Nenad Makuljević

Yugoslav Art and Culture:
From the Art of a Nation to the
Art of a Territory








Art and culture have great significance in the creation of nations and national identities. Art was understood as the embodiment of the national spirit and testimony to its existence, as well as a means for creating a nation. The historical processes of creating Yugoslav art and culture, as well as their fates show just that. The rise and fall of the idea of Yugoslav art occurred during three different historical periods – the period until the unification in 1918, in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes/Yugoslavia and in the socialist Yugoslav state. The dynamics of the emergence and duration of the idea of Yugoslav art was determined by different political contexts, which never completely interrupted the initiated processes.


The idea of South Slav unity is closely associated with the idea of Yugoslav culture and art. Cultural closeness, understood in the broadest sense, as well as a common space and historical fates contributed to the building of togetherness among the South Slavic peoples. The Yugoslav “Kulturnation” gradually took shape within the scope of the numerous activities of intellectual and cultural elites, individuals and organisations during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Cooperation between the South Slavic literary and cultural elites began to develop in the first half of the 19th century. National liberation struggles against different invaders, oral tradition and epics, the revolution of 1848, linguistic connectivity and the emergence of pan-Slavic ideas contributed to the recognition and revelation of a common culture of the South Slavic peoples. Over time, South Slavic cultural interconnectivity brought about the creation of a cultural context and network in which a prominent place was assumed by the most prominent cultural figures. Authors such as Vuk Karadzić, Jernej Kopitar and Petar II Petrović Njegoš became well known and gained recognition in various cultural centers – Zagreb, Belgrade, Ljubljana and Novi Sad, thus contributing to the mutual rapprochement of the South Slavic peoples.

The first idea of Yugoslavism coincided with the emergence of the idea of the development of Yugoslav fine arts. The Croatian historian Ivan Kukuljević Sakcinski was the first to undertake encyclopedic work in the field of fine arts among the South Slavs. He wrote Slovnik umjetnikah jugoslavenskih (A Lexicon of Yugoslav Artists) presenting the knowledge about Croatian, Serbian, and Slovenian artists.. It was published in five volumes from 1858 to 1860. As he emphasized, the idea was to compile the first lexicon of South Slavic artists, since there were no other people, except the Slavs, who had no art history and that “the knowledge and education of every people are judged on the basis of their scientific and art history”.1 It is evident that, in accordance with the dominant ideas of his time, Sakcinski advocated the opinion that national and cultural affirmations were closely related and that art history could contribute to nation-building. He carried out the work on Slovnik, including the gathering of material and preparation of the lexicon for publication, in cooperation with other South Slavic intellectuals, writers and artists. As for the artists’ lithographs, he said that they were made by “our prominent painter and lithographer, Anastas Jovanović Bugarin”.2 Sakcinski’s activity was of great significance because it laid the groundwork for Yugoslav art history.

During the second half of the 19th century a cultural rapprochement among the South Slavic peoples continued. At the initiative of Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer, the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts (JAZU) was founded in Zagreb in 1866. It was the first scientific and cultural institution bearing the designation “Yugoslav” in its name. Strossmayer also manifested his commitment to the Yugoslav idea in the paintings commissioned for Djakovo Cathedral. Members of South Slavic peoples are depicted in the compositions of the Adoration of the Magi, Last Judgement and Lamentation of Christ. The events in Herzegovina and Montenegro also played a part in strengthening the Yugoslav idea in the artistic world. Representations of the uprisings and struggles against the Ottoman Empire popularized the peoples in those territories among the South Slavs and beyond. Artists such as Djura Jakšić, Ferdo Kikerec and Jaroslav Čermak were inspired by these events. Strossmayer bought Čermak’s painting The Wounded Montenegrin and donated it to the JAZU Gallery.

The idea about Yugoslav cultural unity reached its highest point in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of its manifestations was the joint Serbian-Slovenian funeral festivity, involving the transfer of the bodies of Jernej Kopitar and Vuk Karadžić from St Marx Cemetery in Vienna to Ljubljana and Belgrade respectively. In October 1897, the exhumation and transfer of their bodies were organized by the Serbian Royal Academy and Slovenska Matica (Slovene Society). This public manifestation was the testimony to strong South Slavic interconnectivity, based on cultural cooperation.

The year 1904 played a major role in the development of the Yugoslav cultural idea since it brought a great political change in the Kingdom of Serbia. The royal throne was mounted by Peter I Karadjordjević, while state cultural policy began intensively to promote the Yugoslav idea. Yugoslavism was already highlighted during the coronation celebrations and served as propaganda for King Peter I Karadjordjević.

The First Yugoslav Art Exhibition was organized on the basis of the idea and advocacy of Mihailo Valtrović, a renowned professor at the Great School, about the joint exhibition activity of Yugoslav artists. The exhibition was formally organized by the Great School students in Belgrade, but its initiators were Valtrović and his younger associate, archeologist Miloje Vasić. The Serbian state stood behind the organisation of the whole event. The exhibition was staged on the premises of the Great School in September 1904. It was opened by King Peter I Karadjordjević and the works were exhibited by Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian and Bulgarian artists. The exhibition was of crucial importance. It demonstrated the unity of Yugoslav artists, new artistic trends were presented to the public and the paintings of Croatian, Serbian and Slovenian artists were bought for the Yugoslav Gallery in the National Museum in Belgrade.

Up to the World War I, Yugoslav art exhibitions were also staged in Sofia in 1906, Zagreb in 1908 and Belgrade in 1912. At the Second Yugoslav Exhibition in Sofia, the joint artistic society Lada was founded. This society became the organizer of future exhibitions. Yugoslav exhibitions made a considerable contribution to the formation of a common South Slavic cultural space, while other similar activities were also initiated. The artists who were dissatisfied with Lada, which functioned on the federal principle and had national sections, organized the Yugoslav Art Colony. It operated as an association of integral Yugoslavs and included Nadežda Petrović, Ivan Meštrović, Ferdo Vesel, Emanuel Vidović, Ivan Grohar and Rihard Jakopič. The First Dalmatian Exhibition in Split in 1908 and the exhibition entitled “Despite Unheroic Times” held in Zagreb in 1910 also had pro-Yugoslav programmes.

The pro-Yugoslav cultural policy pursued by Belgrade after 1904 also resulted in the commissioning of Ivan Meštrović to design public monuments in Serbia. In any case, he had always declared himself a Yugoslav artist. He held that the cultural basis of a common Yugoslav identity should be sought in epic poetry. He saw in the Kosovo Cycle both Serbian and Yugoslav mythology, so he designed the Vidovdanski Hram (St Vitus’ Day Temple) as a monument to Yugoslav folk religion.

Meštrović was also entrusted with the design of the Art Pavilion of the Kingdom of Serbia at the International Exhibition in Rome in 1911. At the invitation of the Serbian government, a group of Croatian artists led by Meštrović exhibited their works in the Serbian pavilion. Meštrović, Ljubo Babić, Mirko Rački, Vladimir Becić and other Croatian artists exhibited works inspired by the Kosovo Cycle, the central theme of the pavilion. This was a clear sign of their Yugoslav commitment and a strong political message to the international public. At the same time, Paja Jovanović, celebrated as a great Serbian painter, exhibited his works in the Austrian pavilion.

During World War I, the significance of culture and art in the presentation of pro-Yugoslav ideas did not decline. On the contrary, art became one of the important testimonies to the existence of the Yugoslav nation, as well as a means for spreading the idea of a Yugoslav state. Ivan Meštrović took an active part in the Yugoslav Committee which, within the scope of its propaganda activities, organized numerous exhibitions. The most important propaganda and exhibition projects included Meštrović’s exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1915 and joint exhibitions by Yugoslav artists in Lyons in 1917 and Geneva in 1918.


The end of World War I and the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes represented a new social and political reality. The Kingdom brought together peoples who had lived in different cultural environments. The territory occupied by the new state had a different historical and cultural past, which was reflected in all aspects of public and private life. Urban design, public monuments, artistic life, cultural institutions, the appearance and furnishing of private spaces, as well as the cultural identity of the population differed very much in the region, from Slovenia to Macedonia.

Under the new conditions, the creation of a single state and national cultural and artistic identity imposed itself as an important question. Emphasis was laid on the transition to a new phase in the creation/unification of the Yugoslavs. However, the pre-war enthusiasm of the pro-Yugoslav artistic and cultural elites began to fade away in the complex reality of the new state. The further development and strengthening of the Yugoslav idea gave way to the beginning of inter-ethnic political struggles. In such circumstances, a very complex cultural situation, coupled with different concepts of understanding Yugoslavism was created. This also influenced the adoption of different artistic practices aimed at highlighting and building a state and national identity, as well as monarchist propaganda. Fine arts, architecture and public monuments were building the cultural identity of Yugoslavia, but the process was neither harmonized nor conceptually unique.

Artistic life was marked by the individual commitments and aspirations of artists in displaying their artistic expression, on the one hand, and efforts to create a Yugoslav artistic culture, on the other. In the post-war period, artistic life was gradually restored. The majority of artists turned to the most important European center – Paris, from which new ideas and modernist stylistic beliefs were brought to the country. Thus, there was a generation of artists in the Yugoslav space whose work was harmonized with contemporary European artistic ideals. The most distinguished artists among them included, inter alia, Sava Šumanović, Marin Tartaglia, Petar Palavičini, Jovan Bijelić, Lazar Ličenoski, Ivan Tabaković, Krsto Hegedušić, Tone Kralj, Lojze Dolinar, Rihard Jakopič... At the same time, authentic avant-garde movements, such as Zenit, also emerged in the Yugoslav space. Although the most current trend on the art scene was not primarily concerned with the issues of Yugoslavism in art, various activities were carried out with the aim of contributing to the creation of a common Yugoslav identity.

The organisation of Yugoslav art exhibitions continued in the post-war period, but without the participation of Bulgarian artists. The Fifth Yugoslav Art Exhibition, staged in Belgrade in 1922, was an event that accompanied the wedding ceremony of King Alexander I Karadjordjević and Princess Maria of Romania. Due to its connection with current monarchist events, this exhibition resembled the First Yugoslav Art Exhibition held in 1904. However, the 1904 exhibition marked a new pro-Yugoslav state policy, while the 1922 exhibition pointed up King Alexander’s authoritarian and personal regime. It can even be said that it represented the humiliation of the Yugoslav art scene and its reduction to an ancillary wedding event. The last, Sixth, Yugoslav Exhibition was held in Novi Sad in 1927. It was part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Matica Srpska and the accompanying exhibition was dedicated to old Serbian painting in Vojvodina. The organisation of these two Yugoslav exhibitions was supported by the authorities, but they did not achieve great success. It was not recorded that it attracted greater public interest, while the Novi Sad exhibition was largely ignored by the Yugoslav public. Many significant artists did not participate in these exhibitions, including Ivan Meštrović, the most important adherent of Yugoslavism among artists.

Yugoslav artists continued to jointly exhibit their works in the Spring Salon held at the Cvijeta Zuzorić Art Pavilion in Kalemegdan. Up to 1931, its sponsor was Prince Paul Karadjordjević, who had distinguished himself as an art lover and collector. However, the crisis of the Yugoslav idea in art was evident. The exhibitions in the Spring Salon had a Yugoslav character, but they were not accepted by artists from all parts of the state. Thus, they had great significance for the artistic life of Belgrade, but their political, Yugoslav character was not successfully realized.

While the organisation of artistic life at the federal level was faltering and weakening, integral Yugoslavs were distinguishing themselves in political and cultural life. In Zagreb, Milan Ćurčin launched the journal Nova Evropa 1920, rallying integral Yugoslavs. They promoted Ivan Meštrović as the leading Yugoslav artist, while his work was intensively followed and popularized.

The efforts of integral Yugoslavs were not completely recognized. Meštrović, who had been engaged in pro-Yugoslav efforts since 1904 and had taken an active part in the Yugoslav Committee during World War I, did not retain the same position in the newly- created state. His most ambitious project – St Vitus’ Day Temple - was not realized. Moreover, some of the Serbian authorities criticized his artistic conception, especially his naked statues of heroes.

Meštrović’s work often combined sculptural and architectural projects. The public function of architecture highlighted its significance in mapping and characterising specified spaces. Expressing Yugoslavism in architecture was not monolithic. Meštrović was the exponent of the so-called primordial approach, but different ideas and practices of highlighting Yugoslavism in architecture were still preserved. Thus, buildings with different stylistic and construction features were considered part of Yugoslav architecture. In the 19th century, the Serbian-Byzantine architectural style was created for the needs of Serbian public buildings. In the post-war period, it was primarily characteristic of Orthodox Church buildings throughout Yugoslavia.

The territory of the new state was also marked by public monuments. The monuments to Habsburg rulers in the regions that once belonged to Austria-Hungary were demolished. Monuments to monarchs from the Karadjordjević dynasty were erected throughout the country. Hence, for example, the Croatian sculptor Rudolf Valdec made monuments dedicated to King Petar in Veliki Bečkerek and Bijeljina. After King Alexander’s assassination, the erection of monuments dedicated to him began. Monuments were also erected in memory of the Serbian soldiers killed in the Balkan Wars and World War I. One of the most significant monuments, designed by architect Momir Korunović, was erected at Zebrnjak near Kumanovo. Inscriptions on these military monuments emphasized that they were erected to the soldiers fallen for liberation and unification, thus giving them both a Serbian and proto-Yugoslav character.3

The creation of the new state had a positive effect on presenting the cultural wealth of the Yugoslav peoples. In the period before World War I, when the artistic heritage of the South Slavs was largely denied, especially by the Austro-Hungarian elite, an Orientalist view of the Balkans colored the perception of cultural heritage and gave rise to the belief that folklore was the highest South Slavic cultural achievement. Hence, in the inter-war period, a process of cultural heritage research and presentation was initiated. Intensive medieval and antique heritage research was carried out in the area from Dalmatia to Macedonia. New cultural institutions, such as the Museum of Southern Serbia in Skopje, were also established. Their work was coordinated with the dominant political ideology of the state.

A significant tone to artistic life was given by members of the ruling Karadjordjević family. Apart from the constant use of artistic events for their propaganda, the Karadjordjević rulers also tried to present themselves as bearers and guardians of the Yugoslav idea. Apart from extensive visual propaganda, two examples likewise show the extreme monarchist use of art. King Alexander used the citizens’ initiative for the erection of the Monument to the Unknown Soldier on Mount Avala. He demolished the existing monument and the medieval fortified town of Žrnov. He commissioned Ivan Meštrović to design a new monument and left his own imprint on it, which was also confirmed by the text of the charter issued on St Vitus’ Day in 1934. It is stated that the monument is his endowment “to the eternal memory to my fallen comrades and as a shining example to future Yugoslav generations”. Another example involves Prince Paul Karadjordjević. In 1929, he founded the Contemporary Art Museum in Princess Ljubica’s Residence in Belgrade. During 1935, at the initiative of Prince Paul, who was acting as Regent of Yugoslavia, this institution and the National Museum of Belgrade merged into the Prince Paul Museum, which was located at the New Royal Palace. In this way Prince Paul distinguished himself in the public eye and placed the museologized artistic heritage of the Serbian people at the service of his propaganda.


After World War II, under new social and political conditions, the role of art in Yugoslav society was significantly reassessed. The most important issue became the ideology of art and its role in building a socialist society. The first post-war years were marked by the development of art based on the Soviet model and efforts to define Socialist Realism. The thematic framework took precedence over artistic considerations, so that art concentrated on memorizing and celebrating the Partisan struggle in World War II and the building of a new socialist society. Early art production in socialist Yugoslavia was also modelled on Soviet art. The best-known Socialist Realist paintings are those like Boža Ilić’s “Exploratory drilling in New Belgrade”. The Soviet influence also left a significant imprint on memorial sculpture. This is evidenced by the imposing monument to the fallen soldiers of the Red Army in Batina, designed by Antun Augustinčić and built from 1945 to 1947 and the monument to the fallen soldiers at Iriški Venac designed by sculptor Sreten Stojanović in 1951.

Reactions to Socialist Realist trends appeared after the breakaway from the Soviet Union. A significant event took place at the Writers’ Congress in Ljubljana in 1952, where Miroslav Krleža delivered a speech that marked a symbolic turning-point in Yugoslavia’s cultural policy. Among other things, Krleža criticized Soviet Socialist Realism in painting, which he perceived as a revival of bourgeois academic forms. He pointed to the many positive sides of the modern experience, “art for art’s sake”, and added that modern painting “addressed ...a whole universe of details and nuances of lighting and form, motives being authentic and important for the intensity of the realistic human experience of reality...”4 Krleža pleaded for freedom of creativity and concluded that “our own Art will be born with the appearance of artists who will know how to ‘express the objective motives of our leftist reality subjectively’ thanks to their talent, their knowledge and their taste. If we develop a socialist cultural medium that will be aware of its rich past and its cultural mission in the current European space and time, our Art will inevitably appear”5 Departure from the Soviet model had a great impact on Yugoslav art. Art was freed from the shackles imposed by party policy, while modernist expression became one of the characteristics of Yugoslav artistic practice. Modernism became not only the dominant art trend, but also an important foreign policy element. Yugoslav modern art was presented at numerous international exhibitions, thus demonstrating Yugoslavia’s specificity in the socialist world, distancing itself from the Soviet Union and Socialist Realist art, as well as belonging to more culturally developed countries.

Modern painting was also accepted to a certain extent by Josip Broz Tito. His personality was promoted in all the media, including the fine arts. Artists were commissioned to paint his portrait. Tito was even painted by Paja Jovanović, the artist who had painted portraits of Emperor Franz Joseph, King Alexander and Queen Maria Karadjordjević during his long career. Over time, Božidar Jakac’s drawing of Tito in profile and August Augustinčić’s sculpture in Kumrovec were selected as the “canonic portraits” of Tito and were widely reproduced. Josip Broz adopted a critical stance towards abstraction and preferred figural art. According to Miodrag Protić, he visited the Contemporary Art Museum in Belgrade only once. On that occasion, he said that he liked Miljenko Stančić’s painting. Although Tito disapproved of abstraction, his personal taste and attitude did not stop the trends in modern Yugoslav art. Censorship was primarily practised when Tito’s personality was criticized.6 In 1974, the opening of Mića Popović’s exhibition was cancelled due to his paintings “Richard of Tito’s Face” and “Ceremonial Painting”.

Miroslav Krleža was one of the most important figures in the conception and creation of the image of Yugoslav art and culture. Apart from pleading for the modernisation of artistic practice, as Director of the Yugoslav Lexicographical Institute in Zagreb and editor-in-chief of numerous encyclopaedic editions, he had insight and partial control in writing about the artistic past. Krleža did not have a high opinion of 19th-century academic artistic practice; he saw the basis of the Yugoslav artistic identity in medieval times. He was one of the main organizers and author of the preface to the catalogue of the exhibition of Yugoslav medieval art, held in Paris in 1950 and Zagreb in 1951. Krleža’s basic idea was that the Yugoslav peoples had advanced medieval culture and civilisation, “which vanished in the whirlpool of the 600-year Turkish, Austrian and Venetian wars from the 14th to the 20th century”.7 For Krleža, a reference to medieval times was closely related to the contemporary socialist Yugoslav state: “Today, the contemporary South Slavic socialist anticipation is only a dialectical pendant on the whole range of our medieval anticipations, Old Slavic, Glagolitic, the Cyril-Methodian struggle for the equality of ethnicities and languages... the Bogumil lay revolution... and, finally, the anticipation of pre-Giotto and neo-Hellenistic painting... producing several artistic works on our soil, at Sopoćani and Mileševa, which can be compared to the masterpieces of mature Renaissance art in Western Europe which, in terms of their artistic value, can be compared to mature Renaissance masterpieces in Western Europe”.8 Krleža considered Yugoslav medieval art, especially the Bogumil heritage, to be an antithesis to Byzantium and Rome and the third component of European art of that period. Such views could provide a basis for the cultural and political position of socialist Yugoslavia and its third way.

In socialist Yugoslavia, the issue of Yugoslavism in art was being slowly pushed into the background. Artistic practice and theory were evolving within the framework of global modernist trends. Modern art was becoming the dominant artistic expression, while current art trends were adopted and evolved simultaneously with the world’s artistic centers. Art informel, abstract art, constructivism and conceptual art marked the decades from the liberalisation of artistic practice to the collapse of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The openness of Yugoslav society towards modern art was also demonstrated by the organisation of significant exhibitions of world modernity. One of the most important exhibitions was the exhibition of Henry Moore’s sculptures at the Cvijeta Zuzorić Art Pavilion in Belgrade in 1955, which marked a turning-point in Yugoslavia’s artistic life.

Artistic life in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was experiencing a rapid rise. Most republics had fine arts academies that educated generations of painters, sculptors and graphic artists. Republican associations of fine artists as well as a similar association at federal level were also established with the aim of contributing to the better status of artists in society. Exhibition activity was developing throughout Yugoslav territory. Apart from salons, staged in the capitals of the federal republics, some exhibitions had a federal character. For example, Tuzla was the venue of Yugoslav portrait exhibitions, the Yugoslav Youth Biennial in Rijeka was staged in Rijeka from 1961 to 1991, the Biennial of Yugoslav Student Drawing was held in the Students’ Town Gallery in Belgrade, the Yugoslav Drawing Triennial was held in Sombor and the Yugoslav Ceramics Triennial was held at the Applied Art Museum in Belgrade, while Yugoslav Graphic Art Exhibitions were staged in Zagreb and Belgrade.

The most important public monuments erected throughout the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were memorials dedicated to the victims and heroes of World War II. Monumental culture was undergoing transformation from post-war Socialist Realist memorials to modern monuments. The modernisation and creation of a unique artistic expression is exemplified in the monuments designed by architect Bogdan Bogdanović. By developing archaic visual forms, Bogdanović endowed his sculptures with complex symbolism and humanist meaning. His monuments, erected throughout Yugoslavia – in Mostar, Belgrade, Kruševac and Jasenovac, became universal symbols of the horrors of war, crossing dogmatic-ideological and republican-national boundaries.

An important place in cultural life was held by institutions promoting Yugoslav art occupied an important place in cultural life.. One institution with a Yugoslav character was the Contemporary Art Museum. Originally called the Modern Gallery in 1958, the museum was formally founded – according to its founder and director Miodrag B. Protić – as an institution of the People’s Republic of Serbia but, according to its programme, it had a Yugoslav character. Protić bought up artworks from Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, thus creating the "most complete and most valuable collections of 20th-century Serbian and Yugoslav art”.9 A new modern building was also erected to serve the needs of the museum. Designed by architects Ivan Antić and Ivanka Raspopović, it opened on 20 October 1965. It was aimed at promoting Yugoslav modern art, while at the same time representing the most significant project in the artistic life of Belgrade and Serbia.10 The museum contained the works of artists from all parts of the country, while 20th-century Yugoslav art was presented at accompanying exhibitions and in programme-related editions. However, Yugoslav art was presented not according to its national characteristics, but according to its style and chronology. Modern art was also promoted by other institutions, such as the Art Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Modern Gallery in Ljubljana, the City Gallery/Contemporary Art Museum in Zagreb and the Contemporary Art Museum in Skopje.

Artistic life in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia did not have a unique flow; it also mirrored the dynamics of ongoing events in the country. Apart from positive modern and integration trends at the federal level, disintegration processes were also underway. The republican Academies of Sciences and Arts were gradually becoming the proponents of national culture. At the same time, the country’s highest cultural achievements were denigrated according to local and ideological needs. The non-reconciliation of different views was demonstrated on numerous occasions and one example was the demolition of Njegoš’s chapel and the erection of his mausoleum on Mount Lovćen, designed by Ivan Meštrović. This idea was opposed by the professional community. Art historians, like Lazar Trifunović from Belgrade and Franc Stele from Ljubljana, held that the chapel should not be demolished. Their view was shared by Miroslav Krleža, who had voiced a negative opinion of Ivan Meštrović’s work in the inter-war period. He wrote: “Njegoš’s mausoleum by Meštrović will be a mausoleum, if it is ever built, which would certainly be the better option, since it is terribly stupid! And it costs a lot!”11 Despite opposition by a significant number of Yugoslav intellectuals, the Municipality of Cetinje carried through this idea and erected Ivan Meštrović’s monument. At that time, he himself was living as an emigré in the United States.

Differences in the conceptions and understanding of culture and art were also reflected in the preparation of encyclopedic entries. As can be learned from Miroslav Krleža’s Marginalije, a covert war between the republican editorial boards was underway. Krleža was highly dissatisfied with his relationship with the Serbian editorial board during the preparation of a Yugoslav art encyclopedia. He stated bitterly on a number of occasions that his initial advocacy of the promotion of Yugoslav medieval art was being taken over and used in a Serbian national context. In one note made during his work on the encyclopedia it is stated: “… I have continuous clashes with ‘experts’ like Djurdje Bošković, (Radivoje) Ljubinković, (Dejan) Medaković and the like, who are forever distorting the meaning of the theses of this encyclopedia in their well-known manner where Serbian-Macedonian issues are concerned”.12

The examples of Njegoš’s chapel and work on the encyclopedia point to the gradual fragmentation of art and culture in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It is evident that it was possible to map different interests in the field of culture. The bloody collapse of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia brought about changes in political circumstances and the cultural scene, as well as the emergence of nationalist elites. Some prominent figures, such as Bogdan Bogdanović, emigrated, while a great number of artists found themselves in a “vacuum”. Educated and doing creative work in the Yugoslav context, they could not identify themselves and their works with the newly-established nation states. Another example is Marina Abramović, the world’s best-known performance artist from Yugoslavia, who periodically emphasizes that she comes from a country that no longer exists.13

The idea of Yugoslav art was closely related to the rise, duration and fall of the Yugoslav idea. From the mid-19th century, South Slav artists began to establish mutual relations and organize themselves with a view to presenting the cultural and ethnic closeness of the South Slav peoples. The formation of a common state, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes/Yugoslavia, did not contribute to the creation of a common art and culture. The cultural differences among the Yugoslav peoples and different political interests weakened the idea of a common artistic identity. A specific phenomenon was the rise of the integral Yugoslav Ivan Meštrović, an artist who embodied the Yugoslav spirit. After World War II, the art of socialist Yugoslavia was geared towards mastering modern artistic expression. The negative trends that were leading towards the collapse of the state were strengthening republican and national movements. The initial idea of creating the art of the Yugoslav nation was not realized. However, the existence of a common state did bring about the creation of a cultural and artistic space and the formulation of Yugoslav art as the artistic practice developed in the Yugoslav territory.









1 I. Kukuljević, Sakcinski, Slovnik umjetnikah jugoslavenskih, Zagreb 1858, Predgovor (Foreward), unpaginated.

2 I. Kukuljević, Sakcinski, Slovnik umjetnikah jugoslavenskih, Zagreb 1858, Predgovor (Foreword), unpaginated.




3 In the charter built into the Monument to the Unknown Hero it is written that the monument is erected “To the Serbian Unknown Hero fallen in the wars from 1912 to 1918 for the liberation and unification of the South Slavs”.




4 M. Krleža, Govor na kongresu književnika u Ljubljani, Svjedočanstva vremena, književno-estetske varijacije, Sarajevo 1988, 23.

5 M. Krleža, Govor na kongresu književnika u Ljubljani, 48.




6 Tito’s personality was protected under the legal regulations of 1953, 1977 and 1984 (O. Manojlović Pintar).




7 M. Krleža, Predgovor, Izložba srednjovjekovne umjetnosti naroda Jugoslavije, Zagreb 1951, 5.

8 M. Krleža, Predgovor, 6.




9 M.B. Protić, Nojeva barka, Vol. I, 515.

10 According to M.B. Protić, Ivo Andrić argued that the content of this museum exceeds the actual level of the culture of Yugoslav society: M.B. Protić, Nojeva barka, Vol. I, 633. These words especially carry weight today when the Contemporary Art Museum and National Museum in Belgrade have been closed for years due to restoration work.




11 M. Krleža, Marginalije, Belgrade 2011, 463.




12 M. Krleža, Marginalije, 559. The names in parentheses have been added by the author of this text.




13 “When people ask me where I am from,” she says, “I never say Serbia. I always say I come from a country that no longer exists”;
(accessed on 30 July 2016).










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