History, art and politics: Slovene past and future

17 March, 2014

In 1939 Anton Gojmir Kos won the historical painting contest for the then ban (governor) palace (now government palace) in Ljubljana. In the same year – as is written in the artist’s retrospective catalogue from 1992 – he completed the first of the two large compositions, Enthronement at Gosposvetsko polje/Maria Saal. The second, Struggle at Krško, was completed in the next year, and he also made a few smaller paintings. After the presentation in Jakopič Pavillion, they were all together placed into the corridor which today leads to the premises of the President of the Republic. It was there that they survived:

- the first Yugoslavia,
- Italian occupation,
- German occupation,
- the new Yugoslavia
- and the first years of independent Slovenia.

But they did not survive 2007. In September, the office of the President of the Republic handed them over to the National Gallery; there, the smaller works were put into depot, while the large ones – too large for depot – were hung in the hall of employee entrance.

I do not know who was bothered by these paintings enough to have them removed; there are quite a few more or less obvious candidates. I also do not know who is preventing the return of the works, which can be marked as the most important Slovene historical paintings, to the palace which was (as can be learned from the Government Office of Information notice) proclaimed to be a cultural monument. What I do know, however, is that in both cases politicians were involved.

This also explains why the paintings had to be removed. It is definitely not the question of artistic quality, firstly because this has never been questioned in the case of Kos’ historical cycle, but primarly because there is not a politician in Slovenia who would be capable of distinguishing a good painting from a bad one, and justify his/her assessment in a sensible way. On the other hand, politicians undoubtedly understand very well the content of Kos’ paintings, and this is what to them seems unpleasant and even threatening, particularly in the case of both the large compositions. Justifiably so. Enthronement at Gosposvetsko polje proves that real power is in the hands of the people, not politicians. Struggle at Krško is even more dangerous, since it shows that sooner or later people get fed up with stupidities of all kinds and shove their hayforks into the place where the sun never shines, even for the most patriotic politicians.

I wrote this article on October 5th, 2009 and published it in the Delo newspaper. Nothing has changed since; the article is just as relevant today as it was four and a half years ago.