The National Gallery of Arts-Tirana, Albania
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
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
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