Belgrade: Reading a city

March 14th, 17th & 18th, 2016 (Seminar)
April 24th – 30th, 2016 (Study trip)

The ugliest town in the most beautiful place, dishonest, dirty and disorganised… This was Le Corbusier’s verdict on Belgrade after his visit in 1911. He had expected Ottoman architecture and vibrant oriental streets, but what he found at the junction of the Sava and Danube rivers was for the most part a regular grid and European classicism. Half a century later his own concept of the Ville Radieuse – blended with principles of socialist urbanism – served as a model for Novi Beograd. This vast post-war urban extension has been subject to controversial debate and is now either regarded as a paradigm of Yugoslav autogestion urbanisation, a disastrous result of functionalist planning ideology or a still young and developing urban area with huge potential. The city has experienced numerous fundamental transformations throughout its history.  Currently it is facing another radical intervention called Belgrade Waterfront that will replace a derelict but vital quarter with a widely criticised investors‘ development.


We will explore Belgrade roughly one hundred years after Le Corbusier’s Voyage d’Orient and look at it from the perspectives of art, architecture and urbanism. We would therefore like to encourage students from all fields of study to join our seminar and study trip.






Part of the seminar is dedicated to Yugoslav art history from 1918-1991 and contemporary visual arts in Serbia. We will learn about avant-garde movements such as Yugo Dada and Zenitism in the 1920s, deal with the concepts of modernism under socialist conditions and the denial of social realism in favour of Yugoslav aestheticism in the 1950s. Another focus will be on the vibrant groupings and astute artistic strategies of the 1970s, on body and performance art as well as conceptual art. Furthermore, we will analyse various artistic responses to „Balkanisation“ in contemporary art. Each of the topics will be discussed in close connection with urban and social development and the specific, changing political situations.

Some of the artworks discussed in the seminar will not be on show in Belgrade during our stay or are by nature fleeting. We will therefore focus on art-supporting institutions during the study trip. We will ask how the local art scene has dealt with the ongoing reorganization of institutions in post-war times and post-socialism, how long reconstruction might last and what it can achieve.


Architecture and urbanism

Cities have been regarded as sign systems or texts and their users as readers of urban space (Michel de Certeau, Roland Barthes). One of the theoretical frames of our investigations will be the question of whether the city can be understood as an open art work that is „able to produce ever new and different readings and interpretations without ever being exhausted“ (Umberto Eco). We will adopt an urban morphological approach to identify Belgrade’s historic layers and read the traces of the past. Assessing Novi Beograd in the context of concurrent and current town planning models and discussing the latest urban development plans with their proponents and critics will improve our understanding of what makes a city liveable. We will view the architecture of the modern movement, some examples of Beograd’s Brutalist concrete buildings from the 1960s and 1970s and contemporary structures, and discuss the architectonic expression of Yugoslav politics as a non-aligned state.

Language of instruction: bilingual courses German/English
Credits can be acquired either in art history or architectural theory.



Preliminary meeting: 14 January 2016, 14:00-16:00,
Lecture Room 4 (Main Building)
Seminar: 14, 17 and 18 March 2016, 9:30-18:00, ZG 24,
Vordere Zollamtstraße 3
Study trip: 24–30 April (participation in the seminar is required).



Please register by e-mail to Astrid Poyer (, secretary of the Art History Department, giving your name, matriculation number, field of study and some remarks describing your interest in the topic by 20 December. Accepted students will be contacted.



Accommodation and entrance fees are funded by the university. Travel expenses are to be paid by the participants.



Our visit at the Palace of the Federal Executive Council of Yugoslavia, Novi Beograd


Ivan Antić, 25. May Sportcenter, 1973-75


Betonhala on the river Sava


Novi Beograd


Novi Beograd


Muzej Macura, Novi Banovci, a private collection


Muzej Macura, Novi Banovci, a private collection


Novi Banovci
Muzej Macura, Novi Banovci, a private collection