Reflections of Bauhaus: the Academy of Applied Arts in Zagreb, 1949-1955

Reflections of Bauhaus: the Academy of Applied Arts in Zagreb, 1949-1955
October 22, 2019 – January 12, 2020

Exhibition curated by Jasna Galjer, Tonko Maroević and Ana Medić

Students APU, 1952.

Published in far-off 1954 in the Official Gazette for October 22 was an edict abolishing the Academy of Applied Arts in Zagreb (1949-1955).  According to the curt administrative formulation, the students would have to finish their studies and take their degrees at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, even if according to the curriculum and syllabus of the abolished Academy of Applied Arts, up to a deadline of the end of 1955.

Thus, in never explained circumstances, the Zagreb Academy of Applied Arts formally finished its operations.  However, in the period to come, the influence of the institution was stepped up when the graduates of the Academy entered the general area of the professionalization of design and changes to the previous conventions in visual culture.  This is one of the episodes in recent Croatian cultural history that still attracts divided opinions. On the one hand, there is a mythical aura of a project that was never allowed to come to fruition, a visionary idea that was too radical for its own setting, while the other offers total marginalisation.  Accordingly it is something of a challenge to throw light on the real attainments of this institution, which is perceived as a mediator of the Bauhaus tradition.  This challenge led to the idea of producing the exhibition Reflections of Bauhaus: the Academy of Applied Arts in Zagreb, 1949-1955, to be held in Klovićevi dvori Gallery from October 22, 2019 t0 January 12 2020.

In this project, Klovićevi dvori Gallery joins in the worldwide celebration of the centenary of the foundation of Bauhaus, school for architecture and applied art (1919-1933), while the information that the Academy of Applied Arts operated precisely in today’s gallery venue at Jesuit Square 4 certainly enhances the interest of the theme.

The generation of artists and designers who completed their education at the Academy of Applied Arts, with an educational

Zlatko Bourek, story board for the movie Captain Arbanas Marko, 1967

model and curriculum the principles of which can be seen to stem from Bauhaus and its far-reaching influence set its mark on the image of cultural and artistic reality in the post-war period, in which one of the possible versions of modernity was related to ideas of social and technological progress. After the FPRY broke with the USSR in 1948, and after the Cominform Resolution, in the following decade of the de-Stalinisation and liberalisation of cultural production, in the complex economic and political circumstances of the shrivelling of the doctrine of socialist-realism, the paradigm of which was gradually deconstructed during the first half of the 1950, the circumstances were formed in which the short history of the working of the Academy of Applied Arts in Zagreb was to unfold. The utopian premises of the curriculum and the takeoff and achievements of its graduates and their creative energies in productions during the second half of the 20th century are the key theme of this exhibition.

The principal figures involved, the students of the time who developed into the most identifiable names of the school, include Vasko Lipovac, Ordan Petlevski, Jagoda Buić, Zvonimir Lončarić, Ante Jakić, Mladen Pejaković, Zlatko Bourek and Pavao Štalter.  Also worthy of mention among the more important enrolees of the Academy are those in the generation of designers that includes  Bruno Planinšek, Mario  Antonini, Aleš Debenjak, Boris Babić, Milan Dobrić, Joža Rebernak, Marija Kalentić, Milica Rosenberg and Marta Šribar.  The work of these figures, after they had graduated from the Academy and in the decades to come, was to shape and characterise the expanded field of visual culture, art and design in Croatia.

Mladen Pejaković, Composition on board, 1970.

Reflections of the historical avant-gardes, above all of Bauhaus and of its educational and experimental aspects, as well as local circumstances relating to the continuity of the pre-war avant-garde and the influence of pre-war Modernism and its tradition, were to make possible a broad platform for activity on which would appear the concept of the synthesis of art and craft, art and industry, an echo of the utopian ideas of Bauhaus.  Hence the exhibition comprises a wide range of works – paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, set-design and costume-design sketches, posters, photographs, animated film, objects of applied art and design and so on.

Although it was operational as educational institution for a very short period, no more than six years and two cohorts long, the legacy of its influence in culture, as generator of the modernisation of society, is still to be felt.  The exhibition gives an integral depiction of the phenomenon of the Academy of Applied Arts in its historical framework and a re-examination of its previous reception through the viewfinder of some of the key questions. Who were the initiators and creators of the experimental curriculum, how and why was it founded, and what were the real reasons for its abolition, as well as what, within these constellations, were the shares of individual creative personalities as teachers? These are just some of the issues that the exhibition takes up.