It’s often thought that the cultural and political turbulence of the Sixties was something that happened in London, Paris, Prague or West-Coast USA, leaving other parts of the world to passively watch from the sidelines. What this major exhibition reveals is that countries like Croatia were not on the fringes of a revolution happening somewhere else, they were themselves at the centre of the whirlwind.
Then a constituent republic of the communist-ruled Yugoslav federation, Croatia enjoyed an unprecedented economic boom in the 1960s. People had money in their pockets, feeding the kind of consumer industries that employed designers, marketing strategists, advertising executives and stylists – the very people we call “creatives” today. Cracks in communist discipline unleashed increased dissonance in political views and a relaxed attitude to censorship, while relative cultural freedom allowed avant-garde artists to explore any avenues they wanted.
Navigating its way through politics, art, pop music and film, the exhibition is a lavish visual treat: examples of magazine layouts, clothing patterns and swanky domestic furniture will provide stacks of inspiration for anyone interested in modern design. Sudden shifts in lifestyles are signalled by exhibits such as the “Fića”, the Yugoslav-made version of the Fiat 600 that brought car ownership to the masses; a pair of Rifle jeans, the most popular purchase for Croatian shoppers popping over the border to Trieste; and arguably the most revolutionary innovation of all, the contraceptive pill, introduced to Yugoslavia in 1965.