The Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb (Croatian: Muzej suvremene umjetnosti, MSU) was founded in 1954 to document and promote contemporary art production. It was established as the City Gallery of Contemporary Art and placed in the Kulmer Palace on Gornji Grad. The space was not big enough for an immense collection, so it required a new building. The new museum was opened in 2009, located in Novi Zagreb and it is the biggest museum building in Croatia.
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb is the second purpose-built museum in Croatia. The first one was built in 1888, and it was The Museum of Arts and Crafts (MUO). The MUO was constructed to show the importance of arts and crafts and educate the general public. MSU architecture had a similar task. From the outside, the building needed to provoke the interest of the observer. Inside, it had to be functional and discreet, a clean canvas for exhibiting art.
The building was designed by the architect Igor Franić. His project was chosen among around 150 proposals sent to Zagreb Architect Society (Croatian: Društvo Arhitekata Zagreb, DAZ) which made the contest call in 1999. The works had begun in 2003, and the building was open to the public at the end of 2009.
The materials used are concrete and glass, and the lines are straight and contemporary. The meandering form of the side view evokes the work of Croatian painter Julije Knifer. He was one of the most important domestic artists in the 20th century. In one interview, the architect Franić said that it wasn’t his intention to make the meander, that he was merely focused on the building’s functionality. The added interpretation didn’t bother him if anything it added to the recognizability and a better understanding of the building’s function.
The new part is undoubtedly the facade designed as the video-wall, a LED screen that follows the meander line. This feature allows the MSU, or the artist, to step outside and open the art world to the general public.
The content and the collection
The idea of traditional museums was mainly to show the art to passive observers following a predetermined route. Contemporary museums follow a different objective: The goal is to include the people, to make them regular, not just one time visitors.
The new MUO has over 14.000 m2, 3.500 m2 for permanent and 1.500 m2 for temporary exhibitions. It also has a library, a multimedia hall, a lecture hall, a bookstore, a VIP lounge and a cafe. The main attraction for the kids, and some grown-ups, is a large double slide placed in the centre of the building, taking visitors from the first or second floor to the ground floor by sliding down. It is also one of the permanent artefacts, made by Carsten Höller.
The museum’s collection is continually upgrading, and it currently holds over 12 thousand artifacts signed by Croatian and international authors. The museum also cares for the collections of the most renowned Croatian artists, Vjenceslav Richter and Nada Kareš Richter, Ivan Kožarić and the photographer Tošo Dabac.
The media represented includes classics like drawings, paintings, photography and sculpture, and modern media like video, installations and internet art. Over the years, the audience could see international stars like the British duo Gilbert & George and Austrian artist Peter Kogler.
The MSU also featured great retrospectives of Croatian artists. These include the sculptor Vojin Bakić, the already mentioned Julije Knifer and conceptual artists Mladen Stilinović. Moving forward in time, the museum hosts exhibitions by current authors such as Dalibor Martinis, Zlatan Vehabović or Vlasta Delimar.
Besides the exhibitions, MSU is a place for visual education, offering art classes and hosting events. One of the most popular is, perhaps arguably, Summer at MSU (Croatian: Ljeto u MSU), established in 2014. The program offers a 4-in-1 experience with music, film, exhibition and performance and the highlights are the concerts of famous local musicians.
References and sources:msu.hr & Interview Igor Franić, Kontura art magazin