The Centenary of the Birth of Zoran Kržišnik
This year marks the centenary of the birth of Zoran Kržišnik, the initiator and longtime director of the Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts and the International Centre of Graphic Arts.
Zoran Kržišnik has left an indelible mark on Slovenian post-war art, especially in the field of printmaking.
He was born on 26 January 1920 in Žirovnica in the Gorenjska region. After completing his studies in Art History at the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana, he became the first warden of the Museum of Modern Art in 1947. In 1957, he became director of the Museum of Modern Art and held the position until 1986. Kržišnik was one of the initiators and the longtime director of the International Biennial of Graphic Arts, which functioned under the auspices of the Museum of Modern Art between 1955 and 1986. In 1986, the organisation of the Biennial of Graphic Arts was taken on by the International Centre of Graphic Arts, which was established upon the initiative of Zoran Kržišnik and the Biennial Secretariat, receiving its spaces in Tivoli Mansion. Kržišnik was the director of the International Centre of Graphic Arts from its foundation until his retirement in 2000. He is the co-founder of the Grupa 69 art group. He is also credited with the globally accepted term of the Ljubljana school of graphic arts. For many years, he was a member of various international juries in reputable institutions, commissions and committees around the world. He also published extensively, wrote numerous pieces on contemporary art and presented Slovenian artists in comprehensive monographs and exhibition catalogues. He made a huge contribution to the promotion of Slovenian and Yugoslav printmaking across the world. He received numerous national and international accolades for his work, including the Valvasor Award, the Silver Honorary Badge of Freedom of the Republic of Slovenia and the French Legion of Honour. Zoran Kržišnik died on 2 July 2008 in Ljubljana. In 2011, a memorial sculpture dedicated to the life and work of Zoran Kržišnik by academy-trained sculptor Matjaž Počivavšek was unveiled in front of the International Centre of Graphic Arts.
The Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts is considered to be the oldest graphic arts event in the world to systematically explore the role and importance of printmaking and to evaluate and promote current print production on a biennial basis. Over several decades, the Biennial has placed Ljubljana at the heart of the contemporary graphic arts. Following the example of the Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts, a host of others have been organised across Europe, and most notably the Tokyo Print Biennial in 1957.
Kržišnik came up with the idea for the exhibition at the 26th Venice Biennale in 1952, where he was the assistant commissioner of the Yugoslav Pavilion. In Venice, he met Zoran Mušič and the two considered the possibilities for such an exhibition. This type of event would help to develop the arts in Slovenia, opening a window to the world. They decided that an exhibition of prints would be the most appropriate for purely practical reasons and especially because Slovenian printmaking at that time was most prepared to face international art, both in terms of the number of artists working in the graphic arts and the quality of work being produced. Mušič later invited him to Paris, where Kržišnik also met with Veno Pilon, and both helped him to connect with prominent French artists. At that time, Kržišnik collected 144 graphic prints from 43 representatives of the École de Paris, which formed the core of the first graphic arts exhibition. Later, Kržišnik liked to tell the tale of having “smuggled” the prints to Ljubljana on the train.
The organisation of the 1st International Exhibition of Graphic Arts in 1955 (renamed as the International Biennial of Graphic Arts in 1973) was taken on by Zoran Kržišnik. Already the first Biennial of Graphic Arts was a complete success. Barely seven years after the Informbiro, ten years after the end of the Second World War, and during the great rift between East and West, the organisers managed to bring Western and Eastern artists together for the first time after the war. The participation of artists from all the continents was extremely important for the Biennial also later. This was further supported by the policy of non-alignment, which was finally formed at the Belgrade conference in 1961. In addition to the artists, the most renowned theoreticians and critics from the East and the West took part in the Biennial, whereas Kržišnik managed to attract esteemed world experts to participate in the jury. The Biennial was a kind of “graphic map of the world” featuring artists from all over the world regardless of style, direction and the technical execution of the artwork. The only criterion was the artistic quality of the graphic print. The Biennial was also decisive for the development of local artists, providing them with a broad insight into the contemporary world of the graphic arts. The Biennial assured artists a more solid foothold with an opportunity to establish themselves on home turf, while at the same time enabling contact with the graphic creativity from around the world. It also greatly contributed to the formation of the Ljubljana school of graphic arts and those art pieces that represent the highlights of classic printmaking production. Thanks to Zoran Kržišnik’s exceptional organisational work, his skills, excellent business prowess and sound knowledge of the arts, the Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts was becoming the focal point of global graphic arts production.
The openning of the 17th International Biennial of Graphic Arts, 19 June 1987.
Moderna galerija Ljubljana Archive.