This is an edited passage from my dissertation. I thought I would put it here as I prepare to leave Zagreb.
There are multiple cities for the Zagreb School. Or rather, there is one city made up of multitudes. The School’s animators do not reinvent Zagreb, or the concept of a Yugoslav city, but rather continuously reinvent the fundamental concept of “city” in the post-war era. Zlatko Bourek's funky, pop backgrounds for the Professor Balthazar / Profesor Baltazar series (1967-1977) series were influenced by views of the coastal city of Rijeka, the northernmost city of Dalmatia, as it would have been seen from boatmen or ferries arriving from the Adriatic Sea. Although Dovniković would claim to describe abstract, universal visions of cities and other subjects, his Jedan dan života / One Day of Life (1982) consciously depicts a Balkan world, an oppressive factory and a bar where men drink from small glasses and think of big-breasted women. In Nocturno (Nikola Kostelac, 1958), anthropomorphized cars race through new highways that have as much in common with the structures of Los Angeles as they do with the new constructions in Novi Zagreb. The terrifying traffic congestion and noise pollution in Mala Kronika / Everyday Chronicle (Vatroslav Mimica, 1962), like the brighter vision in Nocturno, predates the explosion of car culture in Zagreb and Belgrade by a few years and could exist in Zagreb, more so in Belgrade, and certainly in any contemporary American city. In Dnevnik / Diary (1974), Nedeljko Dragić depicts a New York-like night-time cityscape.
For the School, the city is the home of modernity. The Zagreb animators are architects who construct houses, apartment buildings, factories, municipal institutions, theaters, roads, railroads, and bridges with precise colors and geometrical shapes that complement one another. Technological progress might require tragic compromises. These settings can be exuberant, but the structures of modernity can also be alienating. Like the actual cities of Yugoslavia, the city of the Zagreb School never fully solves the housing shortage problem, traffic congestion, or noise pollution.
In the Zagreb School, city dwellers search for and locate their proper places in society. Sometimes, they fail to find their proper place, or pure happiness in their proper place. Their cities are never utopias and citizens must accept compromises for their own and the city's good.
The city is the site of commerce, which almost always threatens the humanity and joy of its inhabitants. Consumer products may look beautiful and exquisite in the School’s colorful flat graphic stylizations, but they contain within them great dangers.
The city is the home of opera, jazz, and rock and roll. It is the home of restaurants, bars, sports, buskers, flower-sellers, and movie theaters which show more non-Yugoslav than Yugoslav films.
The School’s city suggests its roots in a region associated, if unfairly so, with the backward, the primitive, and the antediluvian. The historian Mark Mazower describes the Western fascination with the Balkan peasant. “[T]he idea of modernity in nineteenth-century Europe, with its sharp sense of time moving ahead fast encouraged a view of the Balkans as a place where ‘time has stood still.’” The School accepts this Western European perception and discovers this Balkan peasant in the urban landscape. But just as the School’s city embraces Balkan peasant stereotypes, it also embraces a global modernist project to change man’s perception in the mid-twentieth century, to help him, as the Hungarian-American artist Győrgy Kepes wrote in 1944 “evolve a language of space which is adjusted to the new standards of experience. This new language can and will enable the human sensibility to perceive space-time relationships never recognized before.”