The necessity of starting a national cultural institution was generated in the first postwar years from the efforts to complement all the things that the Macedonian nation, due to the historical circumstances, was not able to accomplish in the past.
The initiative to open the Art Gallery, the present National Gallery of Macedonia, was forwarded by the founders of the Macedonian contemporary fine art: Lazar Ličenoski, Nikola Martinoski, Dimče Koco, Dimo Todorovski and the other members of DLUM (Association of Artists of Macedonia). In 1948, by the decision of the Ministry of Education and the Government of the People’s Republic of Macedonia, the establishment of an Art Gallery began as part of the national program that included the organization of the entire social, educational and cultural life in the newly founded state.
The painter Borko Lazeski was appointed the first manager and organizer of the future National Gallery. Daut Pašin Amam (Daut Pasha’s Bath), a late 15th century cultural monument of the profane Islamic culture was seen as the most adequate exhibiting showroom. The adaptation of the damaged bath into an exhibiting facility required considerable conservation and restoration works. The next reconstruction of the object, carried out in 1980 – 1981, rendered its present appearance.
The first task of the newly founded national art institution was to evidence, collect and display the national cultural heritage and to follow, purchase and exhibit the current artistic achievements. The program task included acquisition of artworks from the Fine Arts Department of the National Museum in Belgrade which had inherited its continuity from the prewar Yugoslavia. Later on, the Gallery set to collecting the masterpieces of the Medieval Art: icons, fresco copies, wood carvings and monastery models.
Following the museum evidencing and archiving of that fund, the gallery started purchasing artworks of the Macedonian contemporary art and managed to compile the most precious and valuable national collection of the first generation of artists – founders of the contemporary fine art. In that period the Gallery also purchased artworks by Slovenian, Serbian, Montenegrin, Bosnian and Herzegovinian artists that now make a noteworthy part of this institution’ collection.
The exhibiting activity was adequate to the social-political changes that occurred in Macedonia. It was the time of setting the foundations of a new cultural life which included autonomous creative freedom and affirmation of the national cultural identity. This cultural climate gave rise to a general opening towards the world which resulted in organizing interesting exhibitions from abroad, some of which are worth mentioning: French Contemporary Art (1952), selection of Dutch fine art (1953), Henry Moore (1955), American Woodcarving (1956) and many others, with an even greater frequency in the recent period. Today we have a regular collaboration with Dresden, Nürnberg, Berlin, Istanbul and other cities. In 1997 the National Gallery was the carrier of the Macedonian presentation at the Art Biennial of Venice with the project Macedonia Before Giotto – Macedonia Today.
Due to the quality and intense activity of the National Gallery of Macedonia and the necessity to redefine its activities, and considering the possibilities and the facilities for a quality selection of the Macedonian national art in the form of a permanent display in a separate object – with museum characteristics, and on the other hand the possibility to continue the permanent frequent exhibiting activity of artworks, like solo exhibitions, projects by domestic and foreign artists, i.e. the recent exhibiting activities, the Gallery acquired an additional object – Čifte Amam.
So, in 2002 a strategic distinguishing of the gallery’s activities occurred, where the Daut Pašin Amam became the cradle of the permanent display of Macedonian art with works (icons) dated from the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, works from the period of the Macedonian Rebirth, i.e. the first artists who focused on the profane painting of the 19th century, and an emphasis on the Macedonian contemporary art, that is, the 20th century tendencies, styles and achievements. The new object – Čifte Amam – became the exhibiting space for the exhibitions and the latest achievements of the representatives of different generations of artists from Macedonia and the world.
In 2005 the National Gallery of Macedonia enhanced its facilities with another exhibiting space – the multimedia center Mala Stanica which very soon became a very attractive urban place, engaged in exclusive exhibiting activities of various characters, because it hosts events from different cultural domains. The demand from numerous artists to host their projects is practically impossible to answer, yet the team of the Gallery manages to maintain the quality features of this national institution.
Now we are very proud to announce the opening of yet another object under the cover of the National Gallery of Macedonia: the Memorial House of Lazar Ličenoski, which was donated by the artist’s family along with the entire household and the artworks, which will be allocated following the death of Ličenoski’s wife Zoe. The National Gallery will take care of the restoration, conservation, documentation and detail and thorough research of the life and achievements of this bard of the Macedonian artistic scene.
The intense activity carried throughout the 60 years of the Gallery’s existence obviously proves that it is one of the best national institutions in the artistic field, whose permanent tendency has always been the confirmation, affirmation and promotion of the achievements and the deserved place of the Macedonian fine art within the Balkan and internationally. These acknowledged activities will be continued, deepened and intensified in the future, as well.