Barbara Jaki, Director of the Slovenian National Gallery – Visitors Are Our Mirror and Our Echo

Barbara Jaki, the director of the National Gallery started her career in this very institution right after her graduation. In her third mandate as a Director, she had witnessed many changes in which the museum confirmed its status of a home of Slovenian artistic heritage and gained valuable donations which made its collection richer.

In May, the largest collection of the Slovenian national heritage ever was sent to Prague Castle where it would be on display until September. Tell us more about the importance of these artworks?

The Prague exhibition shows some of the most important works from the collection of the National Gallery of Slovenia, Narodna galerija. The selection we made was the result of thorough research of cultural relationships between the Czechs and Slovenes in the period covered by the exhibition, i.e. 1870 to 1930. During this time, these two cultures interacted in many fields of life, not only visual arts, which has yielded a plethora of fruitful results. One example is the “Slovenian Impressionists”: a group of artists around the turn of the century that greatly influenced artistic life in Ljubljana, Slovenia of the day and created works that remain our national icons today. One such painting is The Sower by Ivan Grohar, which appeared on the national side of one of the euro coins — the same euro coins that are in circulation around the European Union, including Czech Republic. Additionally, our intention was to present to the Czech audience the artistic milieu of Jožef Plečnik, the Slovenian architect who is well known in the Czech Republic for having designed or redesigned a number of buildings across Prague, including the Hradčani Castle and the presidential residence. In order to ensure a thorough presentation, we loaned a great part of our permanent collection of the late nineteenth and the beginning of twentieth century, and added works from private collections and other museums in Slovenia.

Why the exhibition is specifically interesting for the Czech public and why it has to be visited by public? How the reception in Prague differed from the one impressionists were exhibited in the Petit Palais Gallery in Paris?

We speak of two different exhibitions even though they both present similar material, similar ideas. The Prague exhibition is much bigger and emphasises the vicinity of our cultures. It spans a larger period too. The Paris exhibition presented half of the exhibits that are on show in Prague, and the catalogue essays were more general. On the other hand, the Czech catalogue is impressive in size and contents and beautifully reproduces all the exhibited works.  It includes a more complete supportive material such as the bibliography, a historical outline, and so on. The reception in Paris was above our expectations, especially because the French audience was not aware of the existence of our art around 1900. It was a discovery and in some aspects a surprise. The exhibition in Prague is also well visited. The critical response in the Czech media is a bit more extensive but the Paris exhibition deserved a lengthy comment in the renowned art historical review The Burlington Magazine and was unusually well-illustrated.  In other words, it is worth seeing both exhibitions!

Back at home, which exhibitions would you outline as the most important ones in 2019?

All exhibitions in our programme are important. Currently, we are preparing the autumn exhibition devoted to the beginnings of the Slovene and previously the Kingdom of Yugoslavia government’s collection of art; the art that now belongs to the Narodna galerija. The art from this collection can rarely be seen in public, because it stayed in situ — in Presidential Palace, State protocol residences and so on. You are most welcome to visit!

What role the National Gallery plays in the cultural offer of Slovenia? How many foreign visitors do you have?

The role of the Narodna galerija is important in our society. This institution is the home of our artistic heritage. It is part of our job to defend the values of the past. We cover some aspects of our school education at different levels, from pre-school visitors onwards. At the same time the Narodna galerija is a scientific institution which is responsible for the development of not only art history but also restoration of works of art, museology etc. We have to balance carefully between those needs. The Narodna galerija represents our shared history and values. We analyse and promote these values not only through the permanent collection, but also through different exhibitions, and varied programmes for visitors, including foreigners. In comparison with other European museums, we receive mainly local visitors, and not so many tourists. We have some 9,5 to 12 percent foreign visitors annually.

How the visitor has change and how the role of culture in life of the people has changed? As a director, how much do you have to pay attention to the market needs?

Every year the number of visitors grows, and museums have become a kind of pilgrimage places of our time. Culture has become more and more important because of its immanent ability to pass on general values. However, we, museum workers, must find new and attractive ways to be a relevant player in the world of increasing demands, fast life rhythm, and varied possibilities of how to spend our free time. In all my three mandates as Director, I witnessed a period where museums in Slovenia moved from the old model to the one dealing with the challenges and opportunities of expanding audiences.  The visitor figures are extremely important for us; visitors are our mirror and our echo. The success of our work is measured by the public reception. Museums today are far from being exclusive or elitist, and we always aim to connect with the widest possible audience.

How often do you have a possibility to acquire new works? As the time pass which artists are shifting from the helm of the Modern Gallery to your “time zone”?

Not so many, as the new acquisitions budget is far from sufficient. In addition, the rigid system of state financing does not follow demands of the market. On the other hand, we compensate this with great donations. These do not always systematically build upon grey areas in our collection, and may sometimes even allow us to display works that are more “modern”, such as a fantastic donation of the ouvre by Zoran Mušič which is now permanently on view. As for the second part of the question, I am afraid that I cannot give you a definite answer. The time line between both institutions has not been clearly defined since the establishment of the Modern Gallery, the Moderna galerija, which traditionally hosted contemporary art. Sometimes, both permanent collections deal in certain parts with the same artists but cover different aspects. Nevertheless, as time passes, we continue to acquire more formerly “modern” works; today, for instance, the 20th century belongs to “history”, and so to our collection in the Narodna galerija.


Digitalisation changed us

Your work in the gallery started many years ago, just after your graduation. From that perspective tell us how profound is the change the museums have gone through, due to modernisation and digitalisation?

As in many other fields, our work changed in several aspects, although museums are per definitionem conservative institutions. Computers changed our everyday a lot. New technologies have enabled us to prepare more effective educational programmes.  Digitalisation is important in conservation and restoration, where research work is practically impossible without modern equipment. The way of publishing changed a lot, including reproduction of art and photography.






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