information whatsoever about where the gallery actually is. A brief internet surf reveals that they have a postal address at Trg kralja Tomislava 20, and another address (on a website not updated since 2011) at Šenoina 11. As I discovered myself, there is nothing advertising itself as a gallery at Trg kralja Tomislava 20, but there is at least a bell labelled Institut suvremene umjetnosti at Šenoina 11 – the problem is, nobody ever answers it. Maybe the hidden nature of the gallery is in itself intended as some kind of occult urban art experience, but I doubt it. For the record, I have to pay babysitting fees in order to be free to wander the streets researching art galleries for In Your Pocket. So the Institute of Contemporary Arts owe me somewhere in the region of 40 kuna.