Art & Culture

Your essential guide to galleries, museums and the performing arts in Croatia

Art

Zagreb gallery guide

Zagreb’s many galleries come in many guises – passionate independent venues rub shoulders with venerable institutions. Consider this your essential Zagreb gallery guide.

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Art

Dubrovnik art gallery guide

Dubrovnik is not all about luxury hotels and destination restaurants. Step inside our Dubrovnik art gallery guide to discover where to catch some of Croatia's best modern and contemporary art, and coolest exhibition programmes.

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Things to do

Essential Dubrovnik attractions

Dubrovnik's glittering past as the Republic of Ragusa means it has several stand-out sights of great historic interest, which combine with its scattering of museums and galleries. Fascinating landmarks dot the Old Town an easy stroll from each other, perfect for a day's sightseeing. Consider this your Dubrovnik attractions bucket list.

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Art

The best Split museums and galleries

A bustling hub in Roman times, Split – which is built around an old Roman palace – is full of unique historic and artistic treasures. Split attractions include a number of museums and galleries that make the city a fascinating destination for art aficionados, historians and sightseers alike. Here's where to head.

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Things to do

Essential Zagreb attractions

Zagreb attractions number plenty of stately icons among their ranks, owing to the city's status as a former Habsburg hub and capital of a new nation. Towering cathedrals, a venerable zoo and a stately cemetery all provide plenty of things to do in Zagreb. Our experts pick out the best.

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Cultural events in Zagreb

Art

Northern Iberians: Life, Death and Ritual on the other side of the Pyrenees

There’s nothing quite like a picture of a smashed-up human skull to send you scurrying to an exhibition about some prehistoric culture you’ve never heard of before. The stark poster advertising ‘Northern Iberians: Life, Death and Ritual on the Other Side of the Pyrenees’, a travelling exhibition created by the Archeological Museum of Catalonia, certainly does the trick. It focuses our attention on the darker rituals of the ancient Iberians – who lived in north-eastern Spain in the immediate centuries before and after Christ. The poster image refers to some of their odder practices, such as cutting off their enemies’ heads and nailing them to poles in the middle of the street. However there was more to Iberian culture than this, as the fine ceramics and jewellery in this exhibition attests. The Iberians also had a written language, although it was supplanted by Latin in the second century AD and has no known descendants. However it’s in Iberian sculpture that this shadowy culture comes alive, with figures of goddesses, sphinx-like beasts and armoured horsemen revealing a compelling, part-classical part-primitive beauty. If you’ve never come across the ancient Iberians before, this is a great opportunity to make their acquaintance.

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Art

Device Art

The Kontejner curatorial team’s slightly barmy Device Art triennial rolls on into autumn 2015, continuing their fascination with artists who work through gadgets, machines, high technology and low technology to comment on our increasing reliance on the world of the device. This year the event is co-curated by the Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana, the Video Pool Media Arts Centre in Winnipeg and Eastern Bloc in Montreal.

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Things to do

World Literature Festival

Big names from Croatia, the Balkans and beyond take part in readings and round-table discussions. Events featuring English-language writers will be in spoken in English.

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Art

Demons of Modernism

A collaboration between the Modern Gallery and the Piazza Roverela in the Italian town of Rovigo, ‘Demons of Modernism’ brings together some of the finest examples of Symbolism, the turbulent, dreamy, sometimes nightmarish current of modern art that prevailed in the years before World War I. What makes the exhibition quite novel is that it juxtaposes the canvases of James Ensor, Odilon Redon, Arnold Böcklin, Franz von Stück and others with those of Croatian artists (notably Bela Čikos Sesija, Mirko Rački and Vlaho Bukovac) working at roughly the same time. Indeed it’s fair to say that Croatian modern art exploded out of this fin-de-siècle encounter with European Symbolism, and this exhibition takes the audience back right to the source of this art-historical big bang. The Croatian paintings in the exhibition are for the most part taken from the Modern Gallery’s permanent collection – so if you don’t catch them now, they’ll probably be hanging here again in a few months’ time. The paintings on loan from Rovigo are a different kettle of fish entirely – unique and compelling images like Franz von Stück’s Kiss of the Sphinx; or Gustave Moreau’s Traveller or Oedipus are rarely seen outside their home gallery and fully deserve to be savoured while they can.

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Croatia’s top venues for art and exhibitions

Museums

Museum of Contemporary Art • Zagreb

Costing some €60 million and covering 14,500 square metres, the MCA – MSU in Croatian – is the most significant museum to open in Zagreb for more than a century. Its collection includes pieces from the 1920s and gathered since 1954 when Zagreb's original MCA (in Upper Town) was founded. Of particular note are Carsten Höller's slides, similar to the 'Test Site' installation he built for Tate Modern's Turbine Hall but custom-made and site specific for Zagreb – pieces of art patrons can ride to the parking lot. Croatia's outstanding 1950s generation of abstract-geometric artists (Ivan Picelj, Aleksandar Srnec, Vjenceslav Richter, Vlado Kristl) play a starring role in the collection, alongside photographs and films documenting the more outlandish antics of legendary performance artists like Tom Gotovac and Vlasta Delimar. The new-media and computer-art works produced by the Zagreb-based New Tendencies movement in the late '60s and early 70s reveals just how ahead-of-its-time much of Croatian art really was.

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Art

Moderna Galerija • Zagreb

Housed in the impressively renovated Vraniczany palace on Zrinjevac, the Modern Gallery is home to the national collection of 19th- and 20th-century art. It kicks off in spectacular fashion with huge canvases by late-19th-century painters Vlaho Bukovac and Celestin Medović dominating the sublimely proportioned hexagonal entrance hall. From here the collection works its way chronologically through the history of Croatian painting, taking in Ljubo Babić's entrancing 1920s landscapes and Edo Murtić's jazzy exercises in 1950's abstract art. Several contemporary artists are featured here too - sufficient to whet your appetite before hopping over the river to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see some more. The Moderna Galerija's most innovative feature is the tactile gallery, a room containing versions of famous paintings in relief form (together with Braille captions) for unsighted visitors to explore.

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Museums

Museum of Arts & Crafts • Zagreb

This grand Hermann Bollé-designed palace, founded in 1880, was originally based on 'a collection of samples for master craftsmen and artists who need to re-improve production of items of everyday use'. It has now grown to become the country's premier collection of applied art, with a wide-ranging gaggle of pieces from Baroque altar pieces to Biedermeier furniture, domestic ceramics, clocks and contemporary poster design. A side room full of synagogue silverware and ritual candlesticks recalls the rich heritage of Zagreb's pre-World War II Jewish community. On the top floor, a collection of 19th-20th century ball gowns and evening dresses provides a strong whiff of glamour. The museum is also a major venue for temporary exhibitions with big themes, with the photographs of Rene Magritte and the history of Croatian Art Deco drawing recent crowds.

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Museums

Croatian Museum of Naive Art • Zagreb

Housed on the second floor of the 18th-century Raffay Palace, this collection is a solid introduction to Croatian Naive Art, mostly the work of self-taught peasant painters from the villages of the east. The collection is frequently rotated but there are usually plenty of representations of rural life executed by the big names of the genre: Ivan Generalić, Mirko Virius and Ivan Rabuzin. Also included are international primitives such as the self-taught Polish-Ukrainian artist Nikifor.

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More cultural venues in Croatia

Theatre

Croatian National Theatre • Split

As in Zagreb, the National Theatre in Split played a vital role in the promotion of the Croatian language while the country was still ruled from elsewhere. This venerable institution opened in 1893, first at Dobroma, before this imposing edifice was built decades later. Early performances featured troupes from Italy while a local theatrical culture developed. Today the HNK not only stages Croatian-language theatre, but also foreigner-friendly opera and ballet. It's a major venue during the Split Summer Festival.

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Art

Croatian Association of Artists • Zagreb

Visit for the building alone, a circular pavilion standing in the middle of Victims of Fascism Square a ten-minute walk south-east of the main square. The building was designed by sculptor Ivan Meštrović just before World War II as an exhibition space in honour of the then Yugoslav King Peter I. Inside, the circular walls contain three galleries, which span two floors and provide an outstanding venue for a dynamic program of contemporary art exhibitions and events organized by the Croatian Association of Artists (HDLU). The circular central hall features natural light through the cupola.

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Art

Dubrovnik Contemporary Gallery

When you tire of all of the “I love Dubrovnik” t-shirts and refrigerator magnets, take a 10-minute stroll from the city walls to the Dubrovnik Contemporary Gallery, on the left-hand side of the road that leads to the Excelsior Hotel. This little gem features striking contemporary paintings by Croatian-American artist Selma Hafizovic Muller, who also exhibits in many galleries in New York. Her work is colourful, edgy: a welcome change from all the traditional landscapes, harbour scenes and sunsets.

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Art

Greta Gallery • Zagreb

Zagreb has always lacked the kind of small-scale independent galleries that occupy the fertile spawning grounds in-between public art institutions and private dealers. Which is why Greta, a gallery in a former clothes shop that opens a new exhibition every Monday night, has proved such an instant hit. Greta doesn’t follow too strict a curatorial framework, ensuring the widest possible variety of artistic approaches. The gallery’s location, at the apex of a bohemian Bermuda Triangle formed by the Fine Arts Academy, the Architecture Faculty and the Sedmica bar, ensures a knowledgeable and enthusiastic public. Indeed Greta regularly receives more visitors than many of the more established galleries, with opening-night celebrants spilling out onto the pavement outside.

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Art

Lauba House • Zagreb

Lurking mysteriously in a little-visited area 4km west of the centre is this brand-new private art gallery, occupying a century-old barrack block painted in alluring matt black by modern restorers. Displaying the collection of businessman Tomislav Kličko, Lauba includes major works by virtually everyone who is anyone in Croatian art from about 1950 onwards. If you've already visited the Museum of Contemporary Art, then Lauba will provide you with a refreshingly alternative take on the local art establishment, concentrating on visually appealing works as well as more conceptual exercises. Figurative paintings by Lovro Artuković and disarmingly bling sculptures by Kristjan Kožul are among the highlights.

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