The construction of the Art Pavilion in Zagreb dates back to 1896 and was intended specifically for the Millennium Exhibition in Budapest, which celebrated a thousand years of Hungarian statehood. Croatia, then politically and legally subordinate to Hungary, also took part in the exhibition. Despite or perhaps for this very reason, Croatian artists, at the initiative of the painter Vlaho Bukovac, called for the construction of a special modular Art Pavilion which would be permanently relocated to Zagreb after the exhibition. This demand was approved by Viceroy (Ban) Khuen Héderváry, thereby imbuing the Pavilion with inherent duality from its very inception, a fundamental ambiguity that would often remain obscured by the notion of representativeness. Erected, on one hand, as a symbol of urban growth, cultural emancipation, and the process of modernisation and urbanisation of the city, on the other hand, it represented a manifestation of Hungarian political rhetoric regarding the “joyful peaceful millennium era” and the pacification of the Slavic side.

The inherent duality of the Pavilion is also reflected in the transformation of transience to permanence, stemming from the temporary nature of exhibition architecture and the function of pavilion form. This involves not only a permanent building but also the status of a lasting symbol of high values and progress in Croatian art and culture. The earthquakes that struck Zagreb in 2020 caused severe damage to the building and rendered it non-functional for several years. The altered state of the damaged building, with fallen stucco, vacated and relocated programs, has introduced a renewed sense of impermanence and activated multiple identities of the Art Pavilion that will shape artistic and curatorial research in the post-earthquake period.

The legendary Pavilion in Budapest was erected by the Danubius company according to the designs of Hungarian architects Korb and Giergl, while the construction of the iron skeleton of the pavilion in Zagreb was entrusted to Viennese architects Hellmer and Fellner (renowned designers of theatre buildings in Central and Eastern Europe). The construction was carried out by Zagreb builders Hönigsberg and Deutch, under the supervision of city engineer Milan Lenuci. The building was completed in two years, during 1897 and 1898, and ceremoniously opened on 15 December 1898, with the inaugural exhibition of the Croatian Salon.

The building of the Art Pavilion in Zagreb is situated in a prominent position in the eastern part of the Green (Lenuci’s) Horseshoe, a system of parks and squares that define the Lower Town urbanism of Zagreb. Since the first Croatian Salon, the Pavilion has hosted a series of significant exhibitions by Croatian and international artists. Among them are, for example, exhibitions by the Women’s Art Club, the first association of female artists in the South Slavic regions, which organised the exhibition of Käthe Kollwitz in 1936 (Käthe Kollwitz exhibited in the Pavilion three times), or exhibitions by the Earth (Zemlja) Group, the last of which did not take place due to the association being banned in 1935. Furthermore, it hosted numerous thematic, cultural exhibitions, Spring Salons, Zagreb Salons, Youth Salons, international reviews of current artistic phenomena and tendencies, exhibition presentations of key protagonists of modern art from these regions, and contemporary artistic practices.

As a result of these factors, the Art Pavilion has evolved into a venue whose exhibitions function as historiographical landmarks of Croatian modern art, contemporary artistic perspectives, and has become a focal point of Croatian culture.

The Art Pavilion in Zagreb conceives and organises exhibition projects, facilitates artistic research and new productions by domestic and international artists and curators. Through its program, it questions existing systems and art historical knowledge, while considering and establishing possibilities for institutional action through innovative and sustainable methodologies. It fosters critical reflection, participates in informal public education, and builds a solidarity-driven, inclusive, and humane community.

With its diverse artistic research and exhibition activities and programs, the Pavilion aims to have a strong presence in the city, educating its citizens. Additionally, through its strategic decisions, it seeks to contribute to the city’s development and cultural community. The Pavilion’s vision is to function as infrastructure, with art as a resource. By integrating scientific methods and artistic strategies, it seeks to disrupt hierarchical structures in the production and transmission of knowledge, while also contributing to the creation of novel collective experiences. Similarly, the Pavilion becomes an innovative and relevant space for reflecting on institutional functioning and pressing social issues, serving as a reference point for students of philosophy, design, architecture, and art academies, as well as for all those interested in contemporary critical practices in visual arts and culture.