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East of the centre, this gallery is housed in one of the few architectural works by Ivan Meštrović and has a busy and diverse rolling program of exhibitions and events throughout the year. It's a must on the art circuit of Zagreb; check out what's on while you're in town. The building itself has also had several fascinating incarnations, reflecting the region’s history in a nutshell.
Originally designed by Meštrović in 1938 as an exhibition pavilion, the structure honoured King Petar Karađorđević, the ruler of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes – which grated against the sensibilities of Croatia’s nationalists. With the onset of a fascist government, the building was renamed the Zagreb Artists’ Centre in May 1941; several months later Ante Pavelić, Croatia’s fascist leader, gave orders for the building to be evacuated of all artwork and turned into a mosque (claiming it was to make the local Muslim population feel at home). There were murmurs of disapproval from the artists, but the building was significantly restructured and eventually surrounded by three minarets.
With the establishment of socialist Yugoslavia, however, the mosque was promptly closed and the building’s original purpose restored – though it was renamed the Museum of the People’s Liberation. A permanent exhibition was set up and in 1949 the government had the minarets knocked down. In 1951 an architect called V Richter set about returning the building to its original state according to Meštrović’s design.
The building has remained an exhibition space ever since, with a nonprofit association of Croatian artists making use of it. Despite being renamed the Croatian Association of Artists in 1991 by the country’s new government, everyone in Zagreb still knows it as ‘the old mosque’.