Igor Zabel Award for Culture and Theory

One of the most prestigious cultural awards in Central and Eastern Europe

Did you know ?

Igor Zabel (1958–2005) was a renowned and influential Slovenian art historian and curator. Throughout his life, he was actively involved in many fields of culture and theory as critic, columnist and essayist, writer, and translator. He mentored entire generations of European artists, curators, art writers, and intellectuals.

As a curator at the Moderna galerija in Ljubljana (1986–2005), Zabel importantly contributed to the befitting historical placement of avant-gardes (Tank!, 1998) and neo-avant-gardes (OHO: Retrospective, 1994), and to contemporary artistic practices as well as their international recognition. His texts on post-war and contemporary visual art in Slovenia and Eastern Europe are excellent observations of the intertwining of art and society. Zabel’s interest in researching the complex relations between the social and the artistic is also the basis of Individual Systems, an exhibition he prepared for the 50th Venice Biennale (2003), which inaugurated him as a significant international curator. Igor Zabel analysed the role of art in post-socialism, getting to the heart of the complex relationship between East and West within the art world. His work provided an important foundation for understanding Europe’s new political geography after the fall of the Iron Curtain and its influence on art. While the West lacked a deeper understanding of Eastern European art, society in the East needed to develop a new artistic awareness and self-image. Such disparities between East and West are still noticeable to some extent, or perhaps they are now reappearing.

Igor Zabel. Photos with courtesy Igor Zabel Association for Culture and Theory

What can we do?

In 2008, three years after Igor Zabel’s sudden death, we founded an association together with Zabel’s family to promote the ongoing importance of his work for art and cultural understanding between East and West. The Igor Zabel Association for Culture and Theory aims to keep Igor Zabel’s work in the public eye and to establish links to the present. His work is gradually being catalogued and made available to the public in Ljubljana’s Moderna galerija Archives Department and the museum’s library.

“An essential aspect of the East-West ‘conflict’ in relation to art is the fight for codification of the field and thus for its domination.”

Since 2008 and in collaboration with the Igor Zabel Association we have conferred the largest and most prestigious prize for cultural activities related to Central, Eastern, and South-Eastern Europe biennially: the Igor Zabel Award for Culture and Theory. It honours outstanding work by curators, art historians and art theorists, researchers and critics who deal with visual art and culture in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. The prize is not awarded based on an application process. A three-member international jury selects the laureate and the recipients of three grants based on proposals given by 10 nominators. The laureate receives EUR 40,000; since 2024 the three working grants are endowed with EUR 15,000 each. Each award ceremony is accompanied with a conference, discussions and an energising networking meeting.

Why are we doing this?

We are convinced that art fulfils a social mission and that every society needs a lively cultural environment. Art critically examines the developments in our societies. While there are innumerous awards for artists of the recent past and present across the globe, few grants and awards exist for the theorists who critically examine the artists’ productions and make their work accessible to a wider international public. Igor Zabel went to great lengths to promote cultural relations between Eastern and Western Europe, unmasking the political myths of “East” and “West”. We would like to preserve his memory, for we continue to need visionaries and intellectuals who take a critical approach to politics and economics with the aim of promoting solidarity and creativity. Both are crucially needed today. — All photos: with courtesy of Moderna galerija, Ljubljana

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Igor Zabel Award For Culture And Theory


The Curators Room: Igor Zabel - How to make art visible?

The Curator’s Room, a documentary film dedicated to the art historian and curator Igor Zabel (1958–2005), focuses on Zabel’s work in the field of visual arts from the end of the 1980s to his death. Through the film, we learn how, in that epochal time – at the turn of the century and at the intersections of (post)modern and contemporary art, the local and international art space, socialism and capitalism, East and West, the artistic and the social/political –, he faced in his work not only great changes and conflicts, but also possibilities for the new.

The film The Curator’s Room portrays not only a man who, despite the internal contradictions of the art world, persistently believed in the power of art, but also the time and space in which Igor Zabel worked and which he co-shaped.

The documentary tells of his concept of the curator’s role, his key exhibition projects and their backgrounds, his interventions into Slovenian art history, his literary works and the texts with which he importantly co-created the reflection on the relation between the (former) East and West as it was manifested in the field of art after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Director: Damjan Kozole | Scriptwriter: Urška Jurman | Photography: Matjaž Mrak | Editor: Jurij Moškon | Producer: Danijel Hočevar | Production and distribution: Vertigo | Co-production: RTV Slovenia, Igor Zabel Association for Culture and Theory | Supported by: Slovenian Film Centre


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A network of autonomous initiatives in contemporary art

Florian Bauer

Director Social Finance, Sustainability and Innovation
Since 2023, Florian Bauer has been responsible for social finance, sustainability and social innovation at ERSTE Foundation. Prior to this role, Florian worked in the NGO & Social Entrepreneurship sector for more than 13 years. He led the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), an international multilateral NGO that works to accelerate market-based deployment of renewable energy and energy efficient systems in developing countries, and was Managing Director & COO of the Impact Hub Vienna. From 2020-2023, Florian established strategic alliances with key partners and helped to create innovative semantic technology solutions at Semantic Web Company (SWC), a leading IT company in semantic AI solutions.