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In a village on the Danube near Belgrade, an art collector has bought on old barn and turned it into something new which is much more than just an exhibition space.

Text Leonardo Costadura Photos Robert Slavik

German Version Here

What is art, Vladimir?“ I ask the tanned, wiry man. Vladimir Macura comes from Krajina, the formerly predominantly Serbian-populated region in present-day Croatia, and moved at the beginning of the nineties to Vojvodina, on the big river. To be more exact, to kilometre 1701 of the Danube, in the old—in terms of name, architecture, and demographics—village of Stari Banovci. The large pole with the distance marker stands in his garden, nearly invisible among the artworks and trees. “Art is love,” says Vladimir. That simple. Love of the essence of things, one could say, for here in “Magacin Macura,” everything has its place and its appreciation: the apple trees (each a different variety), the large banana plant, the old blue enamelled pots, and many other objects of every kind, which make up only a part of his art collection, for collecting is Macura's passion. “At some point, you get a bit obsessed,” he added laconically.

Art, however, is also based on the love of people and their capabilities. During a week at the end of August, when a large heatwave was replaced by grey but mild drizzly weather, a group of Viennese architectural students gathered at Magacin Macura, a barn which, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, has been turned into a museum over the last few years. These days were about exploring their possibilities and ideas; they were here to implement their projects in small working groups. Some, for instance, were sewing a picnic blanket made from old clothes. They collected the pieces of fabric in the village and wanted to invite the villagers to join them for a meal together under the trees at the end of the week. Others had cycled here from Vienna and filmed the trip. “Yumeji’s theme” on Radio Beograd 2 danced around the room while the rain played a light arpeggio on the roof of the barn. On their first morning in Banovci, the group swept the wooden floor, like the monks of a Zen monastery sweeping the forest floor.

The village where the barn is located is roughly thirty kilometres northwest of Belgrade. A boat drifts down the Danube, which is mile-wide at this point. Silence, woods, grey sky, grey water. The barn sits perpendicular to the river, like on a balcony on the edge of a cliff overlooking the river. A large red platform spans the difference in level. It is shaped like an A so you can walk up the stairs on both sides, look out across the landscape as if from a speaker’s podium and, if one so wishes, deliver a speech to the waves, the birds, and the trees.

A like “Alles” (anything or rather everything), a demand that is also found on a red flag in the museum. It hangs seemingly at random from on old beam and is transformed here into a description of the state of things, for the Magacin is a space in which anything is possible: a place to withdraw, meet, talk, be silent, celebrate, and work. “Architecture is actually what comes after the construction work—the use of the building,” says Milan Mijalkovic, the architect of the museum. He is also responsible for the Anything flag and the platform along the Danube.

Mijalkovic is not only an architect, but an artist, too. He contemplates the present from an apparently naive, an apparently outside perspective and digs along the roots through the temporal strata of society in search of optimistic drafts of the future. What he has made here is sustainable, both in the current and traditional sense of the word. He is convinced that “only that which is created using as few means as possible is truly sustainable”. He only had a budget of 30,000 euros to transform the barn into a museum. Mijalkovic solved the challenge by first changing as little as possible to the existing structure while at the same time minimizing material costs through recycling. For this reason, he put that much more heart and soul into the project—everything has been carefully thought out and executed with care down to the last detail. 

Magacin Macura is a space in which anything is possible: a place to withdraw, meet, talk, be silent, celebrate, and work.

A rectangle made of sandwich panels sits horizontally atop the barn on the streetside. The pink colour of the facade serves as a signal, “Hey, here is something to see. Come here,” the building calls to cars passing by and the local inhabitants. The simple warehouse architecture of the rectangle is a typological extension or contemporary equivalent of the centuries-old barn. The existing building had to mainly be cleared of the trash that had accumulated over the years. Otherwise, the only major change was the skylight windows, which the architect cut into the ceiling. On the riverside, two wooden compartments were built on the roof of the barn, in which two common rooms are located.

When you enter from the street through the stained-glass door, you first have to walk through the garden along the entire length of the barn, among the apple trees and shrubs. This offers a view of a few large trees, a long table, and finally the Danube. In this way, Mijalkovic emphasises the length of the building and thus makes visitors aware that they should leave themselves plenty of time for their visit. The phrase the “depth of space,” which Karl Heinz Bohrer once used to describe football coverage, is understood here both literally and archaeologically, for this hall is roughly 100-meters deep. Inside, the beams give rhythm to the load-bearing structure of the space, which reminds one a little of the interior of an old ship. The scuffed wooden floor and the rough brick walls complete the background against which the artworks of Yugoslavian Dadaists and Zenitists, a huge collection of chairs, chests of drawers, tables, books, and bicycles, are distributed along the entire length of the walls. The middle is kept clear out of solemn respect. There should always be room for something new to emerge. 

All this stands in glaring contrast to the cultural centres being built for hundreds of millions of euros in Germany and elsewhere in rich industrial countries. As someone who has travelled from Berlin to Banovci, I cannot help but think of Herzog & de Meuron's Kunstscheune(Art Barn), which is currently in the process of being constructed in Postdamer Straße. It was originally supposed to cost 200 million euros, but it was already clear when construction began that it would cost at least 360 million. In the meantime, there is talk of 460 million—amounts that defy the limits of imagination. Will the inhabitants of Berlin be able to develop a connection to the building and its artworks which will be exhibited in a golden cage?

At any rate, in Magacin Macura, the place, nature, the collection, the building, and its users develop their very own unique relationship. In exemplary fashion, it helps one to understand how human settlement basically involves starting with existing structures and then integrating and reusing them. Here everything is old and new at the same time. The garden looks as if it were always there, and the ensemble of buildings also seems quite natural, although there couldn’t be a bigger contrast between the centuries-old bricks and wooden beams and the modern combination of plastic and steel.

This place owes its unique sense of tranquillity to the love and care given it. Cultivation means colerein Latin, which is where the word ‘culture’ comes from. After Voltaire’s Candide had travelled all over the world and experienced one misfortune after the other, watched one concept of the world after the other fail, he and his companions Cunégonde, Pangloss, Martin, and Cacambo find themselves back once again in Constantinople in a small house with a garden; the book ends with a sentence that has filled entire book shelves of literary research: “Il faut cultiver notre jardin”— “We must cultivate our garden.”

Bauwelt 24.2022

Translation : Mark Miscovich

Copyright: Milan Mijalkovic, 2020