|Faculty of Fine Arts, Belgrade|
In contrast to the laid back ease of the various towns and cities that I visited in Macedonia, Belgrade is a frenetic city. The traffic is constant and constantly irritable; Belgraders drive on the horn and the accelerator, with the other controls of their vehicles being largely ornamental. Long, slow moving crocodiles of vehicles all peeping hopelessly at one another is a daily sight here. It is also quite a unqiue place architecturally. Belgrade has been attacked and at least partially destroyed so many times in the last few centuries, that the oldest living house is barely 300 years old; the oldest building is a mosque dating from the sixteenth century. It is a city which has developed in layers; one Utopian vision has been swept aside for a completely different other, resulting in a jumbled built environment quite unlike anywhere else in Europe. On most of the main streets, Hapsburg style appartments from before 1914, interwar French-style appartments, Tito era towerblocks and corporate post-1999 monstrosties all sit cheek by jowl with one another.
Belgrade is also an incredibly stylish and fashion conscious city. The main shopping streets are choked with a mixture of chain stores and smaller, independently run clothes shops; my completely unscientific straw poll of passers by suggest that at least four in every ten Belgraders commonly leaves the house looking like they just walked off the front cover of Elle or Dazed and Confused. Since the very bleak and materially deprived isolation of the Milošević period (1986-2000), Belgrade has fallen over itself to go through a reinvention as a fashion and clubbing mecca.
Ten years ago, Belgrade struggled for tourists; now it has emerged, particularly in the last 2-3 years, as a hedonistic place, seducing all the young Inter-Railers with their limited budgets for the weekend. It might have been expected that Belgrade would have "done a Vienna" in the wake of the disintegration of the Yugoslav federation, in other words, become a dominating capital bereft of much of its former purpose, surrounded by a small, provincial country. However, the feeling of faded glory that clung to Vienna does not apply here. The massive changes in Belgrade's function and appearance in the last twenty years are merely the latest steps in a never ending walk of renewal.
For all the inaccessibility of the national collections, Belgrade is still very much an artist's city. The city centre is filled with reproductions of the most significant inaccessible paintings from the national collection. (Mind you, not everyone appreciates them; i saw one academic portrait being destroyed by a drunk man brandishing a skateboard, whilst he bellowed in Serbian about "fucking academic bollocks". No one batted an eyelid). the current exhibition at the "Donumenta" festival in Regensburg, Germany, focuses exclusively on contemporary Serbian art; from the established enfant terrible of the 1990s, Uros Djurić, through the innovative Artklinika collective of Novi Sad, to interesting contemporary street photographers such as the "Belgrade Raw" collective, whose website is well worth ten minutes of your time. The potential is definitely here for Belgrade to fully re-establish itself on the art making map, once the tourists are brought back by re-opened national institutions.
I'll write more from here before the end of the week.