Museum Night in Belgrade

On the main pedestrian boulevard, this young girl waits for her turn at the telescope.  She has probably walked along Knez Mihailova Street more times than she could count.  Just yesterday, her patience may have been tried in almost the same spot, waiting on line for ice-cream or at the check-out of Gap Kids.  But in a moment, she'll look up at the sky and feel like her feet are planted someplace entirely different.  This is Museum Night in Belgrade, an evening when things that are always there - that gallery next to Zara, that museum you maybe visited on a school trip years ago, the stars - take center stage.

This is the 9th Annual Museum Night in Serbia and it's gotten bigger each year.  In the capital, 70 museums and galleries open their doors to the public from 6pm until 2am and at least 100 exhibitions, performances, events happen in and around them.  It's not just a Belgrade thing - about 65 different cities in the country take part in the one-night-only event.  The idea is to promote culture and get people in the doors of museums.  In this part of the world, the best way to get anyone to do anything is to make it an all night party, of course!  It's kind of like the visual equivalent of a music festival (which Serbia also happens to know how to do very well).  

I wish they had something like this in New York.  How many times did a visitor see more of the city's museums in one trip than I had in my lifetime?  My sorry excuse: "When it's always there, it's hard to get yourself to go out and do it" a.k.a. I took opportunities for granted.  That's what I loved most about this event in Belgrade.  That night, everyone had a little "tourist" in them.  People walked around in groups, clutching leaflets and consulting maps.  This was especially nice for us - foreigners in a big, exciting city on Saturday night.  We not only knew what was 'happening,' we felt like we fit right in.

We bought our tickets from the Cultural Center that afternoon and spent a long time staring at the guide that came with it - a little worried about being able to find Museum Night.  But when we stepped out our door, Museum Night found us.  Even though my mom told me never to do this, I got in the back of a stranger's van.  This was outside of Radio Belgrade, which had set up a mobile recording studio (said van) for the festivities.  Where there weren't traditional "museums," other things popped up.  Happenings occurred.  

The theme, this year, was "Neon Lights," so we could only assume that these dancers were part of the festivities.  There really was this blending, oozing of exhibition into the streets between museums.  Instead of the sort of scavenger hunt I was expecting, the whole Old Town was attending "Museum Night" whether they chose to or not. And this was hardly your average required museum tour.
Gallery windows hung on darkened buildings like a painting on a wall.  Streetlamp display lighting and a windowsill frame.  Looking in at a woman looking on at a framed poster, I felt part of this strange  continuum.   Sort of like Norman Rockwell's Triple Self Portrait, except with a viewer instead of an artist.  While I wondered what was happening inside the grand museums all over the city - of which there are many - I preferred this sort of window shopping-gallery hopping.  You really could make the evening whatever you wanted it to be - which isn't usually something you associate with "going to a museum."
All night long, people stood on line outside of the Princess Ljubica house for their turn to get in.  One large man in a suit checked tickets at the gate, another manned the entrance allowing a handful at a time to cross the threshold before abruptly closing the door once more.  It was like the konak was transformed into a club.  Something about the scene just felt so.... Belgrade.  I mean, one of the most famous alternative clubs here is located in the basement of the university's Electrical Engineering Faculty building.  It's a certain, unique brand of cool.
As the evening turned to night into late night into early morning and businesses on Knez Mihailova turned off their lights, the galleries between them looked bigger.  Unmissable.  I can't say I noticed this art museum any of the dozen times we walked right past it.  They became a lot like those stars everyone was taking a turn to look at.  Bright, white reminders of what is always there and always worth exploring.

Author's Note:  In case you were wondering, we'd already titled another post Night at the Museum.
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