Lauba – the Youngest Centenarian in Town

It’s not every day that a new exhibition area opens in Zagreb, especially a place favorably inclined toward contemporary art.

After waiting ten years for the MSU opening, a year and a half later the Lauba opened, a new gallery of contemporary art that we can view as a counterpoint to various national institutions entrusted with the state of Croatian modern and contemporary art. The MSU is embodied by Igor Franić’s building which completely dovetails with New Zagreb’s modern esthetic, while an old Austro-Hungarian riding arena is located only some 10 bus stops west, at Črnomerec. Architecturally-wise, this building has nothing new to offer (with its early 20th century wreaths and basilica cross-section) while content-wise it’s completely new with its contemporary art program featuring artists from the younger and current generation.

The Lauba is a private project of the Filip Trade Collection, a company that has been collecting Croatian Artists’ works from the early 1990s – from GlihaKniferGattin to VehabovićFijolić,Franke. Even though the AGP Dizajn/AGP Design’s project headed by Alenka Gačić-Pojatina won the 2007 competition, and dominant yet elegant cubes were realized as office premises, the project was ultimately taken over by Morana Vlahović, lining it with black glass, the collection’s curator Vanja Žanko notes.

Office premises are housed within, thus forming a walkway which offers a view of the exhibition area. The ground floor has been left passable so as to maximally economize the exhibition area, at the same time attempting not to superimpose the cube to the entire prevalence of the space. Still, you’ll be sure to notice the unusual color of the façade – black, a non/color as a clear gesture in space.

The architect Morana Vlahović explained the reasons for the black façade with the following words: “One day Kličko called me up and said: “The house will be black on the outside; what do you think, what kind of black should it be?” It’s not unusual for an investor to ask such questions, i.e. that they want to talk about the variations of the color black. That question was yet another piece of evidence that the reasons behind this house dug a lot deeper than the usual market demands. Searching for a color that was blacker than black or black with added value – we wanted to coat the house with bitumen. Of course, that couldn’t be literally carried out – but when we found black paint that glistened like bitumen, we knew we’d found what we’d been looking for. The black sheen is beyond all shades of black. Unquestionably contemporary, at the same time respecting and dematerializing the defined pillared facade, what can actually be described as an amazing situation.“

However, even though it’s a hundred years old and a protected cultural heritage, it still manages to successfully question the coexistence of the past and present – The Lauba House is set to be the key unit within a project attempting to revitalize the Črnomerec Quarter – with a Črnomerec Center Complex, whose completion is expected by the end of 2015. That right there is evidence enough that it’s necessary to offer a cultural content as a key revitalization item.

Lauba is a rare example of complete architectural reconstruction of an abandoned industrial area (dating back to 1924 a cotton recycling plant was housed in the building, while production slowly abated while the space was morphing into a warehouse) into a space for public purposes. Such an illustrious history represents a challenge, and sometimes even a series of art-conservation-related obstacles in the realization of the desired area. Morana Vlahović pointed out: “My goal wasn’t only to preserve or conserve this existing wealth of the house’s layers but to exhibit it as well. Thus, the concept was to exhibit the house along with the collections. Aluminum (the material with contemporary connotations) was applied to the house as a new layer following the implementation of a new intention. As a desire (along with the functional necessity) to form comparative degrees while displaying the house’s layering, aluminum was applied in the form of montage/de-montage panels. These new metal parts of the house play the role metal parts do in any given machine. Upon removal of the aluminum panels from the walls, the historical brick wall is displayed. Each panel that is taken down automatically becomes a part of (infinitely possible) space constellations on the exhibition hall’s wood floor, whereupon a collection is exhibited. Thus the house and collection are constantly playing off each other, thus realizing the interior’s elusive identity – it’s constantly shifting both in view of space and atmosphere.“

In addition to emphasizing all the time shifts within the space, a reference to the old riding arena is also achieved by using the almost archaic (by today’s standards), old-fashioned materials such as wood flooring (instead of the usual floor coating) whose color and smell are reminiscent of sand and straw, Vlahović added.

However, the key question that time will put before Lauba is in regard to its representational abilities – and not just its functional role but the social one as well – in today’s time of mass media, what features must an exhibition area project possess, while recognizing the outcast among mainstream contemporary art museums and galleries?

„The name “Lauba –People and Art House” isn’t a mere marketing gimmick – rather it’s about yet another “reincarnation” of the house, along with realizing completely new typologies, where the company’s offices and the exhibition area literally (physically) coexist. This collection is used to functioning within a context that isn’t separated from daily existence – to the contrary, the collection has been living and growing in harmony with the company’s offices. There are no white, characterless walls in this house. A base made from old bricks and aluminum, and pleomorphic at that (a term for shape-shifting biological organisms), is a huge and merciless challenge for exhibits. However, not only is the collection strong enough to defy this core basis but is meeting it head on with a fun-and-games approach to boot,” Vlahović replies.

*Blueprints + cross-section (click to download)

**Facades (click to download)

Photographs: Damir Žižić, Vanja Žanko

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