From the time of Primož Trubar in the 16th century until the turn of the millennium and the rise of new media, books represented the main pillar of Slovenian cultural distinction. Poets or writers won recognition when her or his book arrived from the printing house. Similarly, painters and other artists became better known when they got their monographic studies. Among visual artists in Slovenia, there are only a few who feature in two hundred catalogues of solo exhibitions that were prepared and presented by numerous authors.
Various authorities were aware of the cultural and symbolic value and power of printed words and pictures. Hence, books were banned, burnt or destroyed in paper mills. In the Slovenian lands, this fate awaited Protestant prints, Slovenian books under the Fascist rule, catalogues of the Neodvisni group in Maribor libraries during the Second World War or the reproductions of the painting Applesby Zoran Mušič, made for the book Slovenski slikarji after the War.
The National and University Library carefully collects the books by Slovenian writers and poets, including the translations. Less lucky seem to be the great artists that have catalogues published across the world. Today, the list of solo exhibition catalogues of Zoran Mušič comprises more than 250 entries. To commemorate the 111th anniversary of his birth, we have prepared an exhibition of 111 catalogues on Zoran Mušič. The exhibition features less than a half of extant books about the artist. Both bibliophiles and admirers of the painter will be reminded of the various art texts, types of reproductions, and graphic design challenges.
The Slovenian artist had a great love of books. He was steered towards reading by his parents, teachers and friends from his youth, namely Milan Kajč, Radivoj Rehar and Vitomil Zupan, all three of whom became noted writers. Early on, Mušič became a regular customer in the bookshops of Maribor and Ljubljana and also in Zagreb, which he frequented because of his influential professor at the Academy, Ljubo Babić, and the teacher’s friend Miroslav Krleža, considered the greatest Croatian writer of the 20th century. During his sojourn in Paris, Mušič regularly met with Georges Lambrichs, an editor at the prestigious book publisher Éditions Gallimard. Throughout his life, the painter read in numerous languages. Among the books were also Slovenian ones, as seen on the bookshelves of his Venetian studio. Alongside monographic studies, he kept the Dictionary of Slovenian Literary Language (Slovar slovenskega knjižnega jezika), the poetry of Paul Celan and the novels of Ismail Kadare. Even in the most merciless days of his life, in the Dachau concentration camp, he sought inspiration from books and kept in his pocket a booklet on Rembrandt’s drawings from the Insel-Bücherei series. The book accompanied him for life.
Mušič was proud of select printed exhibition catalogues, especially of solo exhibitions and of those that demonstrated a new level of his visibility in the world of visual art. Writing for him were Kosme de Barañano, Jean Bouret, Tomaž Brejc, Jean Clair, Jean Grenier, Zoran Kržišnik, Giuseppe Mazzariol, Michael Peppiatt. There is no list of the total number of the catalogues that spread reproductions of his graphics, drawings and paintings among connoisseurs at auctions and group or solo exhibitions. Similarly, there is no record of all the books he illustrated or to which he contributed reproductions of his works of art.
Importantly, Katia Toso prepared an inventory of 176 catalogues of the artist’s solo exhibitions that were published before Mušič’s death. The list was prepared for the presentation of the Lia and Maurizio Zanei collection of the artist’s works on paper in 2005. It was amended by Hervé Bordas with a list of Mušič’s graphic portfolios and by authors of exhibitions in Slovenia.
Select catalogues in the display cases belong to the specialist libraries of the National Gallery of Slovenia, the Museum of Modern Art and the Department of Art History of the Faculty of Arts, the University of Ljubljana, and to the private collections of Vanda Mušič and Gojko Zupan. Additionally presented are all the modest catalogues, also from group exhibitions featuring Zoran Mušič before 1945. They are followed by diverse and most representative books of the Post-War period from different countries, up until the last bibliophilic catalogue by Zala Gallery, published in 2019. Seeing the catalogues is a new incentive to visit the Permanent Collection of Zoran Mušič at the National Gallery, his works of art in the Modern Gallery, and his works on paper in the Dobrovo Castle.