Preserving Cultural Heritage Through Applied Arts

Exploring the Museum’s History, Exhibitions, and Contributions to the Contemporary Art Scene in Serbia

The Museum of Applied Arts (MAA) in Belgrade has been an important cultural institution in Serbia for over 70 years. It is a unique space that celebrates the intersection of art and everyday life, while showcasing exquisite pieces that span centuries and cultures. In this interview, we spoke with its director Biljana Jotić, who shared her thoughts on the museum’s journey, insights, and vision for the future.

Could you tell us about the history and mission of the Museum of Applied Arts in Belgrade and what are some of the most unique or notable pieces in the museum’s collection?

Let me briefly return to the past, to the time and atmosphere between the two world wars, more precisely to the 1920s, when this edifice, a palace owned by lawyer Dr Jakov Čelebonović, was designed and constructed. At that time, this location was renowned for fashion salons, in addition to the building that housed the Spanish Embassy and law firms. The bond between the Museum and the Čelebonović family is strong.

After the post-war process of nationalization, the Museum of Applied Arts was moved into this building, and the first collection of artifacts took shape following the purchase of various works of art that the respected artist and intellectual Ljuba Ivanović had collected for over 30 years. From its beginnings to date, the Museum has cultivated historical and contemporary trends in applied art. The first collection contained more than 3,000 objects, among which were goldsmith’s products, as well as old manuscripts and printed books, carved objects, icons, and other items which stood out for their artistic and historical value. The oldest objects date from the 4th century BCE and belong to the numismatic collection. Today, the Heritage Museum has close to 40,000 art objects in its collections.

The Museum follows the latest trends by organizing annual Salons of Architecture and Contemporary Applied Arts and through various purchases. Our traditional Children’s October Salon introduces children to the world of art, thereby encouraging the need for art education from the earliest days. Through our Youth Gallery, we support graduates and post-graduates of applied arts and the young audiences. The generational range of our audience is quite wide.

How do you engage with local communities and international visitors to foster interest in the museum and its exhibits?

Cooperation and networking are important parts of the Museum of Applied Arts’ strategy.

Through continued cooperation between the public and civil sectors, we strive for a more comprehensive observation of wider public issues.

Incorporating international elements in the MAA’s programme, as well as organizing the international exhibitions abroad ensures an international position of the Museum and generates more audience (Mašić, exhibition in the Cultural Centre in Paris, cooperation with TATE, London and Metropolitan, New York, the travelling exhibition Surrealism Beyond Borders, etc). We also nurture cooperation with foreign embassies in Belgrade (Italian Design Day; Built Environment: An Alternative Guide to Japan, presentations by foreign experts in design, architecture, etc). One of the most important international elements of the MAA’s strategy is its participation in the Biennale of the Architecture in Venice, London Design Biennale, Triennale di Milano and Prague Quadriennial on behalf of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia.

The Museum’s programme sums up time and time does not stand still

How do you balance preserving the museum’s historic collections with showcasing contemporary art and design?

My agenda is as follows – the Museum’s programme sums up time and time does not stand still. In this regard, the MAA’s team of experts has a careful approach to research, study, preservation and exhibition of applied art –  from the oldest objects dating from the 4th century BC (Jewelry and Metal Collection) to the latest artistic and curatorial practices.

What upcoming exhibitions or projects are you most excited about, and what can visitors expect to see in the coming months?

We devoted the first months of this year to architecture by staging an exhibition called “Architecture“, curated by Professor Boris Podreka, which was previously staged in Vienna, and is now traveling to Ljubljana. The 45th Architecture Salon is taking place as we speak, with an international jury chaired by Professor Werner Sobek, PhD.

We are also waiting for the award ceremony at the Yugoslav Film Archive, followed by Serbia’s participation in the 18th Architecture Biennale in Venice with the project ‘IN REFLECTIONS, 6°27’48.8″N 3°14’49.20″E’ by the author team of Iva Nunjić and Tihomir Dičić.

Meanwhile, the Museum of Applied arts will host the Italian Design Day (8th May) on its premises which takes place in collaboration with the Italian Embassy in Belgrade, the Italian Trade Agency (ICE) and Confindustria. After that, we are going to have an exhibition of photographs by Ile Hofler from a private collection.

As part of the Salon of Contemporary Applied Arts, solo exhibitions of tapestries by Daliborka Djurić and ceramics by Valentina Savić will take place. Through cooperation with the Forum of Slovenian Culture (Andreja Richter) we will have the Ethno Fashion exhibition in August, and together with the Faculty of Applied Arts, the traditional Diploma exhibition, where graduates and post-graduates of the FAA will be officially presented. In the meantime, we will host the May exhibition and Young Balkan Designers.

Every November 8th, on the Day of our Museum, we open a large, international exhibition. Last year, it was the exhibition „On the Glass Road“, marking the International Year of Glass, and this year, we are expecting a rare reminder of postage stamp collections exhibited at the Postal Stamps exhibition by Andrej Milenković.

We have also been strongly focusing on the Permanent Exhibition, which we reorganized a few months ago and is now called the MAA Exhibition, which is  both historical and contemporary. An integral part of this exhibition is the Object of the Month campaign, during which we present the art objects that the MAA has purchased over the past 10 years.

We strive to digitize entire collections and virtualize individual objects in the largest possible number, with the goal of creating virtual exhibitions

How do you see the role of museums evolving in the digital age, and what strategies has the Museum of Applied Arts adopted to keep pace with these changes?

One of the main ideas that guides us is the Museum of Applied Arts’ global connection and positioning and the collections that gather various types of applied art. In this regard, and following the latest trends in curatorial practices that inevitably include new technologies, the Museum has digitized its archive, as well as most of its collections.

In cooperation with organizations that are actively involved in digitization and virtualization, and with the help of project planning in most cases, we strive to digitize entire collections and virtualize individual objects in the largest possible number, with the goal of creating virtual exhibitions. One example is the collaboration with Digital Mind in the virtualization of textiles, as well as the virtual exhibition of Boris Podreka.

An important part of the latest artistic and curatorial practices is the research and teaching of design and artificial intelligence under the auspices of the 134/Sacred Geometry project, authored by Dušan Jovović, PhD, the Commissioner and myself, which will represent Serbia at the London Design Biennale from June 1st to 26th, 2023.

How do you envision the role of the Museum of Applied Arts in the broader cultural and artistic scene of Belgrade and Serbia, and what do you hope to achieve in the coming years?

All of the aforementioned points to the strategy and path thanks to which the Museum of Applied Art is positioning itself within the framework of museum activity, art history and contemporary artistic practices. Continuing and developing mixed approaches will contribute to achievement of that goal. One of the segments that we are yet to implement is the organization and implementation of expert symposia, in addition to our ongoing participation in international ones. In this way, the Museum will position itself as place for international experts to come, which we have already achieved, in a way, with various individual visits and lectures (Professor Michele Zampedri, Murano – Vetro – Venecia – Parallel fates; Rainald Franz, PhD, MAK, Vienna, Josef Hoffmann and J.&L. Lobmeyer; Lara Katscher, Green techonologies, Werner Sobek, Sustainble buildings and cities – ideas and reality, Professor Werner Sobek, PhD, Bauen in der Zukunfut – in Europa und in der Welt etc)

Are you satisfied with the number of visitors to the Museum? Do you think the Serbian government invests in culture enough?

Increasing the number of visitors to the Museum of Applied Arts is one of the important issues that we are working on quite studiously. Being aware of the fact that the audience is not only exhibition observers but also participants in various other programmes, including lectures, panel discussions, workshops, symposiums, projects and the like, greatly influences my attitude towards developing the audience or as I would rather call them, participants in artistic movements. Through the participation of children in the Children’s October Salon, as well as by organizing guided tours of current exhibitions and the permanent exhibition for pupils and students and talking with them, we also develop the need for art and the audience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.