Interview with Danica Jovovic Prodanovic, director of the Belgrade Cultural Center

October Salon, Belgrade
Danica Jovovic Prodanovic – director of the Belgrade cultural Center

The October Salon, initiated in 1960, is regarded as the most important exhibition of contemporary art in Serbia. Since 2004, the October Salon has been organised as an international exhibition. In the form of art dialogue, it presents the current artwork of world and local artists. Every year, a new art director is chosen and the exhibition is reinvented, a concept which has been validated by the continued interest of the public.

The October Salon is supported by the City Assembly of Belgrade and organised by the Belgrade Cultural Center. The past 48th edition of the October Salon in 2007, presented an artistic message which announces a new attitude and a new orientation of artists in an era of radicalisation of global conflicts, religions, ideologies and sociocultural value structures. The edition took place under the theme of “Micro Narratives”.

About Danica Jovovic Prodanovic.

Danica was born in Belgrade. She was trained as an architect and until 1997 she worked as an architect and product designer. She published several texts on art and architecture in magazines and translated a monograph on Gaudi and several texts on architecture. Since 1997 she is working as a general manager of the Belgrade Cultural Centre, multidisciplinary public cultural center with four program departments (visual art, music, film and literature). The Belgrade Cultural Centerorganizes 250 programs per year, several film, music and literature festivals, the International Week of Architecture and the international October Salon, the biggest annual event in field of visual art.

Could you please tell us a bit about the October Salon? How did the exhibition start and how has been evolving through the past years?

The October Salon is the most prominent visual art event in Serbia established almost 50 years ago. The Salon is founded and supported by the City of Belgrade and organized by the Belgrade Cultural Centre. The Salon always promoted the very best achievements within the contemporary art in Serbia and therefore we feel that it represents an important segment in the study of the modern Serbian art of the second half of the 20th century. Four years ago according to the decision of the Board the Salon changed it’s character and became an international exhibition with both local and international art directors (2004-Anda Rottenberg, Poland; 2005-Darka Radosavljević,Serbia; 2006-Rene Block, Germany; 2007-Lorand Hegyi, Hungary/France). Each year we organize an exhibition that presents around 80 artists from various countries in different venues throughout the city. All information about previous exhibition and information about the coming Salon, which will be opened on September 26th, one can find on our web site.

48th October Salon (2007): Contemporaries by Gloria Friedmann (left) and Sleeping boy by Hyunsoo Kim (right)

How long have you been involved with the event?

As a director of the Belgrade Cultural Centre, public institution that organizes this event for more then 20 years now, I’m professionally involved in this project from the moment of my appointment in 1997.

What do you regard as being your biggest contribution to it?

I lobbied very hard for changing the status of the Salon from local into international art event. I believe that such an event is a right form to open a dialogue between local and international art scene, help to re-establish broken institutional contacts and position Belgrade again on the cultural map of Europe as an important spot.

48th October Salon (2007): Sculpture by Kevin Francis Gray (left) and part of Dolls from Françoise Pétrovich (right)

Something you would like to achieve for the event in the next years?

I’d like very much to spread as much as possible a good word and of course a valid information about the October Salon an make people, artists, critiques come, visit and experience Belgrade. This means opening doors for our artists and opportunity to present themselves within international artistic community on one hand side and on the other it’s the chance for the audience to get actual information.

Which are the October Salon Awards?

There are three equal prizes (2500 €) awarded by the international jury of five members and a special prize awarded by the Belgrade Cultural Centre, which consists of a solo exhibition to be organized within our Centre.

Are you inviting specific artists to participate or can anybody apply for participation?

Artist are invited by the art director according to it’s concept. Sometimes the art director also opts for an open call for artists in relation to it’s concept. The method of inviting artists is decided by the art director exclusively .

Can you tell us something about the forthcoming 2008 edition?

The Art director for the coming 49th edition of the Salon is Bojana Pejic, Serbian curator, living and working in Berlin. Under the title “Artist Citizen” this year’s exhibition will present those artistic practices that have been called art-in-context .
“The title of the exhibition, therefore, does not suggest the topic of the exhibition, for the works featured in it deal with a great number of topics; the title of the exhibition should suggest that we shall encounter artists who position themselves critically – I would say, politically – towards the “given reality”, the given context: these are artists who bring into question the politics of representation, the relations of power, re-examine artistic and political institutions, as well as their own artistic production…”-says Bojana Pejic

Serbia has recently experienced a political transformation. How do you evaluate this new political scenario in relation to the October Salon?

At this very moment Serbia is experiencing very delicate and difficult political situation and we are again the breaking news, and front pages headlines. We are all working under big pressure and we hope that together with artists we’ll be able to create one serious but still very communicative and good humored exhibition.

How do you see Belgrade evolving in the next years? Do you think it has the potential to become an artistic and cultural capital as it happened with Paris, London or Berlin?

Belgrade is a big city (around 2 million people). It has very active and interesting art scene and therefore has a big potential to become an important regional art center.

What would you tell to potential visitors and participants about the October Salon and Belgrade?

Leave all you prejudice at home.

How do you evaluate the Serbian art scene and its international presence today?

I think that our art scene is not recognized as it should be. And therefore our priority is to promote it, to make it visible…

About Bojana Pejic, selected art director for the 49th October Salon in 2008:

Born in Belgrade in 1948 and studied History of Art at the Faculty of Philosophy in the University of Belgrade. From 1977 to 1991 she was curator at the Student Cultural Center of Belgrade University and organized many exhibitions of Yugoslav and international art . Started to write art criticism in 1971 and was editor of art theory journal Moment, Belgrade (1984 – 1991)

October Salon, Belgrade
Bojana Pejic – art director of the 49th October Salon

Since 1991 she has lived in Berlin. She organized an international symposium The Body in Communism at the Literaturhaus – Berlin in 1995. She was Chief curator of the exhibition After the Wall – Art and Culture in post-Communist Europe organized by theModerna Museet , Stockholm, (1999), which was also presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art – Foundation Ludwig, Budapest (2000) and at HamburgerBahnhof , Berlin (2000-2001). She was one of the co-curators of the exhibition Aspects/Positions held in the Museum of Contemporary Art – Foundation Ludwig, Vienna in 1999.
Between 2002 and 2004, she was one of international advisers of the Contemporary Art Museum in Kumamoto (Japan) where she also curated a retrospective of Marina Abramovic (2003), which also toured to Morigame (Japan).
In 2003, she had the Rudolf Arnheim guest professorship at the Humboldt University in Berlin (history of art).
She was adviser of the project “De/Construction of Monument “organized by the Center for Contemporary Art in Sarajevo where she also held seminars at the Academy of Fine Arts dedicated to the “Communist Body.” (2004-2005)
In May 2005 she has defended her Ph.D. “The Communist Body – An Archeology of Images: Politics of Representation and Spatialization of Power the SFR Yugoslavia (1945 -1991)” (in preparation for publishing).
She was a Maria Goeppert-Mayer guest professor for International Gender Research at the Institute for Cultural Studies at the University in Oldenburg (2006-2007).

The October Salon is a very good organized and attractive art event which is distributed within different locations in Belgrade. It offers a great selection of artwork and is the perfect occasion for visiting an emerging and very interesting city that reveals its history through its architecture, and offers good gastronomy and nightlife.

Text: Eduard Prats Molner
Danica and Bojana pictures courtesy of the Belgrade Cultural Center

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