Thu. Jan 17th, 2019

MOMA’s Toward A Concrete Utopia: Yugoslavian Architecture 1948-1980

Ljubljana Office Tower; Photo Robert K. Stephen
Zlabitor Hotel Uzice, Serbia; Photo Robert K. Stephen
Ljubljana Hospital; Photo Robert K. Stephen

I am a veteran of the old Iron Curtain travelling extensively there in the mid 70’s. I was in Berlin when the Berlin Wall was standing and to make any attempt to cross it meant death. I have been in food queues for bread, meat and all sorts of other things. I have met with defectors, corrupt custom officials, officious bureaucrats and have been tailed by local police warning locals not to interact with me. All said and done I rather feel grateful for talking my way out of a bluffed hashish smuggling shakedown by Bulgarian custom officials and not being murdered by Romanian army troops. You see my friends things were different in those days and my ignorance was my bliss.
Not to diverge into the past too much how I survived my months in the Iron Curtain means that a higher power must have been looking after me. But I will say I always felt the best in the old” Yugoslavia” when it was a unified country under Tito. No civil wars ripping through its fabric and no genocide. No wars between Serbs and Croats and progressiveness and optimism in Slovenia.
So being in New York City recently at the Museum of Modern Art I was drawn like a fly to honey to exhibit “Toward a Concrete Utopia” consisting of “modern architecture” of the former Yugoslavia. I am entirely certain there are too many old flies like me that recall East German guards and dogs patrolling the Berlin Wall with bright spotlights and German Sheppard’s or drinking gin and tonics at the British Officer’s Club in the “British Sector” of West Berlin.
“Concrete Utopia” shows the creative architectural spirit in the former Yugoslavia from the period of 1948-80 with over 400 drawings, models, photographs and films. You must remember Josif Broz (aka Marshall Tito) played the non-aligned game to the extent that Yugoslavia was expelled from the Soviet Bloc in 1948 and aligned with Nehru of India and Nasser of Egypt to the extent in 1961 Belgrade hosted the first conference of Non-Aligned Nations. In 1963 free market reforms were initiated and in 1980 Tito died and good old YU started to self-destruct.
The MOMA exhibit is no intellectual sophistry but an accurate pulse of what was happening in Yugoslavia 1948-80. Stalinist architecture was bleak and consisted today of what we call concrete brutalism. Witness the Omni Hotel or Desautels Faculty of Management in Montreal!
The exhibit is broken into,” Modernization”, “Everyday Life” and “Identities”. With some degree of political freedom comes an escape from Stalinist brutalism in architecture.
Let the photos speak for themselves.
Catch this at the Museum of Modern Art before January 13th.


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