Opened to the public in 2009, the Museum of Contemporary Art (Muzej suvremene umjetnosti) has quickly established itself as the leading art institution in the region. Taking the form of an angular wave on concrete stilts, the Igor Franić-designed building is a deliberate reference to the meandering motif developed by Croatian abstract artist Julije Knifer (1924–2004) and repeated – with minor variations – in almost all of his paintings. The interior is a bit of a meander too, with open-plan exhibition halls and a frequently rotated permanent collection that highlights home-grown movements without presenting them in chronological or thematic order. The whole thing demonstrates just how far at the front of the contemporary pack Croatian art always was, although it’s a difficult story for first-time visitors to unravel.
Things you should look out for include the jazzy abstract paintings produced by Exat 51 (a group comprising Vlado Kristl, Ivan Picelj and Aleksandar Srnec) in the 1950s, which show how postwar Croatian artists escaped early from communist cultural dictates and established themselves firmly at the forefront of the avant-garde. Look out too for photos of it’s-all-in-the-name-of-art streakers such as Tomislav Gotovac (1937–2010) and Vlasta Delimar (1956–), who either ran or rode naked through the centre of Zagreb on various occasions, putting Croatia on the international performance-art map in the process. Works by understated iconoclasts Goran Trbuljak, Sanja Iveković and Mladen Stilinović reinforce Croatia’s reputation for the art of the witty, ironic statement, while the museum’s international collection takes in Mirosław Bałka’s Eyes of Purification (a mysterious concrete shed outside the front entrance), as well as Carsten Holler’s interactive toboggan tubes. A cinema, concert space and café provide additional reasons to visit.