The Slovak Spectator

Searching for some hidden millions: Where to find the most valuable art in Slovakia

Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum (Source: Courtesy of Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum)

In Slovak galleries you can view noble art and interact with modern technologies.

The original version of this article was prepared for an edition of the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide and was published in the travel guide Slovakia.

It came as a big surprise. The heritage of prominent Slovak painter and art collector Ernest Zmeták contained an original bust created by one of the greatest Italian Baroque sculptors, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

However, nobody was aware of it when the bust was sold and sent abroad, so the new owner acquired it for a song. When he learned about its true origin, its price grew more than 100 times in the next auction, to $33 million.

If the bust’s true value had been known sooner, it would have never left Slovakia.

A great portion of Zmeták’s heritage can now be admired in the gallery in his hometown of Nové Zámky. The story of the lost bust only highlights the exceptional quality of his collections.

Visitors to the galleries across Slovakia can do more than just passively admire the details of outstanding artwork. Many offer specialised tours, using the most up-to-date technologies and interactive components.

The trick-art galleries that have recently mushroomed in the country even create optical illusions that take their visitors to a completely different world.

Must-see art

When Paris hosted a big exhibition of Gothic art from the territory of today’s Slovakia back in 2010, its curator Dušan Buran said after the opening that it would be hard to find someone unsatisfied with it. His French colleague Jean Christophe Ton-That even claimed that it had been one of the most beautiful exhibitions held in the prestigious mediaeval art museum in Cluny, where he had been working for 13 years at the time.

A helping hand in the heart of Europe - Slovakia travel guide. A helping hand in the heart of Europe - Slovakia travel guide.

A lot of displayed art came from the Slovak National Gallery, the biggest and most important gallery in Slovakia. Although the gallery’s headquarters in downtown Bratislava are currently under reconstruction, many of its exhibitions are still accessible, albeit in closer quarters of Esterházy palace, coffee-house Berlinka and bookshop Ex Libris. There are many regular events, some of them dedicated to foreigners including commented expositions Sunday Rest and Open Studio projects of Ilona Németh from Fine Arts Academy.

The Slovak National Gallery has four branches outside the capital as well: at the Zvolen Castle, the mansion in Strážky, the Gallery of Ľudovít Fulla in Ružomberok, and Schaubmar’s Mill in Pezinok-Cajla. Each of them has a specialised permanent exhibition (gothic and early art in Zvolen, Spiš regional art and László Mednyánszky in Strážky, works by the artist Fulla in Ružomberok and naïve art in Pezinok). All of SNG’s venues and exhibitions are English accessible.

Local and regional galleries

The legendary Guggenheim museum has a twin in the Slovak capital. The private Nedbalka gallery stands out with its non-typical architecture that reminds of its bigger, New York-based lookalike. Its main feature is stairs encircling the central open space, which is used mostly during concerts when visitors can freely stroll around the gallery.

The inner atrium encompasses the first through third floors, enabling the sound to resonate throughout the whole space. The exhibition area with a smaller number of works allows visitors to fully focus on Slovak fine art from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The entrance fee includes a cup of coffee in the gallery’s café, adding a pleasant touch to the visit.

The Bratislava City Gallery (GMB) also offers a permanent exposition of works connected in some way to the Slovak capital, as well as various temporary exhibitions. The infinite pile of books in Krén’s Passage belongs among the most photographed places in Slovakia. Visitors are literally surrounded by books and mirrors right after entering the space, and one soon gets lost in what is real and what is only a reflection. A look into the depths of infinity may even cure your fear of heights.

Tourists who venture outside Bratislava can get a taste of local art and an overview of local artists in regional galleries with the biggest being Central-Slovak Gallery in Banská Bystric and the Eastern-Slovak Gallery in Košice. You can find more details about art in Košice Region in our Košice Region Travel Guide.

Galleries of contemporary art

The Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum near Bratislava, built on an artificial island on the Danube River, is combination of in- and outdoor gallery. The venue specialises in modern art and is just 15 kilometres from the capital. Bus No. 90 runs from the new building of the Slovak National Theatre to Čunovo. The bus does not always drive all the way to the gallery and if it ends in the village, there are 30-45 minutes more to walk.

On weekends during the summer season, a boat from the Bratislava Harbour goes directly to the island. Indoor exhibitions are complemented by a statue park with a selection of statues lending the island an intriguing atmosphere and making it an apt locale for photos. The art museum has been open since 2000, but as of September 2014 it offers a pavilion with a permanent exhibition featuring the private collection of its founder, Gerard Meulensteen. Temporary exhibitions lasting for several months feature the work of Slovak as well as noted international artists. The museum offers information in English.

Other notable displayers of contemporary art are the kunstalles in Žilina, Bratislava and Košice. Žilina turned its Neolog synagogue, the only building in Slovakia designed by prominent German architect Peter Behrens, into a kunsthalle during a five-year reconstruction ending in 2017. Now, the former synagogue hosts contemporary art exhibitions, discussions, festivals and classical music concerts.

Related articleSlovakia travel guide: A helping hand in the heart of Europe. Read more 

Bratislava also got its kunsthalle. Opened in the current Dom Umenia at SNP Square in 2014, the Kunsthalle Bratislava (KHB) focuses on mapping national and international visual art and making it approachable to domestic and foreign audiences. Through its new experimental model based on participation, communication and education, KHB popularizes and clarifies contemporary visual art. Kunsthalle LAB on the ground floor, a so-called window gallery, focuses on presenting the exhibitions of interactive and site-specific character that involve active participation of the viewer.

Another kunsthalle was created in Košice, the city which was named the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) in 2013. It was rebuilt from a former indoor pool constructed during communism and considered one of the most valuable buildings in Košice in terms of architecture.

In the land of visual tricks

Recent university graduate Michaela Podolinská discovered the trick-art world thanks to an online advert and immediately took exchange university students with her to experience it. The unusual Tricklandia gallery, full of visual tricks and optical illusions, is set in the picturesque village of Starý Smokovec in the High Tatras region, surrounded by mountains.

Related articleTatras travel guide: A fresh take on the stunning soul of Slovakia Read more 

Children and grown-ups can spend at least one hour here, discovering 24 visual-art stops: trick-art paintings based on augmented reality, a mirror maze, and anti-gravity rooms.

“I liked the anti-gravity rooms,” Podolinská stressed. Many of the Tricklandia attractions are based on Slovak legends and fairy-tales, as well as on Slovak towns and castles.

Just like in the case of LaborARTórium, people have to make a reservation to visit Tricklandia. Only then can they enjoy an upside-down chamber and the feeling of being captured in a witch's ball.

The tour around this gallery, filled with funny moments, begins in a rotating cylinder and anti-gravity room. Later, visitors can proceed to the beautiful paintings that are brought to life by visitors if they download a mobile application.

In addition, visitors can find a titled description by each stop, which tells them how to pose to make the best and memorable pictures.

“Great fun and a great team of young people, who are willing to help you capture these moments with a camera,” Katarína Chromčíková assessed the Tricklandia.

The Magical Woods, which is the name of a mirror maze in the gallery, is another attraction out of which there is no easy way out. Visitors can also become interested in the dark room with an infinite number of stars, a submarine, a magical library, and an opportunity to milk a domestic animal.

A similar site, which plays with people's minds, is the ILUSIA gallery in Liptovský Mikuláš, where visitors can make a phone call from the bottom of a pool and read newspapers on the top of a skyscraper.

Another mirror maze and the House of Illusions are located in Bojnice, western Slovakia. It is a place that offers a virtual reality experience. Kvantarium, which is a gallery of lightning effects, is set just below Hrebienok Peak in the High Tatras region. Moreover, Bratislava's Multium conceals the Universum room. It is a place in which visitors are taken away from the Earth and set in the realm of the endless universe.

Meeting the Earth

Another unusual gallery is set in the village of Tatranská Polianka in the High Tatras region. The people who established Tricklandia also decided to open up the Poliankovo gallery.

The unique Poliankovo, opened in March 2019, brings the art and digital technology together: 3D projections and holograms. Today, there are 10 projections, which take visitors on a journey around the globe. Additionally, the gallery founders have promised to come up with some more.

Visitors become adventurers due to the permanent exhibition by documentary filmmaker Pavol Barabáš, named Dialogue with the Planet. They can raft down the Omo River in southern Ethiopia and discover the inaccessible Domica Cave; all that as a result of modern technologies and props.

“We opened up something new in Tatranská Polianka; visitors will have the chance to find out, due to technology, what it feels like to be standing in the highest waterfall on Earth and walk across the North Pole,” Marián Bizub, one of the creators behind the Poliankovo idea, said.

The gallery has become a popular stop for school trips, as well.

“The pupils were all excited,” teacher Božena Janovová-Krempaská wrote on Facebook about the May visit to Poliankovo. She emphasised “meaningful quotes forcing people to reconsider a connection with nature”, Barabáš films, and animated artworks by Ľubomír Korenka.

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Going outdoors

Slovakia boasts a number of open-air galleries or outdoor exhibitions, which lure tourists mostly during the summer season.

The north-western region of Orava also boasts its own art island, Slanický ostrov umenia, which stands out symbolically and literally from the waters of the Orava Dam. A church that once stood on a hill in a village that was flooded by the dam’s construction is now an exhibition hall of folk art. From May to September, a boat brings visitors to the island from Slanická osada port (close to Námestovo).

The Gallery of Sculptors’ Symposium in Vyšné Ružbachy, the High Tatras, was initiated by sculptors Rudolf Uher, Miroslav Chlupáč, and Andrej Rudavský back in 1964 when they made the first sculptures in the local travertine quarry striving to connect art and nature in a unique symbiosis. Since then, artists from several countries have created more than 100 stone sculptures comprising a gallery that became a national cultural heritage site in 1997.

Creative creatives

After a cluster of architects, designers, painters, photographers, IT experts and other so-called creatives were ousted from the former thread factory in Bratislava, known as Cvernovka, they not only found a new home, but advanced it to a new, higher level. Unlike the original Cvernovka, the new cultural and creative venue in the former chemical school, called Nová Cvernovka, offers a rich year-round programme for the public.

“What has happened here is a small miracle,” said photographer Šymon Kliman and one of people behind the Nová Cvernovka project.

Miroslav Trnka, one of the founders of successful cyber security company Eset and native of Trnava, found the Cvernovka’s community so inspiring that he, together with his son Michal, re-developed several historic buildings in Trnava’s centre into a new contemporary culture space called Nádvorie (the Courtyard).

“Nádvorie is a space that should attract people with culture, a good meal and drinks,” said Trnka during the ceremonial opening of the venue in April 2018. “People are moving into shopping centres on the outskirts of the city and nobody goes into the city centre anymore. Thus, we wanted to give people a reason to return to the centre again.”

Andy Warhol

Admirers of Andy Warhol might have already marked Slovakia on their map since the king of pop art was of Ruthenian origin and his mother Júlia Warholová was born in the village of Miková, eight kilometres from Medzilaborce and now the home of the Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art. It is the second-biggest museum dedicated to Warhol in the world and the only one in Europe. It was founded in 1991 by artist Michal Bycko, with the assistance of the Andy Warhol Foundation in New York, where Warhol’s older brother the late John Warhola was a vice-chairman. Still, the art gallery scene in Slovakia neither starts nor ends with the eastern Slovak temple of Warhol.

Sculpture, photo and design

In Košice, the Vojtech Löffler Museum offers, a permanent exhibition showing the life and work of its founder, a local sculptor, and the work of his friends. It also offers space for residential stays and exhibitions for beginning talented artists.

In terms of photography, there the Central European House of Photography (SEDF) in Bratislava er photo galleries that offer exhibitions yearround. It presents local and foreign photographers, publishes books and organises workshops. The House of Photography in Liptovský Mikuláš is an apt venue to visit for photo-fans hiking or skiing in the Tatra mountains.

A gallery focused on design, Satelit, has moved to premises in the former Hurbanove kasárne military barracks in Kollárovo Square in downtown Bratislava. Thanks to its location and big windows, the venue can attract passers-by, in addition to connoisseurs and insiders.

Heritage of ECOC

Košice’s designation as the 2013 European Capital of Culture accelerated the creation of a lasting cultural infrastructure, and its projects added another layer to the city’s already rich cultural offerings. These venues are mostly buildings repurposed with the EU funds coming along with the ECoC designation. They include Kulturpark, a former 19th century Hungarian army barracks reconstructed into a multi-purpose cultural space for art exhibitions, theatre productions, and concerts as well as outdated heat exchange stations (SPOTs) transformed into cultural centres.

Related articleKošice region travel guide: On the border between Western and Eastern European culture. Read more 

Taking art home

For those seeking art souvenirs, a number of auctions are organised regularly. Of Slovakia’s auction houses, Soga is the most established. Soga organises at least six live auctions per year. Buyers most frequently are from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria and other foreign countries.

Soga focuses on art from the upper part of Hungary at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, and artwork by personalities of Slovak Modern Art and Slovak visual art after 1945. During season auctions, it usually offers solitary pieces of Hungarian and Czech visual art from the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, European art from the 17th-19th century and world art of the 20th century. It auctions antiquities twice a year as well.

Bidders can participate in auctions personally, with a written form, or via telephone through a Slovak-speaking assistant.

Online or in person

An extensive selection of works by Slovak as well as foreign artists held in state and municipal galleries can be found in digital form at www.webumenia.sk. The first Slovak institutions also published a selection of their collections online, through the global Google Art Project (www.googleartproject.com).

“On virtual versus real art, the real thing will always win,” Mark Sands, director of audiences and media at the Tate Gallery in London, said during a visit to Slovakia. “I have no question in my mind – is it better to see Mona Lisa in real life? Of course it is!”

So after art devotees delight in digitalised artworks, they can come to Slovakia and let themselves be impressed by the real thing.

Galleries in Slovakia

Art web pages

www.webumenia.sk
www.googleartproject.com
wiki.cedvu.sk

Slovak National Gallery

Galleries in Bratislava

Regional galleries

Galleries of contemporary art

City and local galleries

Trick art and experimental galleries

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