Be who you are and keep to it Retrospective exhibition of Karel Zelenko

14. 06. 2016 - 25. 09. 2016
Karel Zelenko, Fortunetelling Goat, 1977, etching

The biography of Karel Zelenko (1925) is extensive given that he is one of the last living artists of his generation, who has been involved in the creative field as a freelance artist consistently throughout his lifetime. He works in painting, printmaking, illustration and ceramics.

As an artist Zelenko has never conformed to current events and changes in art at home or abroad, remaining faithful to his authentic artistic themes and visual language to this very day. He remains surrounded by his world of figure and landscape, which he still uses to fulfil his artistic mission today. The MGLC collection includes more than one hundred of Zelenko's prints. They all – like the artist's work in general – strive towards classical themes and motifs: landscape and figurative scenes. The portrait is in his case reserved for painting and drawing. However, they all speak out with a special feeling for fellow man. Karel Zelenko is interested in everything that has particularly impressed his memory through the course of his life. He often treats events with a critical viewpoint or even with slight irony. As a great worshiper of nature, he also often touches upon ecological issues. It is the critical and ironic stance in the works of Zelenko that make them still relevant today.

The exhibition connects aspects of the artist's creative process through an intersection of time as well as medium and motif. Besides the graphic prints from the collection that represent the main part of the exhibition, the show also features the artist's more recent paintings, drawings, illustrations and ceramics.

Biographical information

Karel Zelenko was born in 1925 in Celje. After the secondary modern school in Celje, he attended the art and craft school in Ljubljana in 1940/1, and in 1941–3 in Graz. He studied Printmaking at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in 1943/4. In 1949, he graduated from the Department of Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana, where he completed the postgraduate specialist study in Printmaking in 1951 in the class of Prof. Božidar Jakac, and a year later also the postgraduate specialist study in Painting in the class of Prof. Gabrijel Stupica. He then took up employment in the ceramics industry in Kamnik. Between 1954 and 1959, he taught at the School for Design in Ljubljana. He has worked as a freelance artist since 1959. As President of the Association of Slovenian Fine Artists he was among the co-founders of the City of Artists art colony and the Fonticus Gallery in Grožnjan in 1965. He has held more than seventy solo shows at home and abroad, and has participated in numerous group exhibitions of printmaking and Slovenian art. He has illustrated many books, He regularly published his caricatures in the Slovenian newspapers. His works can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the National Museum of Contemporary History and the International Centre of Graphic Arts (all in Ljubljana), as well as in numerous private collections in Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Morocco, France, Serbia and elsewhere. He was also the recipient of several awards, among the most important being the Prešeren Fund Award in 1964, and the Award of the Revolt of the Slovenian Nation in 1974. In 1978 he was awarded with the Order of Work, with the golden wreath. He lives and works in Ljubljana.

Curator: mag. Breda Škrjanec

Public guided tours 
Saturday, 18 June, 7.30 pm, conducted by mag. Breda Škrjanec
Saturday, 17 September, 4 pm, conducted by mag. Breda Škrjanec, Kulturna soseska programme

Film night at Slovenska kinoteka
Monday, 12 September, at 9.15 pm, Umberto D., dir. Vittorio De Sica (1952, 35 mm, 1.37, black and white, 89 min, Slovenian subtitles), free admission

Italian neorealism and attitude towards the world as shown by these films had a strong influence on the oeuvre of Karel Zelenko. Neorealist films are critical and have a special feel for ordinary man, and as said by Zelenko himself, this is where his basic idea for his prints and artworks stems from.

In cooperation with Slovenska kinoteka


A catalogue has been published to accompany the exhibition entitled Be who you are and keep to it. The catalogue features a detailed interview with artist Karel Zelenko, which was prepared during the process of making the exhibition by its curator, a biography of Karel Zelenko, reproductions and a list of exhibited works.

Editor mag. Breda Škrjanec
Ljubljana, 2016
48 pages, Slovene and English Language, colour reproductions
Price 7 EUR

Independent Biennial VS Zelenko

Independent biennial VS Zelenko is an accompanying exhibition with a selected range of Independent authors and comes as an independent intervention to the retrospective exhibition of Karel Zelenko in its visual as well as content form.

The artists, who drew inspiration from Zelenko's oeuvre, have in their own unique and contemporary way presented their story using mixed media: animation, digital graphics and video, exploring the possibilities of illustration as part of the context of the contemporary and the classic. The collaboration between MGLC and the Independent Biennial, who prepared the exhibition, is the first of its kind.

Participating artists: KITSCH NITSCH, LEALUDVIK, Leon Zuodar, Mina Fina and ROK MAR

Opening on 19 July at 7 pm, Lecture Room, on view until 18 September.

In collaboration with the Biennial of Independent Illustration, Tretaroka.


Karel Zelenko in the NLB and MGLC Collections

opening, 10 August, 11 am, NLB Gallery Avla
10. 8.−28. 9. 2016, NLB Gallery Avla

On the occasion of the retrospective exhibition by Karel Zelenko Be who you are and keep to it, the accompanying exhibition Karel Zelenko in the NLB and MGLC Collections is also being presented at the NLB Gallery Avla.

Elements of social criticism can be discerned in the prints of Karel Zelenko, which are only ever black and white and speak through line. These are mostly hidden and/or disguised as irony, sometimes as grotesque. He has deliberately chosen printmaking to highlight the absurdities and anomalies in human society since the medium has the capacity to reach more people through reproduction. Zelenko thinks and feels in a figurative way. Man is always at centre stage. And as he has said himself for the catalogue to the exhibition Be who you are and keep to it, "What I do is in line with what society does, I would not know how to express this in an abstract way."

 The NLB collection holds 16 of Zelenko's prints and one painting. Most of the exhibited prints come from the original art decor of the NLB building at Trg republike 2. In 1971, dr. Zoran Kržišnik made a selection of works for the new complex at Trg revolucije, as it was then called. The exhibition is complemented by 6 prints from the MGLC collection.