The National Gallery of Arts

The Albanian National Gallery of Arts is the only art gallery in the country. Its permanent exhibition tells the story of Albanian art from its beginnings in the late-19th century, up until the present day. While the collection is predominantly made up of painting and sculpture, it provides a glimpse into the development of Albanian art and represents an archaeology of the changing historical and political situation in the country.

The story begins in the late-19th century, when painters, largely trained in Italy, began painting portraits of the burgeoning middle class, pastoral scenes of the Albanian peasant, dressed in traditional costume, as well as historical paintings, for example, the famous Battle of Skanderbeg.

It wasn’t until 1931 that an art school was opened in Tirana. It was around this time that artists started using Socialist Realism as their preferred style, depicting partisan heroes, fighting for their country’s independence.

The Socialist Realism from the 1950s to 1970s presents the standard iconography – workers building the new communist state, women working side by side with men, new technology being introduced, electrification of cities, preparedness for war. Albania was unlike other communist countries at the time in that it did not really have an underground movement or cohort of nonconformist artists to speak of. There were some artists who strayed from the standard iconography of Socialist Realism, but they did so by using unconventional colors or expressive brushstroke. Some, however, painted landscapes or untraditional scenes. There was little that could be identified as abstract, non-objective, or experimental. Even the first performance art pieces in Albania appeared only in the late-1980s or early 1990s.

The top floor of the National Gallery presents the post-communist work. After the fall of the communist government, artists began to try making up for lost time by experimenting with a variety of different styles – expressionism, cubism, minimalism, surrealism, etc. At times they combined them in different ways that would be deemed unconventional in the West.

The museum’s collection is very traditional, and presents the evolution of Albanian art to the present day. What would make a nice addition, however, is some work that is currently being done outside the traditional genres of painting and sculpture. The museum does host the Onufri Prize, however, which is awarded annually to the best contemporary artists.


Albanian National Gallery of Arts

Albanian National Gallery of Arts