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Exhibitions and Projects
11 May 2015–31 October 2015

The Return of Ambassadors of Art

Works of Art from the Yugoslav Succession

Succession after the Former SFRY

Ten years after the dissolution of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), the Agreement on Succession Issues was signed, confirming that the dissolution of the former common state had resulted in five sovereign and equal successor states, including Slovenia. The Agreement made for a just distribution of the rights, obligations, property and debts of the former SFRY. One of the areas the Agreement covers is the distribution of diplomatic and consular properties of the former SFRY abroad, including works of art contained in them (Annex B to the Agreement).

Yugoslavia had over 170 embassies, consular posts and residences around the world. As a country at the forefront of the Non-Aligned Movement, Yugoslavia also sought to demonstrate its strength abroad with luxurious buildings with expensive interior decor. Altogether, Yugoslav diplomatic missions contained more than 2000 works of art by artists from all six republics and both autonomous provinces.

Negotiations on the distribution of these works started in 2002, and the first handovers took place in May 2003. To date, the expert group has examined the pieces from more than 125 diplomatic missions of the former SFRY where works of art by prominent Slovenian painters were displayed; of these, over 200 have already been handed over to Slovenia. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia and the High Representative of the Republic of Slovenia for Succession have for a long time striven to mount an exhibition to present the results of these prolonged efforts for the return of Slovenian cultural heritage. The wider public is now able to see works of art which once adorned the inner walls of prestigious buildings around the world. The exhibition The Return of Ambassadors of Art includes selected works once displayed at diplomatic missions and consular posts of the former SFRY in Berlin, Bern, Budapest, Vienna, Graz, The Hague, London, Madrid, Milan, Paris, Prague, Rome, Thessaloniki, Stockholm, Trieste, Warsaw and Zurich. The exhibition includes 32 paintings and 36 works on paper by 34 Slovenian artists.

All the works of art returned to Slovenia so far will be exhibited at diplomatic missions and consular post of the Republic of Slovenia abroad, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other official Slovenian diplomatic premises.

The Return of Ambassadors of Art

A world traveller once said that upon coming to a country for the first time, he always visited an art museum first, as it provided the best starting point for learning about the country. Works of art in diplomatic missions and residences are extremely important, as an ambassador represents our President of the Republic in the host country, and an embassy is de jure the territory of the guest’s country in the host country. Works of art are therefore indicative of the place ascribed to art in our life, as well as our society’s attitude to art, the power of our artistic output and – last but not least – the level of education and sophistication of our representatives. The outstanding place and importance of fine arts thus arise from the simple fact that it is permanently on display on premises visited not only by citizens who come as clients, but also by visible personalities of the host country and other representatives of the diplomatic community.

The selection of works and their hierarchic distribution among the diplomatic missions – as we have seen – thus pursued recognisable goals, at least in the decades covered. The collection contains outstanding works of earlier date, but after 1970 more ambitious acquisitions considerably declined. We must also mention the framing of the works as an important finishing touch. Most of the works included in the exhibition are displayed as they were found, in the form in which Slovenia received them from the diplomatic missions and consular posts of the former SFRY. They prove that artistic interior decoration was not only a matter of updating the artistic fund with a feeling for artistic quality, but also of taking care of the pieces and their maintenance. Fine works of art were often the most expensive part of the interior decor of the rooms where they were displayed.

The National Gallery of Slovenia would therefore like to raise awareness of this part of our cultural heritage, a part of the face we show the world, and point out that the interior decor of our diplomatic missions is not just any interior design, but also a symbolic representation of our community, our culture and our identity.

Virtual panorama
Press materials

Project management
Barbara Jaki, Ana Polak Petrič

Author of the exhibition
Andrej Smrekar

Urška Kramberger Mendek, Michel Mohor, Tanja Klemenc Sekuti

Exhibition display as designed by Ranko Novak
Andrej Smrekar, Michel Mohor

Tina Buh, Simona Škorja

The project was financially supported by
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia
Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia

The official sparkling wine of the exhibition openings
Radgonske gorice d.d.

11 May 2015 – 31 October 2015 (extended)
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana