The municipality of Nikšić in Montenegro has just started to demolish The Home Of The Revolution, a legendary concrete structure by architect Marko Mušič of Slovenia. This building is published in the Museum of Modern Art’s catalog for Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980, now on view through January 13, 2019. As the dust settles at MoMA after the opening of the show, new dust is raised in Montenegro.
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The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City is hosting an extraordinary exhibition surveying late modern architecture from a country that no longer exists: Yugoslavia. Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980 is on view now through January 13, 2019. Approximately six hundred items are on display in salon style across MoMA’s galleries including original drawings, newly crafted scale models, and a series of commissioned photographs by a Swiss photographer Valentin Jeck. The material is not presented chronologically but rather arranged spatially as a series of sequential topics ranging from Global Networks to Everyday Life and Identities, each branching into sub-topics. Distinct rooms are reserved for individual architects that the curators have highlighted as key thinkers in the spatialization of the Yugoslav socialist identity, including Bogdan Bogdanović, Juraj Neidhardt, Vjenceslav Richter, and Edvard Ravnikar. An entire gallery is devoted to the brutalist reconstruction of Skopje featuring the work of Kenzo Tange with Janko Konstantinov, a graduate of Yale. While female architects like Milica Šterić, Melanija Marušić, and Svetlana Kana Radević did not get a separate booth, they were largely present in galleries and through an essay on gender in Yugoslav architecture published in the exhibition catalog, written by curatorial assistant Anna Kats and Theodossis Issaias. The show's curators, MoMA’s Martino Stierli and guest curator Vladimir Kulić, begin the show by asserting that this exhibition is a survey of architecture that has been all but absent from modern history. They also make clear that Yugoslavia was expelled from the Soviet bloc in 1948, removing it from Stalin’s grip on spatial esthetics. The country had a need to search for its collective identity elsewhere. As Vladimir Kulić states, the architecture from Yugoslav socialism is an adaptation rather than copy, giving the work a quality of enhanced interpretation. The work exhibited draws a range of inspiration from U.S. postwar corporate architecture, brutalism on the global stage, most notably from Paul Rudolph and Kenzo Tange, Scandinavia’s organic volumetrics, Alvar Aalto’s sensibility towards nature, and playful forms in concrete relating to Oscar Niemeyer’s Brazilian freeing of form to allow expression of permeability and elegance. MoMA’s exhibit suggests that socialist architecture in Yugoslavia was a success of its own time. Its unique adaptation of late modernism was complementary with other grand narratives of modern architecture worldwide. To someone like me who lived in the architecture of Yugoslavia on display at MoMA, the success of the exhibit is two-fold. First, thanks to daring curatorial decisions to organize the material in topics rather than chronologically or as a fixed narrative, the exhibit avoids the nostalgia that surrounds avant-garde Soviet architecture. And second, these Yugoslav examples are cast as success stories from the recent socialist past, with a post-avant-garde afterlife increasingly relevant to contemporary times. As Stierli points out, a majority of the architecture presented in the exhibition is still in use today. Included in the exhibit are two outstanding works, namely the excerpts from Mila Turajlić’s video arrangement Living Space/Loving Space (2018), and Jasmina Čibić’s mesmerizing video entitled Nada: Act 1 (2016), which turned Richter’s model for the Yugoslav Pavilion at Expo 1958 in Brussels into a string musical instrument. At the entrance to the galleries, visitors will find a legendary pan-Yugoslav kiosk K67 by Saša Mächtig of Slovenia doing precisely what the kiosk was meant for: providing information. Barry Bergdoll noted in a follow-up event at the AIA Center for Architecture that this exhibition celebrates an architecture that came out of a now superseded political system, and the show suggests that Yugoslavia's socialism was perhaps not that nefarious after all. Toward a Concrete Utopia is an extraordinary exhibition that is opening doors for research on the subject. Expanding scholarship was reportedly an ambition of Stierli from the beginning of planning for the exhibit. This widening will help bring to view Yugoslav architecture beyond MoMA’s selection. According to the warm reception, architecture from socialist Yugoslavia is on its way to being secured in the legacy of global modernism. Including a single shelf with topical books published thus far would have helped augment the high quality of the exhibition. Such an insertion would have also offset possible critiques of a neo-colonial approach, seemingly the only possible approach while addressing the highly diverse modern design heritage of today’s balkanized countries as a single Yugoslavia, under the roof of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Hidden no more. Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss, PhD grew up in socialist Yugoslavia and is now a research architect based in New York. He is the author of Socialist Architecture: The Vanishing Act (JRP Ringier, Zuerich) and Socialist Architecture: The Reappearing Act. He is currently faculty at CUNY’s CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture and founder of NAO.NYC.
Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948-1980 is the first major exhibition in the United States to display the compelling portfolio of architecture from the former Yugoslavia. The exhibition will be on view at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) from July 15, 2018–January 13, 2019, and will include more than 400 visual documents from Yugoslavia’s prominent architects during the 45 years of the country’s existence. The architecture ranges from both soaring International Style skyscrapers and Brutalist structures of concrete geometric forms, representing the postwar style Yugoslavia’s architects developed in response to conflicting influences from both “the capitalist East and the socialist West,” according to a statement from the MoMA. Yugoslavia avoided the Cold War, instead became a leading figure in the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961. At the same time, the government built extensively in the hopes of modernizing and stimulating the economy to improve the lives of their citizens. The state also expanded its political influence in other Non-Aligned countries in Africa and the Middle East by building in and urbanizing those countries. Many memorials and monuments can be seen in the exhibition, showcasing Yugoslavia’s socialist ambition. Important architects such as Bogdan Bogdanović, Juraj Neidhardt, Svetlana Kana Radević, Edvard Ravnikar, Vjenceslav Richter, and Milica Šterić are featured in the exhibition. Check out this link for further details.
Concrete socialist relics in Eastern Europe usually enjoy hit-or-miss celebrity: they strike fame online or fade into derelict obscurity. One unfinished building, named the Dom Revolucije (Home of Revolution) in Nikšic, Montenegro, may be getting a new lease on life after years of disuse. Slovenian firm SADAR+VUGA, working in collaboration with Swiss practice HHF Architekten and local consultant Archicon, are re-imaging the building with cafes, park space, and more. The brutalist relic, designed by Slovenian architect Marko Mušic in the 1970s and abandoned in 1989, will be transformed into an lively urban hub containing cafés, an underground car park, pedestrian walkways, playgrounds, and a park. Initially, the building was intended to serve as a memorial to fallen freedom fighters and the socialist revolution. After 27 years of neglect, SADAR+VUGA, HHF Architekten, and Archicon were awarded the commission after their proposal won the "Competition for the Adaptation and Reconstruction for the Home of Revolution." Initially, the group contemplated completing the structure true to its original plans. However, they found that such a building would be grossly disproportional in size compared to its urban context: it would befit a city more than "ten times Nikšić's size." Instead, this design is meant to symbolize the progress the city of Nikšic has made from being a former minor Yugoslav town to Montenegro's second largest city. In the architect's words, this project will "serve the city and its residents" while being a "social activator that would represent today's changing conditions." In balancing old and new, the design will keep the original brutalist structure while adding more modern contemporary features. A new underground parking lot will keep the building pedestrian-friendly at street level. In regards to the building's program, only 10% of the interior will be climate controlled year-round. Other areas such as the promenade will be exposed to the elements, remaining open and flexible for future uses such as special events.
Tuesday> Palaces & Ruins of Third-Way Modernisation: The Legacy of Socialist Architecture and Urbanism in Yugoslavia
The Yugoslavian coast lines was the site of an unprecedented wave of modernist architectural monuments in the post–World War II period. This movement and its resulting monuments, buildings, urban and tourist developments created an alien but exotic landscape—a 1:1 museum of superb late-modern design. But the work produced during the period is barely known in this country. To remedy this situation the Austrian Cultural Forum at 11 East 52nd Street in Manhattan is hosting a roundtable discussion Tuesday, October 28th at 6:30p.m. with Vladimir Kulić, Srdjan Jovanović Weiss, and Michael Zinganel. These architects, artists, and intellectuals are all involved in bringing this spectacular work to a wider audience in this country.
The School of Missing Studies and Slought Foundation have recently returned from a “photo safari” to Petrova Gora in Croatia, one of many languishing memorials from the socialist era of the former Yugoslavia. Conceived in 1981 by Vojin Bakić, a Croatian sculptor who won many state-funded commissions, working with the architect Branislav Šerbetić, the project was designed as a 12-story-tall social center, set on the site of a Partisan field hospital used during World War II. Finally completed in 1989 as a monument to Yugoslavia’s resistance fighters, the memorial was used as intended for only a brief period before the Balkan crisis erupted. The wars that ensued scattered refugees around the region, and practically erased the political cause this structure was meant to embody. Today, Petrova Gora stands unused and empty—but not secured with lock and key. Thanks to the neglect of Croatia’s democratic government, which looks away from its socialist past, the memorial is more approachable and free than ever intended. Anyone can come here, enter the site, walk inside the monument, and wander upward through 12 interconnected levels all the way to the roof. The feeling of melancholy inspired by Petrova Gora is overwhelming, but it is irresistible to call it beautiful. Furthermore, an astonishing aspect of this monument is that inside, it is the size of a small Guggenheim museum, positioned on a dramatic hilltop site. It also is significant that the building is the work of an abstract artist, and that the architect played a minor role. Today’s contemporary artists have discovered this inhabitable monument, and are cementing careers by embracing Petrova Gora in their work. Take the video produced by David Maljkovic, which portrays the structure deep in the future as a neglected fiction. Other projects and expeditions to the site have produced similar imagery, evoking “nostalgia for the future.” All of these projects raise awareness about this exceptional work, and about the exceptionality of Yugoslav socialism when compared to the idolatry of the Soviet bloc. However, these artists’ projects fail to ignite strategic thinking and analysis, especially within the context of contemporary practice, about ideologies deploying art in place of design. Moreover, little if no work has been done to relate this monument to American influence upon Yugoslav cultural policies during the Cold War, making Yugoslavia an ally to the West and offsetting the Soviet East. American abstract art, conceptual art, and corporate architecture all play provocative roles in this history. So while artists exhaust the repertoire of visual interventions, the time is ripe for architects to step in. In contrast to socialism, which tended to freeze time and artistic competence, today in the emerging democracies in the Western Balkans the situation is much more open. Paradoxically, perhaps the best aspect of emerging democracy is that being behind may mean being next. Yet time is also limited for further action. Visitors to Petrova Gora have already spotted men with geodesic equipment measuring the site of the memorial and the monument itself. This may mean that we are already late on the scene, and that there is perhaps little time to think of a strategy to put this monument back in the future, either for an authentic use (which few would fund without a neoliberal zeal for profit returns), or preserved as a beautiful ruin. The time of earnestness may be over. This text is part of a forthcoming book created by Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss in collaboration with Berlin-based photographer Armin Linke, which explores the fate of a number of Socialist memorials in the region. The photo safari to Petrova Gora, along with further discussions among the participants in Zagreb, was part of the Slought Foundation’s traveling exhibit at the Croatian Association of Visual Artists and the School of Missing Studies’ workshop “City as a School of Politics,” held in Zagreb with local participants and curated by Katherine Carl.