Sarajevo art museum gets boost from Italian coffeemaker

Mon Jun 9, 2014 4:20am EDT
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By Daria Sito-Sucic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - It is hard finding a bright side to the museum scene in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, where the Olympic Museum burned down during a 1992-95 siege by Serbian forces and the main national museum closed in 2012 for lack of funds.

But thanks to a grant from the Italian government and a plan by Italian coffeemaker illycaffe to sell designer coffee cups to support the project, there is hope for one man's vision of creating a modern art museum for a city still suffering the aftershocks of the ethnic conflict of the 1990s.

"That night when the museum was burned down, a spontaneous idea emerged as a reaction to all those religious and ethnic divisions," said Enver Hadziomerspahic, who directed the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies.

The idea was "to invite world artists to form a collection of their own future museum of contemporary art which would become a symbol of a new Europe and an expression of international collective will", he told Reuters in an interview.

Hadziomerspahic lobbied European museums and galleries to take part in the project even while the war, pitting Muslim Bosniaks against Orthodox Christian Serbs and marked by the longest siege in modern history, still raged in Bosnia.

Museums in Milan, Prato, Venice - all in Italy - and Ljubljana and Vienna became partners of his ARS AEVI collection. That helped persuade world-renowned artists such as Michelangelo Pistoletto, Marina Abramovic, Joseph Beuys and Janis Kounelis to donate works for a collection estimated to be worth around 20 million euros ($27 million).

Twenty-two years on, the collection of around 150 works is still homeless because of political bickering in the Balkan country, where rival ethnic elites cannot agree on any nation-wide cultural project.

But a temporary ARS AEVI exhibition depot was opened in Sarajevo in February after the Italian government contributed $1 million through UNESCO.   Continued...

Sarajevo-born artist Dean Jokanovic Toumin, designer of a special edition illy coffee cup, holds up one of the cups, in the ARS AEVI museum of contemporary art in Sarajevo, June 4, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic