Ars Aevi in Sarajevo, a museum on hold

After looking around for more than fifteen minutes, we still could not find any trace of the Ars Aevi, Sarajevo’s Contemporary Art Museum. It was a rainy morning in August. We stood in front of a little basin created by the Mijaca river, in the square where the Skenderjia Sports Center was built in 1969, and then hosted the famous Winter Olympics Games of 1984.


Ars Aevi, Sarajevo

Ars Aevi, Sarajevo


The cement has been eroded by the cold; the tiles of the pavement are all cracked, and at the top of the façade of the central building the five circles stand out, now oxidized by thirty winters.  The Ars Aevi is not actually a museum. It was obtained from the left wing of the Olympic complex soon after the war, as a space of cultural resistance. There is no sign, just a banner to remind us that we are getting into a museum centre. At the entrance, a Dean Jokanovic Toumin’s quotation on a wall blurrs with the graffiti and the city writers’ tags.


Dean Jokanovic Toumin, Ars Aevi

Dean Jokanovic Toumin, Ars Aevi, Sarajevo


In 1996, when the war was over, when looking at their nearly devastated town – among exploded buildings and walls full of bullet holes – citizens could not manage to glimpse any hope for the future. Bosnia-Herzegovina needed to look beyond the war, toward the rest of the world, toward the future. Then, at the end of the 90′s, artists from all over the world were invited to gather their works to set up a collection for the soon-to-be Sarajevo international contemporary art museum.


Juan Muñoz, Ars Aevi

Juan Muñoz, Ars Aevi, Sarajevo


Since then, world famous artists like Jannis Kounellis, Bizhan Bassjri, Joseph Kosuth, Daniel Buren, Ilia Kabakov, Bill Viola and Anish Kapoor have contributed to shape the collection, making it like a single work of art, developed by artists from all over the world. The project was led with obstinacy by the Ars Aevi director, Enver Hadžiomerspahić, since the siege period. Then in 1994 it was brought to Milan at the “Spazio Urbano” Contemporary Art Center, founded and managed by Enrico Comi, who has been supporting the project with solidarity since its beginning. The first artist who joined the project and gave one of his own works was Michelangelo Pistoletto. For the past 20 years, also thanks to the cooperation with local and international institutions, this imaginary museum kept increasing its collection with donations and important purchases.


Felice Levini, Ars Aevi

Felice Levini, Ars Aevi, Sarajevo


Almost twenty years have passed by and this dream did not actually come true but the necessary premises for a concrete realization are just now arising. And it could not have been anything other than a work done by Renzo Piano. His project will give a definitive location to this unusual collection, the result of the solidarity among different artists and countries. The new Sarajevo Contemporary Art Museum was presented at the Venice Biennale in 2013, and proposed again at the “Ars Aevi in Progress” exhibition this summer at the Pecci Museum in Prato as a twin version of the one present in Sarajevo – a double exhibition, fruit of the synergy between two countries.


Joseph Beuys, Ars Aevi

Joseph Beuys, Ars Aevi, Sarajevo


The exhibition-collection is arranged on two floors and displays a part of the collection which well proves the variety and the internationality of the works which became part of the Ars Aevi. Among the first works, an Anish Kapoor installation which was acquired at not even a quarter of today’s value. And proceeding, almost giving an inauspicious  welcome, “The Hanging Figure” by Juan Munoz. The same somber but fascinating welcome that many experience the first time they enter the city, passing through the high crumbling buildings of NoviSarajevo. Going on, it is interesting to notice the relationship between the various works, the Bosnian representative ones, like the photographic diptych by Nebojsa Seric Shoba, Braco Dimitrijević’s installations, or the ones coming from Italy. Together, they seem to declare this cultural brotherhood. Then we bump into some of Nan Goldin’s pictures, some prestigious  installations like the “100 bottles of F.I.U. Oil. In Defense of Nature” by Joseph Beuys, and the engaged art of Russian artists such as the Komar duo, Melamid, and Dmitri Prigov.


Sándor Pinczehelyi, Ars Aevi, Sarajevo

Sándor Pinczehelyi, Ars Aevi, Sarajevo


Like in every – rare – existing gallery or exhibition space in the Balkans, you feel more like a welcome guest rather than an intruder, in contrast with the West, where this often happens. There is no ticket office, no cloakroom. The ticket price is very low and they offer you the catalogue which explains the collection’s story.  The set-up is meagre but original: rough chipboards totally recreate the exhibition space, there is no specific lighting, the paintings are simply laid on the walls and the sculptures on wooden pallets. It looks like the warehouse of a museum yet to be built. A dispersed collection, a rough diamond in the Dinaric Alps.

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by Eleonora Salvi
in Focus on Europe

Wed Development by Digital Art Factory