The Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb
Three Museum Projects and Three Ambience Experiments
Richter’s Projects: Museum of the Revolution of Yugoslav Peoples in New Belgrade (1961), Museum of Spatial Exhibits (1963), and Museum of Evolution in Krapina (1966)
In the wide variety of fields that Vjenceslav Richter devoted himself to with equal enthusiasm, such as the visual culture, disciplines, and the media, exhibition architecture is certainly among the most prominent and most permanent. Indeed, it is this subject that has in a way determined the path and the profile of Richter’s productive and versatile career. From the earliest exhibition pavilions with which he represented Yugoslavia at international events in the period immediately after the war – Trieste 1947, Milan and Brussels 1948, Vienna 1949, Paris 1949, Stockholm 1949 and 1950, Chicago and Hanover 1950 – Richter systematically followed the path of exploring spatially suggestive and visually attractive ways of exhibiting and presenting various concepts, which would communicate directly with the spectator. In the beginning, he elaborated them together with some equally innovative young visual artists such as Ivan Picelj, Aleksandar Srnec, and Zvonimir Radić, and later also with others, with whom he invented a new abstract language and the recognizable approach of the “Experimental Atelier”, declared in their famous Manifesto of 1951. The visual abstraction of EXAT 51 was thus refined and tested on a series of early projects that were intended for exhibition contexts: reduced and abstract presentations, drawings, perspectives, and analyses of exhibition systems. It was through these early projects that Richter distilled his conviction about the necessity of establishing a well reflected and well elaborated system of design and spatial arrangement as important operative tools – even a consistent foundation for the logical development of all their derivatives and components. After all, it was these projects that gave birth to his powerful idea about the synthesis of artistic work and the interpenetration of different visual disciplines in an effort to create the “total three-dimensional reality” as an adequate framework for the new, liberated, and self-managed society.
These early formative layers would be productively integrated in all further aspects of Richter’s creative activity, especially his later exhibition projects, culminating in the fascinating Yugoslav pavilion designed for the EXPO of 1958 in Brussels as a spatial apotheosis of modernity and a prominent symbol of advanced architectural and visual expression and vision. An equally characteristic case is his awarded project from 1956, with an experimental construction featuring a central carrier mast with a surrealistically hanging body of the pavilion, as well as the actual, realized variant, which sits stably on the ground, but is nevertheless strikingly opened by means of impressive spatial effects and experiences. Richter would systematically continue his experimental research in the field of typology of exhibition venues with his design for the Museum of Antiquities in the Syrian town of Aleppo, the first-awarded project at an international competition, which he elaborated in 1956 together with Zdravko Bregovac; the Memorial Complex in Montevideo from 1959; the unusual and striking realization of the Yugoslav exhibition concept at the international labour exhibition in Turin in 1961, set up in a pavilion designed by Pier Luigi and Antonio Nervi, whose free forms and advanced constructions were here authoritatively countered by Richter’s unusual, consistently curving, concave-convex forms; to the ambientally memorable and systemically extremely consistent pavilion for the 13th Milan Triennial of 1964, and to yet another experiment in terms of construction and spatial arrangement, that of the Yugoslav pavilion for the World Exhibition in Montreal (1966/67).
This impressive series of explorations focusing on exhibition typologies, crowned by three seminal artworks, continued with three intriguing projects that we are presenting at this year’s exhibition of the Richter Collection, titled From the Architect’s Archive: Museum of the Revolution of Yugoslav Peoples, made for New Belgrade in 1961, in collaboration with Božo Antunović, the 1963 study for the Museum of Spatial Exhibits, and Museum of Evolution in Krapina from 1966. Each of these three projects illustrates a specific research focus and approach, at the same time fruitfully continuing the previously posited themes and principles. Museum of the Revolution of Yugoslav Peoples in Belgrade (1961) thus further explores the theme of a floating volume raised from the ground level, so impressively heralded by the competition study for the Brussels pavilion. In the Belgrade case, it is a compact, enclosed cubic body that, although of significant dimensions, floats above the ground supported only by corner columns and a single column in each of the volume’s sides, allowing for a transparent ground floor housing the museum’s public facilities. From that full, uplifted cube, which houses two levels of the museum, only two free-floating, budding concave surfaces rise manifestly, liberated, into the air, catching light for the volume’s interior with their transparent walls. Ascending in their central zone, these free roof forms suggest a vertical central axis of the volume as a sort of reminiscence evoking the central mast of the competition project from Brussels. This association is even more justified if one recalls the construction system of the Belgrade project, which relies on the central column and the cross-positioned, indented carriers, which liberate the volume of all unnecessary walls and partitions. It is indicative that in this project, apart from the very body of the museum, Richter also considered in much detail the surrounding area including the access zone, establishing an elaborate external parterre articulated as a system of shifting green areas with a net of ramps, slopes, and interconnections. In this way, the artist reasserted his conviction about the necessity of synthetic and systematic reflection on architecture, its immediate surroundings, and synthetic urban planning as a whole.
In the Museum of Spatial Exhibits (1963), Richter focused on the building as such, treating it as yet another elaborated and transformable spatial mechanism and exhibit. The ideas of systemic purity and clear algorithmic principles, so characteristic for Richter’s systemic sculptures and spatial-sculptural artefacts that he was producing at the time, are here convincingly transcribed in architectural proportions. Richter’s research remains in the wake of explorations of an autonomous cubic body, which is again raised from the ground level for the height of one storey, but is this time laterally entirely open and transparent. The elaborate square ground plan, an orthogonal raster of 4 x 4 fields, establishes uttermost spatial purity, where the rhythm of the fields is experienced only in terms of spatial effects, rather than the literal physical presence of the constructive raster. The vertical carriers are, namely, found only on the margins of the building, which leaves the entire large ground-plan surface completely free. The supportive construction is solved by means of powerful, netlike roof carriers, which bridge great spans between the opposite marginal columns and create, in between their heights, space for a play of hanging, concave roof surfaces and for the vertical openings between their gaps, where light penetrates into the interior. In this way, a completely open, large and unified, four-storey interior has been created. Such a high and completely free spatial framework can be used to place various spatial exhibits in different positions, at various heights and exactly according to their specific features and requirements. And in order to make them adequately viewable in all their complexity, Richter inserted a trajectory in that open spatial volume: a lively and dynamic runway that meanders freely through that multi-storey space, allowing the visitor to experience a direct encounter with the exhibits, integrally and fully, from different standpoints and in various positions. In this way, Richter invited the spectator to engage in intense interactive relationship with the complex spatial exhibits that he or she is viewing, as he was of the opinion that only such conscious and active relationship could lead to a full understanding of the actual message. The purity of this exhibition venue, fully dedicated to the presentation of specific artistic content, is enhanced by the fact that the very access to the building, a bloc containing the staircase and the service rooms, is completely separated from the ethereal volume of the museum, creating a separate marginal corpus from which the visitor starts on his unusual journey through the heights of the museum, exposed to unexpected spatial, ambient, and artistic experiences.
This prevailingly orthogonal character of Richter’s exhibitions has been completely abandoned in his project for the Museum of Evolution in Krapina (1966). A powerful spiral, winding through space like the coil of DNA chains or the symbolic spiral of evolution, determines the space of this museum to the full, thereby fitting into the line of Richter’s systematically explored radial, circular, and concave-convex forms that he had been using from his earliest architectural projects, which reached their pinnacle in the radical curvatures of his Turin pavilion, designed in 1961. Captured in the uplifting vertigo of spiral-shaped spatial growth, the visitor of the Krapina museum may experience the feeling of spatial opening only in the segment of the ceiling with its zenith lighting, where Richter solved the covering structure by means of a system of radially organized and loosely positioned linear elements in complex pulsation. The radial play of spatially detached bars, as elongated mono-elements that support the complex system of lighting from above, may remind us – albeit with significantly different spatial principles and impressions – of Richter’s legendary pavilion designed for the Milan Triennial of 1964, where an elaborated system with an elongated mono-element was used to solve all components – the floor, the walls, and the ceiling – leading to a unique and fascinating ambient experience. The close relatives of this line of research, namely the plays of spherical and spiral forms that are so powerfully present in the spatial arrangement of the Krapina museum, can be equally well observed in another medium: it is Richter’s series of systemic painting, which the artist developed some ten years later, with the same enthusiasm for the underlying system.
The three museum projects that have been presented in this exhibition, each with its own, specific ambient theme and quality, thus convincingly present the range of Richter’s inexhaustible instrumentarium for research and experimentation, reasserting at the same time his permanent devotion to the synthetic approach in artistic creation and the importance of using the system as a powerful and operative conceptual apparatus.
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