Bratislava has an array of excellent museums and galleries to visit, but the most prominent, in my opinion, is actually a few kilometers outside the Slovakian capital, where the borders of Slovakia, Hungary, and Austria meet. There, in a green landscape right on river Danube, built on an artificial peninsula next to Cunovo dam, lies the child of gallerist Vincent Polakovič, and art collector Gerard Meulensteen— the Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum.
I’ve had the privilege of visiting several museums around the world. Some people may find them boring, but for me, they’re an integral part of urban exploration. Yes, it’s true that practically everyone can stick the word museum in front of their collection, business, tourist trap, but a good museum will always find its way into your heart and mind.
A museum’s “job” is to curate artworks and tie them in temporary and permanent exhibitions that showcase them in the best possible way, and present them as a homogenous collection which visitors can admire and understand better. This is something that Danubiana excels in. In fact, I will take it a step further, and say that this museum is a piece of art in itself because the experience it provides is bigger than the sum of all the artworks hosted there.
Many times, people fall into the trap of overanalyzing and deconstructing every piece of art, often forgetting that the primary reason to visit a museum is to have fun, expand your horizons, and inspire yourself. Art is also frequently associated with elitism, and many people avoid art museums and galleries, assuming that such places are only for the so-called art crowd; a big misconception of course.
Modern art favors subjective interpretation over realism, and this in simple words means that there is no definite answer as to what is a piece of art about, and what is not. It’s not a test or a riddle, it’s there for the spectator’s enjoyment. You can try to think what was the artist going for, or you can just enjoy it without a second thought. And, why not, feel free to dislike it. Think of it as a real-world Instagram where a perfectly curated feed of photos, paintings and sculptures, instead of being lazily scrolled through, can be admired from every angle and distance. You can’t see how the light falls on a sculpture or feel its texture on a computer screen, can you?
The Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum
Danubiana’s main building is inspired by roman galleys, and the organic shape of the new wing, next to it, looks like a wave, from above. The dominant element is definitely the Danube, which is present from every side, reflecting the natural light through the glass surfaces and, on many occasions, being framed perfectly by the windows.
The museum’s collection includes modern and contemporary art from several local artists as well as many others from around the world including works of Sam Francis, Kiro Urdin, and Karel Appel. The two buildings provide lots of natural light to the exhibits and the big glass surfaces featuring the Danube, act as a neutral and serene background on many occasions. The bigger pieces are located outside, at the surrounding art park, which is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. Temporary exhibitions are hosted frequently throughout the year and during my visit, I had the chance to see the work of fine art photographer Vladimír Židlický for the first time, and I found it very interesting I can say (you can check his portfolio here).
Many museums in Europe are synonymous with a single artwork. The Louvre is tied to Mona Lisa and Maria Reina to Guernica. There is no doubt that they are great museums, as there is no doubt that these “heavy” pieces have contributed to their greatness. But, sometimes they do overshadow their hosts as well as the rest of the exhibits. Would these museums be still great if they ceased to exhibit them? Yes, they would, maybe not that great but surely more balanced and perhaps with a little bit more soul.
And that’s a reason why Danubiana museum’s experience feels so joyful. It is unburdened by such drags and norms. The museum is not overwhelmed by the art, it feels welcoming and balanced as a single entity, and this is getting more and more rare nowadays.
Looking for other things to do in Bratislava? Check this guide on the Slovakian Capital
Location and how to get here
Around twenty kilometers south of Bratislava (map). You can drive, get an Uber, or get bus number 90. It is also an hour’s drive from Vienna.