About the project

The main aim of the project Croatia and Central Europe: Art and Politics in the Late Modern Period (1780-1945), is to get a comprehensive insight on the basis of fundamental research into intricate relationships between art and political regimes seen from various perspectives and based on different discourses (governmental, social, economic, religious, gender, ethnic and the like) in the given area in the period from the end of the 18th to the mid-20th century. The project spans the period from the 1780s which was marked by great modernisation projects in the Habsburg Monarchy during the reign of Joseph II, to the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War when political circumstance brought an end to the cultural integrity of Central Europe. This chronological framework represents therefore an era when Central Europe was still a rather unified political and cultural area, within which Croatia formed part of multinational states – first the Habsburg and then the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, while in the interwar period it was a constituent member of the joint states of South Slavs (the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia).

Although the project is grounded in the historical determination dependant of the political circumstances, Central Europe will be analysed and interpreted through artistic heritage primarily as a cultural rather than strictly political space. That is why the areas covered by the project include territories of the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy as was defined by its 1914 borders and the areas which bordered with or were culturally related to the monarchy, such as certain parts of the present-day Germany, central parts of Western Europe and parts of the Balkans.

Researching multiple fields which reveal relationships between politics and modern art is taken as the main objective of the research principally because the artworks created within these great political formations can be analyzed as having multiple culturally and socially relevant voices from the perspective of both the past and the present. The changing nature of research on material culture, from observing it as “reflection” to understanding it as “construction” of cultural and social reality will be here applied to art. Also important in that respect is the institutional practice which can, in addition to scientific discourses, maintain cultural memory or be an instrument of cultural amnesia or destruction (the so called damnatio memoriae), that is, deliberate and conscious emphasis on certain aspects of (politically suitable) heritage. In short, changing meanings of 19th and 20th-century artistic heritage will be related to the interpretation and representation practices within the Austro-Hungarian administration, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the Independent State of Croatia. In addition to the historical approach to the chosen subjects, research will also include a contemporary view of the meanings about art that are constructed and conveyed by museum institutions and the way they are received and understood by museum visitors.

Another project objective is transnational research of Croatian and Central European artistic heritage with the aim of proving its international character. Special attention will be paid to the heritage of marginalized religious and national groups and the relationship to unwanted heritage that resulted from different political circumstances and the heritage which was (mis)used for political purposes. Understanding these background events can contribute to greater understanding of heritage-based conflicts, and by indicating the transnational nature of Central European art can encourage its protection and ensure its sustainability.

By exploring and analyzing various aspects of Central European art the attempt is to overcome the usual position and view of Croatian researchers mainly as those coming from a periphery. The standpoint of the research members is therefore to investigate mutual influences of Central European border areas and thereby get an insight into the extent of the polycentric nature of culture in the given period.

Seen as a whole, the project has been conceived as a comprehensive research of the shared characteristics and the common cultural, social and political background of art in the late modern period in Central Europe. It is also envisaged that it could be the basis for the development of a Central European art research centre, since such an institution still does not exist in Croatia. The project members therefore plan to apply to international projects and potentially become the core of a far more numerous research team in the future.