Art & Culture

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

Great things to do in Zagreb in December
Things to do

Great things to do in Zagreb in December

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Zagreb. Advent has well and truly taken over the city, and there are so many mulled wine vendors that you could go to a different one every day of December and still have some left for January. December is also the month to party. The Garden Brewery welcomes two hip hop giants for one of its biggest nights yet; Illetricity festival culminates with an electrifying night at Boogaloo and New Years Eve calls for all kinds of explosive celebrations across the city. Here are some awesome things to do in Zagreb in December. RECOMMENDED: more great things to do in Zagreb.

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Zagreb lights up for Advent
Things to do

Zagreb lights up for Advent

Of all the exciting changes that have taken place in Zagreb over the last few years, few have had quite so much impact as Advent. Deftly transformed from a corny Christmas market into a cavalcade of yuletide cool, the new-look Advent season has been a huge hit with locals – and looks set to become a key tourist draw too. Zagreb has for years hosted a traditional pre-Christmas offering of souvenir stalls, mulled wine and sausage stands on the main pedestrian strip. The addition of rakija bars, speciality street food, outdoor music stages and a constellation of twinkly lights has taken it into another dimension. Advent activity no longer takes place just around the main square, but has spread to a scattering of nearby piazzas and parks, all in easy walking distance of each other; and the whole thing runs from the last week in November until the first few days of the New Year. If you’re looking for a month-long winter street party, then Zagreb is the place to find it. This updated Advent is also getting better and better as a shopping opportunity, with the vast majority of stalls delicious Croatian deli products including jams, liqueurs, honeys and olive oils. Many souvenir sellers are offering their own hand-made wares; from stuffed toys to kooky ceramics and hand-painted greetings cards. Zagreb’s winter makeover is not something that happened overnight. The reinvention of the pre-Christmas template has come gradually, thanks to a sequence of individual, sometimes entirely u

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Professor Balthazar: Zagreb's biggest cultural export
Art

Professor Balthazar: Zagreb's biggest cultural export

Professor Balthazar is arguably Zagreb’s greatest cultural export, delighting children across former Yugoslavia and much of northern Europe during his 1970s heyday. It was also one of the most psychedelic children’s cartoons of all time, featuring the kind of mind-altering patterns and kaleidoscopic colours that have ensured it cult status among generations of giggling young adults. With the original ten-minute episodes re-released on a series of six DVDs, now is the perfect time to catch up on the Balthazar legacy. The lead character is a kindly old scientist who solves people’s problems and calms their worries, frequently resorting to his hurly-burlytron machine to generate the most unexpected solutions. The stories are set in Balthazar town, a fanciful amalgam of Zagreb and an Adriatic city.  As a role model for children, Balthazar is hard to beat: the adventures are comfortingly old-school in the way they promote co-operation, ecological consciousness and faith in scientific progress. And the English-language voice-over is so good that never for one moment do you feel as if you are watching an eccentric Central-European cartoon. The Balthazar character was created by Zlatko Grgić, who directed an animated short featuring the professor in 1967, and was persuaded that the idea was strong enough to support a whole series. Grgić, together with Boris Dovniković, Boris Kolar and Ante Zaninović worked on the scripts, while academically-trained artist Zlatko Bourek was responsi

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Modern anxiety and the master of gloom: why we still love Giacometti
Art

Modern anxiety and the master of gloom: why we still love Giacometti

Summer’s over, it’s freezing cold, and everyone looks bloody miserable. To make things worse, the Art Pavilion are on a mission to reduce us all to trembling messes, a few anxiety attacks away from existential crises. Alberto Giacometti, the Swiss artist at the centre of their gloom-fest, would have been delighted. The first thing you’ll see at this exhibition is Walking Man I. You’ve got no choice about that, because they’ve plonked him right at the entrance like a spring up skeleton on a ghost ride. You might have seen pictures of this, Giacometti’s most famous sculpture, but it’s a startling sight in real life: pencil-skinny at 6ft, he’s wearing the kind of despairing expression most of us reserve for the baggage check-in queue. Maybe he’d cheer up a bit if someone told him his net worth. But then, we probably wouldn’t like him so much if he was smiling. Giacometti's brand of modernism is full of doom, and, like emotionally self-destructive teenagers, we're obsessed with it. His name has recently topped the bill in London, Paris, Istanbul and Vienna. And, just in case we slip back into liking pretty things and pop art, the Tate Modern have a mammoth retrospective planned for 2017. That’s a lot of fanfare for the man who stuck to clay and sad-looking portraits while his peers got trippy with Surrealism. His work is sober, stark and funereal. Which begs a simple question: what’s wrong with us? Plenty of things, is the answer, but the one that matters here is anxiety. We

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Croatia's icons
Things to do

Croatia's icons

While its ancient cities, coastline and summer festivals continue to grab media attention, Croatian contemporary culture remains comparatively under the radar. No fault of its own – its buzzy creative scenes are bursting with new life, but its cultural industries still tend to play second fiddle on the international stage. Saying that, Croatia is finally gathering steam as a cultural destination in its own right. Thanks to increasing planeloads of year-round visitors to it’s capital Zagreb, European integration, and a greater dialogue with the outside world, Croatia’s international profile is undergoing slow, albeit, subtle changes. And people are beginning to realize that there’s considerably more to this country than its beaches and antiquities. Last year saw the first Croatian film to be screened at Cannes since the country’s independence. Dalibor Matanić’s The High Sun, a generational study of war-scarred relationships, went on to nab the prestigious Jury’s prize. It also brought the hotly anticipated English translation of Olja Savičevic’sFarewell, Cowboy, which dazzled critics with its tough, darkly comic take Dalmatian life. In the world of art and design, Zagreb street artist OKO’s work has gone global, with behemoth institutions like London’s V&A museum newly listed on her CV, while grungy Zagreb fashion-house Dioralop continue to wow catwalks internationally. There’s also an emerging cabal of Croat musicians who compose and perform in perfect English. The singer-s

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The best of Croatia

Zagreb gallery guide
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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Dubrovnik art gallery guide
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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Essential Dubrovnik attractions
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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The best Split museums and galleries
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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Croatia’s top venues for art and exhibitions

Museum of Contemporary Art • Zagreb
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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Moderna Galerija • Zagreb
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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Museum of Arts & Crafts • Zagreb
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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Croatian Museum of Naive Art • Zagreb
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

Croatian National Theatre • Split
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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Croatian Association of Artists • Zagreb
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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Dubrovnik Contemporary Gallery
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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Greta Gallery • Zagreb
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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Lauba House • Zagreb
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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