Luxury hotels have long fuelled the cultural imagination. Places like The Plaza or The Ritz continue to concretize otherwise vague desires and promises of glamour and social status thanks to their recurring pop-cultural circulation, dropped as names or serving as movie sets; never mind that these venues have long been outgunned globally by some seven-star spectacles in Dubai. And according to Jay-Z and Kanye’s 2011 track ‘Niggas in Paris’, where it’s at now is Le Meurice.
Times change. And they certainly did for Belgrade’s Hotel Jugoslavija, a formerly grand but now defunct concrete colossus of the species, at the centre of artist Mladen Bizumic´’s eponymous exhibition at the Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade. Designed in 1947 yet only completed in the late 1960s, the hotel provided Tito’s modern state construct of Yugoslavia with befitting new model lodgings for both a Socialist elite and Western heads of state and celebrities. Bizumic´ approached this site’s exemplary Yugoslavian postwar trajectory in quasi-archeological museum mode, by borrowing and exhibiting, for the show’s duration, its ‘artefacts’: the hotel’s furnishings, including miscellaneous items such as a series of room service doorknob signs and an obsolete currency exchange table.
Yet the artist didn’t leave it at this site- and time-specific, art-historically well-trodden transplantation, as the objects were further fashioned into self-contained sculptures: wooden cabinets, more Art Deco than International Style, were stacked atop one another, approximating human height. Floor lamps were lined up like an attentive row of bellhops. Two large chandeliers dangled from a sinuous luggage trolley like a pair of sparkling earrings. What could have been an exercise in anthropomorphization became an injection of playfulness into the bleak uniformity traditionally ascribed to so-called failed Modernist architecture, especially of the Eastern Bloc variety, as well as to the latter’s perception of the everyday from a Western perspective.
A similar instinct is reflected in a series of black and white photographs channelling architectural details of the hotel and its surroundings through a kind of chronologically dislodged ‘Neues Sehen’ style. As such, this individualizing treatment of potentially heavy subject matter (the hotel was severely damaged during the 1990s NATO bombings) suggests a different course, subtly bypassing any dualistic argument, be it that of communism vs. capitalism, Modernism vs. Postmodernism, or Utopia vs. dystopia.
So it was apt that Bizumic´ chose this hotel rather than the more popular staple of contemporary practices thriving on these dualisms – the Modernist housing estate. The hotel was further featured in a video piece in which the camera circumscribes the sprawling complex, lingering on gleaming facades, dusty crystal ceilings and above all its emptiness, only disrupted by a Serbian celebrity the artist equally ‘borrowed’ from a concurrent film shoot while on location. The actor’s hazy ruminations on what this kind of space in flux may yield for a community past and coming, are caught up with the real-time on-screen exploits of advertising, the film industry and contemporary art projects. A suite of identical hotel mirrors hung in several facing pairs, creating the familiar effect of endless reflection of the self, here enacts the kind of destabilizing of ideology, -isms and history colonizing visual perception the artist seems to engage in, asking which one trails the other.