Dec 1, 2011

Museums To Amuse You

Zagreb should be called a city of museums, since, I heard, there are more of them per square foot than in any other city in the world. And it's not just the large well-known landmarks, like the highly anticipated Museum of Contemporary Art, this bite-sized capital overflows with cultural outposts large and small, showing off innovative and thought provoking masterpieces to satisfy any audience. With so many museums to choose from, it's hard to know where to start, but here are a few of my personal favorites.

One of the many 'shattered' 
relationships on display
The Museum of Broken Relationships

I laughed, I cried, and I thought---why the hell didn't I think of that?!  The small museum, not far from St. Mark's Church, started  as a traveling exhibition revolving around the 'leftovers' of failed relationships; the left behind reminders and mementos of passion turned painful and pissed off. The exhibit and subsequent museum give these relationship ruins a final resting place, and have seriously high entertainment value. Donations have been received from all over the world and are on display, along with the accompanying story scribed by the donor. Whatever the motivation for the donation, it's cathartic to realize that 
1. you weren't as crazy as you thought when you cut up that teddy bear and incinerated it while playing the mixed tape he gave you on Valentine's Day and 2. no matter what language you speak, or where you live in the world, a Frisbee is never a good anniversary gift. The quirky museum was founded by Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic, a former couple naturally, who decided to turn their relationship lemons into lemonade. The museum is wildly popular, and has received a ton of press as well as a 2011 award for most innovative museum in Europe. There is an onsite café, and if you have something to donate (other than your ex) contact the museum via their website. 

social anguish revealed in street art
The Museum of Street Art

No building; no hours; the walls and buildings of Zagreb are the canvas. Who knew graffiti could be so beautiful? Growing up in Los Angeles, it never looked like this. This 'museum' in Zagreb is more of a series of projects than a fixed location, whose goal is to develop a cohesive street art culture in Zagreb. The first project was successfully debuted in the summer of 2010 on a wall running along Branimrova Street. Over 100 artists applied to participate and 80 were given a small swatch of cement on which to create their urban oeuvre. When I was there last month, another initiative had just finished in the Dugave neighborhood of New Zagreb, just on the other side of the Sava River. I hired guide extraordinaire, and professional beer drinker guzzler  Funky Zagreb to drive me over (before the beer drinking) and show me around. He told me I was the first person ever to ask to be taken to this area. It would have been a shame to miss it. Here I discovered old communist block buildings, a school, and other nameless walls colored by local artists, many who had social messages to communicate to the world.  See more photos on the musuem website.

Lauba Art House
Old textile mill is a perfect backdrop for contemporary artists
Lauba House is one of the newest perches for culture vultures, and is both an arts organization for the community, as well as a venue that permanently houses the privately owned Filip Trade Collection of Contemporary Croatian Art, a body of work that spans from the 1950s to today. Visitors can also expect rotating exhibits from young Croatian creators too, and if you are traveling with kids, 'Family Weekends' is popular, with art workshops and appreciation events for little hands. 

The space itself is a former textile mill where top quality damask was manufactured. I love the juxtaposition of old and new Zagreb here, and today, it's art that is rolling in and out of Lauba House---the city's uber cool, go-to art address. 

The Source of Life (1905) 
Ivan Meštrović Atelier

I've always been a fan of sculpture and was pleased when someone directed me here, to the former workshop and home of Croatia's most famous sculptor. He lived and worked this 17th century house form 1924-1942.  When I was  in Split, I saw an enormous statue by Mestrovic called "Gregory of Nin" just outside the old city walls. A bride was having her picture taken while sitting on his toe. Perhaps a Croatian good luck charm? I don't know. But it's the house and garden in Zagreb where the life of the artist really pulses. The white marble and columns, the enclosed garden, and the workshop are bedecked with sculptures, reliefs, drawings and other prized Mestrovic treasures. Around Zagreb you can see his other sculptures too, such as his well-known The Source of Life found in front of Zagreb's national theater.

There's more...

  • On January 27, 2012  the museums of Zagreb (and all across Croatia actually) will stay open late for a Museum Night, and entry is free! 
  • The Zagreb Card, available for purchase at the airport, tourist office, and dozens of other points of sale (ask your hotel concierge) entitles holders to unlimited travel on public transport, as well as discount entry to almost all of the city's museums.

  • The restaurant in the Arts and Crafts Museum (basement level) has great food, at rock bottom prices. I had soup, followed by a main course (meatballs and mashed potatoes) served with  a small side salad, and a glass of wine for about 40 kuna (around seven bucks). There is also outdoor dining on warm days.

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