Kristina Kulakova: How would you define contemporary art? In which period of time would you frame the artists who are exhibited in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb (MSU)?
Snježana Pintarić: When our museum was established as the City Gallery of Contemporary Art in 1954, it was one of the few museums and galleries in this part of Europe, which included the word “contemporary” in the name of the institution. The group of people who founded the museum wanted to establish an institution, which would present a new kind of art, different from the type promoted in Modern Art Gallery (primarily a collection of National Art, influenced by modernism). The most important break with traditional art theory happened in Croatia in the 50s. It was the break with social realism and the start of the group EXAT 51, which was inaugurated constructive abstract art. This is the reason why we collect artworks beginning with the 1950s until today and not since the 1960s as many other contemporary art museums do.
KK: What kind of art collections can be seen in the MSU?
SP: The collections of the museum are divided into the painting collection, the sculpture and installations collection, the film and video collection, the media art collection, and the collection of works on paper and posters. We are also in charge of four donations to the city of Zagreb: Atelier Kožarić, the photographic archive of Tošo Dabac, the house with a collection of architect and artist Vjenceslav Richter, and the collection of works of architect and artist Josip Seissel. The museum has a very good international collection of abstract, constructive, kinetic, and op art from the 1960s, early computer art, and video and conceptual art from the 1970s. For the new building we purchased installations from Carsten Höller and Miroslaw Balka. For those who are interested in finding more information about our collection and some highlights in the collection, I would recommend our website www.msu.hr
KK: What are the latest artworks that became part of the museum’s of contemporary art collection?
SP: The newest acquisitions were: the multimedia installation “East Side Story”, author: Igor Grubić; pictures made by the very interesting outsider artist Stjepan Bukovina; then the video Dalibor Martinis talks to Dalibor Martinis, 1978–2010, made by Dalibor Martinis; photographic works of Jasenko Rasol, etc. The American artist William Anthony donated his drawings to the museum and Rudolf Kämmer, from Germany, donated his graphic works.
KK: What are the MSU’s criteria for selecting an artwork through curating?
SP: There are two main criteria: First, the artworks should be original and innovative, and they should promote a new approach to art production or new styles and phenomena in contemporary art. We collect Croatian and international art, and our acquisition policy is mostly connected with the exhibition program. The second criteria depends on our collection: There is always something that you would like to have in the collection in order to fill some gaps of some periods, or some artists that are important for Croatian art scene.
KK: Where do you search for the new artworks?
SP: Once per year we organize a competition for an annual award. After the exhibition, where we show approximately forty artists, we buy three artworks for the collection. We also organize artist-in-residence programs, and many artists donate their works. The third possibility is collaborating with photographers who use our photographic studio to produce new works, and after the exhibition some of the works are included in the collection. For us it is also very important to purchase the works of art that were selected by our curators after the exhibitions.
KK: What are the most important contemporary art galleries in Croatia?
SP: In Zagreb you can see contemporary art in HDLU – The Croatian Association of Artists, Gallery Miroslav Kraljević, Gallery Nova run by WHW team, Gallery A-Ž and Gallery Galženica in Velika Gorica. The Glyptothek is also open for contemporary art projects as Gallery Klovićevi dvori and Umjetnički paviljon. Two of the most important private collections are the Lauba, which is also established as a museum, and the Museum of Avantgarde Art, whose owner, Marinko Sudac, is on the web. In Zagreb there are also two private galleries that promote contemporary artists – Gallery Greta and Gallery Kranjčar – but the situation is not that good regarding this field.
KK: Have you exhibited a young artist at MSU, opening him or her to the public?
SP: The T-HT MSU Award very often promotes young artists, and some of them were awarded – for example, Lala Rašić, Ana Horvat, or Luiza Margan. On the ground floor of the museum we have a gallery, and this is the place where we organize the exhibitions of younger artists, such as Latvian artist Miks Mitrevisc, group ABS, etc. Young artists often participate in residency programs as well. The last one was Fabian Knecht, who made a provocative installation on the museum’s roof.
KK: How did the audience react to the new MSU building?
SP: There are different opinions – some people criticized it, some people liked it. Very often I find out from the people that they liked it much more when they came inside because there are many beautiful spaces in the museum, which you would not expect from the outside. But mostly the reactions are positive, and the Croatian Association of Architects awarded architect Igor Franić for this project.
KK: How would you describe the new museum’s segment audience? Has it changed since the opening of the new building?
SP: The audience changed, of course. Today we have around 100,000 visitors per year, and in the old space we only had a few thousand visitors. The audience is quite varied – children come with schools, families come on weekends, students and the younger audience prefer different programs than older people.
KK: How do you work with the audience?
SP: We have free-of-charge guided tours, we organize lectures, talks with the artists and workshops. We collaborate with teachers and organize special programs for them.
KK: What are the current means of promoting the Museum of Contemporary Art?
SP: I strongly believe that good art and good programming are the best way to promote a museum. We use our website, newsletter, Twitter, and Facebook. The media in Croatia and in the surrounding countries are also a big help for the promotion.
KK: In a previous interview you said that literature influenced your professional development. Please name five of your favorite books.
SP: Lately I read a lot novels by Orhan Pamuk: Istanbul, The Red, Museum of Innocence, Old loves are; and Thomas Mann – Buddenbrooks, and Nedjeljko Fabrio – Berenikas Hair.
KK: I read in an interview that some people criticized you 15 years ago for the fact that you weren’t an expert in contemporary art, when you accepted becoming the director of MSU. What challenges did you encounter in the contemporary art field?
SP: I always wanted to work in contemporary art museums because contemporary art is so interesting and challenging. I love challenges, but I can tell you that these last fifteen years were much more challenging in a museological sense. We had to work hard on transforming the institution from a small gallery – with a very good exhibition program but with terrible storage facilities, without a restoration workshop, with an old system of documentation – into a new, modern, multi-program institution open to a wide range of audiences.
KK: Where can you get a good art education with a focus on contemporary art in Croatia?
SP: Even though they are not so focused on contemporary art, the Academy of Fine Arts and the Faculty of Philosophy do offer some seminars dedicated to this subject.
KK: When you became the director of the MSU, one of your goals was to create a new building for the museum. Do you feel like you have fulfilled your mission? Are you satisfied with the outcome?
SP: In last four years we have organized many great exhibitions and also other kind of programs. We had 600,000 visitors and people in Zagreb have become used to our new premises. On the western façade of the museum there is a big LED screen on which we present video works. This looks great in the night. There is always something new happening in the museum and people are visiting us. I am happy, and I believe that we have fulfilled our goal.
KK: What are your new goals?
SP: The new goals are: opening the museum to the public for more interactive activities, networking with other museums in Europe in order to exchange collections and exhibitions, and also the education of the museum staff.
KK: What has changed in the last 15 years on the Croatian contemporary art scene?
SP: There are many more private initiatives, artists are better connected with international scene, and the art scene is much more alive.
KK: Please name a few highlights in the upcoming MSU program. What are the events that shouldn’t be missed in the Croatian art scene over the next year?
SP: I recommend two retrospective exhibitions: Julije Knifer and Vlasta Delimar, Cindy Sherman works from the private collection of Neda Young; and “Undefeated Forest” – exhibition highlighting the motif of the forest in the work of surrealist poet Radovan Ivšić.
KK: Please give some tips to a visitor in Zagreb who is interested in contemporary art.
SP: Visit City Museum Zagreb where you can learn about the history of the city, then go to St. Mark’s church, and from there to the cathedral. Very close to it is the marketplace Dolac and you can eat in the restaurant Kerempuh. Walk on Zrinjevac and at the end take the no. 6 tram, which will lead you directly to MSU!
Snježana Pintarić has been the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb since 1998. In the period from 1998 till 2003 she was a member of The Croatian Museum Council, member of the Cultural Council for International Cooperation and European Integrations at the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia, and a Vice President of the Croatian ICOM Committee.