One of the most eagerly anticipated cultural events of 2011 was the opening of the Lauba People and Art House, the first major private art collection to go public since the Mimara Museum opened its doors in 1987. The enigmatic, black-sheathed building is also a landmark in urban regeneration, occupying a stylishly-restored former factory in Črnomerec – a suburb noted for its rich stock of post-industrial architectural relics.
Lauba is very much the baby of entrepreneur and art enthusiast Tomislav Kličko, whose company Filip Trade imports many of the household consumer goods that spill from the shelves of Croatia’s supermarkets. Kličko began collecting in the early 1990s, picking up classics of Croatian modernism while at the same time hoovering up the ouput of the nation’s best up-and-coming artists. Active at a time when few other cultural institutions were making acquisitions, Kličko built a collection that arguably presents a better overall picture of current Croatian art than many of the state-run galleries.
The collection contains over 500 works, ranging from the jazzy post-World-War-II abstraction of the Exat 51 collective to the strangely mesmerizing geometric installations of contemporary star Ivana Franke (Croatia’s representative at the Venice Biennial in 2007). The artist with most works in the Lauba collection is Lovro Artuković, a figurative painter celebrated for his compelling portraits.
The building itself began life as an Austro-Hungarian cavalry barracks in 1910. It subsequently served as a textile factory, until production was moved out of the city in 2008. Acquired by Filip Trade to serve as both company headquarters and exhibition space, the building was adapted by Zagreb-based architects AGP and Morana Vlahović, who took care to preserve its original features. Bare brick walls, high grilled windows, and cast-iron ceiling frame provide an appealingly Victorian-retro backdrop to the art itself. Filip Trade’s offices take the form of a row of glass cubes mounted on pillars along one wall of the exhibition floor. The metallic black paint covering the exterior provides a haughtily futuristic sheen.
A certain amount of ingenuity has been invested in the presentation of the collection, the bulk of which is kept on large panels stored at one end of the hall. The panels are pulled out into the display area as needed – it is hoped that about 20 per cent of the exhibited works will be rotated every month. Temporary exhibitions will occupy the same floor space as the permanent collection, creating a constantly changing juxtaposition of attractions.
Lauba’s idiosyncratically late opening times are intended to attract the kind of hard-working wage slaves who only find time to attend cultural events in the evening. An on-site café with snacks is planned for the entrance hall, although the mooted souvenir shop with art books and cards may well have to wait until year two. The name of the gallery itself remains something of a riddle, a dialect word used to describe a circle of treetops in the town where Kličko spent his childhood. The fact that it sounds intriguing in all European languages and works very well as a graphic symbol are two more reasons why it was chosen – visitors to Zagreb will certainly be hearing more of it in the years to come.
Lauba, Baruna Filipovića 23A (01 63 02 111/www.lauba.hr). Open 2-10pm Mon-Fri, Sun; 11am-10pm Sat. Admission 30kn.