If anyone had a chance to look at my photographs from Belgrade’s Savamala district one could not unreasonably come to the conclusion that Belgrade is art. It may not be an ostentatiously lovely city like Paris or Prague with its magnificent buildings (although there are many impressive buildings here) but it has an atmosphere that is hard to beat. Many people have compared Belgrade with Berlin and for many years Belgrade has been touted as the ‘new Berlin’. I love Berlin too and there are obvious similarities but comparing the two cities is unhelpful. Yet its unavoidable. For many years Berlin was and still is one of the world’s premier cities for artists to reside. It’s close competitors are London and New York yet unlike those two cities Berlin for a long time was a much more affordable city for artists to live. But recently some artists in Berlin have began to feel the pain of increasing rents in the city and thus are forced to seek out other cities. But I digress. I find Belgrade an atmospheric, raw and, at times, an intense city. These are the perfect ingredients for artistic inspiration. A view over Lake Geneva, as nice as it may be, doesn’t quite cut it for me.
Art is everywhere in Belgrade. Not just in the galleries. But in the mixed and diverse architecture of the city’s buildings, in the wealth of street art, and in the air and rhythms of the city. Handsome and regal-like buildings from the age of the Austrian-Hungarian empire can be easily spotted hand in hand with imposing cigarette ash grey Communist era Brutalist blocks. Despite their wealth and history, many are in slow and crumbling decay. Very few are ‘tarted up’. I particularly admire the old yellow Belgrade railway station building at the edge of the city. In that part of the city the pressure is high and its Belgrade’s very own Gare du Nord; flourishing and radiating with warts and all flowers of life. There are no ‘must do’ sites here but the energy is pulsating and pungent. I think the writers Charles Bukowski and Jean Genet would have fallen in love with this neck of the woods.
Mural of The Clash lead singer Joe Strummer by Grupa JNA
Street art bathes all corners of Belgrade. The Savamala district has the lion’s share and you can see one of my other posts here where I document that area with many photographs. I particularly like a street art collective that go by the name “Grupa JNA”. Many of their murals can by found in the Dorcol district. Look out for the murals of Morrissey and Joe Strummer. In Savamala there is a mural of the young Bosnian revolutionary and assassinator of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Gavrilo Princip and probably the most impressive and imposing street art mural in all of Belgrade of a man with his mouth open wide with all his teeth painted as rows of buildings. In his hand is a tree which could pass for a piece of broccoli.
Mural of Gavrilo Princip; the young Bosnian revolutionary who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand
Sadly the Museum Of Contemporary Art in Belgrade is currently closed for renovation works. It’s been closed for some years but hopefully it should be reopening its doors soon. What I originally envisaged to be a large setback regarding my plans to tap into the city’s contemporary art scene has not been much of a hindrance at all since during my time in Belgrade I was very fortunate enough to visit many of the city’s galleries and discover the works of a large number of exciting artists.
Opening at the Remont gallery of a solo exhibition by Serbian artist Goran Stojcetovic
The first gallery I check out in the city is the Remont gallery off Maršala Birjuzova street, which is an important core art gallery in the city for promoting the latest local contemporary art. I am fortunate enough to attend the opening night of an exhibition of works by the Serbian artist Goran Stojcetovic. He is the founder of Art Brut Serbia after the term coined by French artist Jean Dubuffet referring to ‘outsider art’ created by artists working outside of the art world and art institutions. Goran’s signature blue ink works on papers are brilliant, pure and highly idiosyncratic works of art. There are also elements of humour too as can be seen where he ingeniously transforms the front page cover star of some Serbian celebrity gossip magazine into one of his trademark blue Bosch devils. Serbian surrealism at its finest.
Works by Goran Stojcetovic
I catch the tail end of a group exhibition of Hispanic artists entitled Chinese Whispers/An Image, A Memory at an experimental art space called U10 close to Terazije street. Peruvian artist Rudolph Castro’s seven charcoal drawings entitled Walls (2017) is a powerful work of art in the context of the history of brutal Latin American dictatorships and the war and violence throughout the 1990s after the fall of former Yugoslavia. Chilean artist Benjamín Altermatt’s video The Land Which Is Not comprises of a series of old photographs taken in Belgrade accompanied by random sounds with the intention of creating a new real or unreal territory debased from its original identity.
Chinese Whispers group exhibition at the U10 gallery
Walls (2017) by Rudolph Castro
The Land Which Is Not by Benjamín Altermatt
A little further up Terazije towards the city centre, I visit Gallery SULUJ where there is group exhibition of sculpture and installation works entitled Soft Sculpture – Hard Thoughts. Myrsini Artakianou’s Zero Past, Infinite Future is a collection of fragile and organic life forms disjointed but brought together to make their desolation alive. Bleak close up, but as beautiful as the rarest of pearls from a distance. Sonja Hillen’s Thoughttorture is a ‘knitted brain’ in a knitted grey/blue puddle. The third work to catch my vision is a participatory installation entitled Shaping by Danica Bićanić. It is a soft rubber ball-like sculpture which she invites viewers to reshape and remould from its original form.
Zero Past, Infinite Future by Myrsini Artakianou
Thoughttorture by Sonja Hillen
Shaping by Danica Bićanić
South of Terazije off Kralja Milana street is the SKC or Student’s Cultural Centre. Historically this was a very significant institution as this is where Serbian and Yugoslavian conceptual art was born at the start of the 1970s. The famous Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic was a key artist in that original scene (as was her former pre Ulay partner; the noted Serbian conceptual artist Nesa Paripovic). One of her early landmark and legendary performance art pieces, Rhythm 5, was performed here. For this performance she made a five-pointed star from wood and dowsed it in 100 litres of petrol. She then walked around it, cutting her hair and nails and throwing them into the flames. Whilst it was on fire she proceeded to lie down in the middle of the burning star.. The iconic German artist Joseph Beuys was in the audience and it’s rumoured that he saved her from the growing flames when she lost consciousness. All this awesome history aside, I had very little luck here. There seemed to be nothing happening. The two people at the reception of the centre resonated apathy and indifference, like I was wasting my time coming here.
The SKC (Student’s Cultural Centre)
Rhythm 5 by Marina Abramović
The Savamala district which I’ve mention in another post, has many art spaces (many temporary pop-up spaces it feels) and studios. The creative nexus of the area is the KC GRAD. As well as being a bar and a space for interesting live music and experimental events, there is an exhibition space upstairs. When I visited there was no exhibition on display but the KC Grad is a good place to frequent to meet creative people and establish connections in the area. I haven’t been to the following but from what I’ve read, art spaces to check in the area include Magacin, Gallery KM 8 and Zavod. Although the Savamala is one of the main creative hubs and exciting ‘up and coming’ districts in the city, I had a hard time trying to find some of the galleries I wanted to visit. That’s why I recommend maybe spending some quality time at KC Grad and networking there for insider info and where it’s all at.
The KC Grad
On the outskirts of the city is the Museum of Yugoslavia, which also houses Tito’s mausoleum. When I visited there was a temporary exhibition of black and white photographs documenting Tito’s many trips to Africa. In one photograph a group of young black Africans all in white shirts hold up in the air a placard saying ‘Long Live Tito Man Of Peace’. In another photo Tito’s wife Jovanka is pictured in Ghana dressed in local attire by a group of Ghanaian women. The next photograph to catch my eye shows Tito with the Gaddafi family in Libya sometime in the 1970s. Colonel Gaddafi is kneeling down and smiling on the left whilst Tito is sitting down on the sofa with two of Gaddafi’s sons by his sides.
The Museum of Yugoslavia
Photographs from the Tito In Africa exhibition at the Museum of Yugoslavia
If you ever do make it to the museum, try to allocate some free time to visit the nearby former home of the important Serbian/Montenegrin painter Petar Lubarda. His home has been immaculately restored and contains a solid collection of some of his most significant paintings. Some of his paintings were in very bad condition and even missing after he passed away but they have been restored very well. Lubarda was well known in his lifetime but over time seemed to have faded into almost obscurity. But this museum does a fantastic job in preserving his legacy. The first room I enter contains his striking red paintings. When you enter that room you immediately come face to face with his enormous rectangular painting entitled Man and Beasts from 1964. It is a magnificent painting. Like the Bayeux tapestry blended with the most nightmarish paintings by Goya and the English Romantic painter John Martin. I am in awe of this painting and it would look phenomenal in any spanking blue chip modern art museum. Another brilliant painting by Lubarda on display in another room is a large painting entitled The Battle of Kosovo from 1953. This is probably his most well known painting. The 1389 Battle of Kosovo was a very big influence on much of his work.
Man and Beasts (1964) by Petar Lubarda
Close-up of Man and Beasts
The Battle of Kosovo (1953) by Petar Lubarda
By the Studentski Square park in the centre of the city is a small gallery called Gallery KNU where there is a solo exhibition of paintings entitled Swimmers by Ivana Živić. In her realist and surreal dreamlike paintings, the interior of opulent palatial art museums are flooded in water. In the painting Museum (2017), a young lady in red (yes like the Chris de Burgh song) appears either lifeless like Orphelia in the iconic mid 19th century painting by pre Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais or in a blissful cosmic dream, like the kind of dreams you never want to wake up from. In another painting entitled Red Room (2014), the lines between dreams and reality are increasingly blurred to the point where the subject appears to be leaving her body and the physical world becoming at one with the metaphysical invisible world. It is a profoundly spiritual and powerful painting.
Museum (2017) by Ivana Živić
Red Room (2014) by Ivana Živić
On Belgrade’s main Knez Mihailova high street are a few interesting art spaces. My first port of call is the Zepter Museum. This is an excellent art museum with three floors of modern and contemporary paintings, photography, sculptures and installations by artists from former Yugoslavia. Look out for artist Ljubomir Ljuba Popovic’s epic and ethereal masterpiece Les Signes Du Déluge (2007). Other delights include Steven Knezevic’s off the wall (but firmly on the wall) painting Jitterbug (1966/74) and Vera Bozickovic Popovic’s Horizontal Composition II (1960) painting.
Les Signes Du Déluge (2007) by Ljubomir Ljuba Popovic
Jitterbug (1966/74) by Steven Knezevic
Horizontal Composition II (1960) by Vera Bozickovic Popovic
Afterwards I visit a smaller commercial art gallery on the Knez called Gallery ULUS. There was a solo exhibition of paintings by the artist Marko Antonovic when I visited. His paintings are bold, energetic with hard lashes of hot and cold rays and are reminiscent of the German Expressionist paintings of the Die Brucke movement artists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.
Paintings by Marko Antonovic
One evening I attended the opening of an exhibition of black and white photographs by the American film director David Lynch entitled Small Stories at the small art gallery of the Cultural Centre of Belgrade on Trg Republike just off the main Knez thoroughfare. His photographs are dense multi dimensional works with several overlapping narratives. Like interpretations of our wildest and most disjointed and unexplainable dreams, these photographs make them tangible. The opening of the exhibition is heaving with people and it’s only later in the night just before the gallery closes and there are less people around that I can freely walk around and look at the photographs undisturbed.
At the opening of the David Lynch photography exhibition Small Stories at the Cultural Center of Belgrade
Hello My Name Is Fred by David Lynch
On the same night there is another opening of a joint exhibition called In The Same Space at the Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art featuring the artists Selman Trtovac and Vladimir Frelih. Both artists exhibit challenging and ambitious works.
Kat. No 13 041 664 (2005-17) by Vladimir Frelih
Frelih’s Kat. No 13 041 664 (2005-17) is an ongoing project comprising of 183 photos where each photo is a different shade of red. All the photos are individually framed and were developed in different photo studios across Europe over a 12 year time period.
Consequences – Magnetic Brain Stimulation (2017) by Selman Trtovac
Trtovac’s Consequences – Magnetic Brain Stimulation (2017) is a project documenting the artist undergoing a non-invasive magnetic brain stimulation, whilst creating a series of drawings, used to treat people with dementia and also used on pilots of the US army during training to help them improve the speed of their reflexes and reactions. Trtovac’s aim with undergoing this procedure was to tap more acutely into his mind and mental faculties and understand better the relationship between the mind and the creative process. These drawings creating during the procedure, entitled Spiritus Movens (2014), are also featured in the show.
By Nicholas Peart
12th September 2017
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