The Franciscan Gallery in Široki Brijeg has its beginnings in the monastery treasury, which was opened in 1979. It contains paintings by old masters, church artifacts, clothing, and ancient books. During the 1980s, various exhibitions were organized in the monastery’s premises, and the monastery acquired works of lasting significance. Finally, in 1990, the building that would soon house the permanent exhibition of the Franciscan Gallery Široki Brijeg was completed. In addition to the aforementioned treasury, the permanent display included works by painters and sculptors of Croatian modern and contemporary art, naive artists, and pieces by avant-garde artists. The third part of the exhibition featured works by Herzegovinian painters. At the beginning of the Homeland War, the permanent display was removed, and the artworks were relocated and stored. The Gallery also received numerous artworks from other museums and collections that were at risk due to the war. Since the opening of the Gallery, numerous exhibitions of well-known and lesser-known artists have been held in the gallery’s spaces. The founding of the Academy of Fine Arts at the University of Mostar in Široki Brijeg is also connected to the Gallery.
The beginning and work of the Franciscan gallery
The Franciscan Gallery Široki Brijeg was founded by a community of monks and there were no great financial investment when procuring artworks. The main sources were personal friendships and the trust that artists and artwork owners had in the Church.
The space where exhibitions were held was designed and decorated in the new part of the convent in the time when the state did not allow large building investments.
The Gallery was opened under the slogan: Art to artists and friends to the arts on July 25th 1990 in the presence of many artists, artist aficionados and people who work in the culture departments without the heads of church and state. Among those who were there were famous names from Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Milan and many cities from former Yugoslavia. Writer and literary critic Vitomir Lukić held a speech on philosophy, religion, art and especially on the role of the Franciscan Gallery. The Gallery was opened on July 25th 1990 by the man most responsible for its opening, its first and so far the only director, fra Jozo Pejić. Three days after it opened, on the same day the Youth Pilgrimage was held, it was ceremoniously blessed by the cardinal Franjo Kuharic with the bishop ordinarium Pavle Žanić and provincial brother Drago Tolja.
The first art exhibition included modern art, with emphasis on the first half of the 20th century. Aside from modern art, in a somewhat separated space, the exhibition included avant-garde artists. It was the only permanent exhibition of that kind in former Yugoslavia.
The Franciscan Gallery has never had expert employees nor anyone working there full-time. It has always been run by monks with expert friends helping occasionally and they are always careful not to neglect their monk and priest duties.
The Gallery is well known for the frequency of exhibitions and other art-culture events (such as concerts, book promotion, documentary film screenings, chess tournaments, practical classes, thesis exams…). With Franciscan width it has accepted and less valuable contents, but it has always reached for quality programmes and quite a few were very important such as the exhibitions by Vlaho Bukovac, Emanuel Vidović, Paintings of Old Artists of the Art Gallery Split, Celestine Medović, Slavko Kopač and avant-garde artists from South Eastern Europe.
Even before the Gallery was founded, the exhibitions were held in the monastery’s Treasury, starting from 1979. They held two artists’ colonies and worked with many artists and several galleries. The first abroad appearance was in Edinburgh in the fall of 1990. After a hiatus during the first year of the Croatian War of Independence, the Gallery continued its tours and exhibition exchange and the participation in the programme of Simic’s Meetings the Gallery became a strong link between cities Široki Brijeg and Vinkovci. The Gallery was a part of the international event Proljeće s maticom in Mostar several times.
During the Croatian War for Independence the Gallery was the only gallery active in Herzegovina and continued to send messages for peace. The Gallery also accepted several collections from Mostar and Konjic for safekeeping as well as artwork saved by the Croatian Army from many apartments that were broken into.
In July 1990 the Gallery was opened for public and it held almost 1000 pieces of art. Today it holds more than 4 500, two thirds of which had been electronically catalogued.
The conditions for storing art should be a lot better. Dehumidifiers and air conditioning devices need to be procured and more space is needed for art as well as for working. In the depots a lot of attention is paid to micro climate. A part of the artwork has been restored and preserved. But, due to lack of funding, nothing could’ve been done for a long time.
In the convent’s treasury, a separate part of the Gallery, there is an exhibition of old masters- around twenty of them, including the artfully shaped metal sacral objects and clothing for mass, old books, including an incunabula from 1493. For that cultural and art treasure the Gallery requires a bigger space and it is crucial that the current exhibition is modernized.
The Franciscine Gallery had donated over 2000 books to the Academy of Fine Arts in 1996, the same year the Academy was opened and so the Library of the Academy was founded. A few years later the Library of the Franciscan Gallery was opened and it is mostly filled with gifted books. Today it has around 5 000 titles and only 50% is in digital form.
The Gallery has made a small catalogue for every exhibition but its site does not mean its contents are not rich. The period between 1988 –and 2013 has been analyzed in three almanacs and in the yearly articles in the Academy magazine while the first eight years are in the editing process before printing. Two monographies have also been published by the Gallery: Sister Marija and fra Mirko Ćosić and another small monography Fra Blago Karačić. The Gallery also prints calendars with art reproductions every year. They have also published several novels. The magazine Academy has been published in collaboration with the Academy of Arts from 2006-2013. It stopped when the eco-publisher quit after the 6-7 issue.
From Gallery to Academy
The Gallery was where the Academy of Fine Arts/Široki Brijeg from the University of Mostar was founded. The directors of the Gallery have to be thanked for bringing famous artists and experienced professors from Zagreb, Stipe Sikirica, Vasilije Josip Jordan and Miroslav Šutej who have helped start everything and became professors in the Academy. The recent addition is Professor Nada Pivac. These four renowned artists gave a great contribution in promoting art in Herzegovina and beyond.
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