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OSTEN: The World’s Foremost Organization Dedicated to the Art of Drawing

Skopje, Macedonia-based gallerists and publishers shifting the global conversation on drawings and cartoons


© 2016 R. Ulmena / Davega

A small, landlocked country of the Balkan peninsula in southeastern Europe, Macedonia is known for its rugged and mountainous terrain, its many lakes and charming, ancient villages, and its winemaking. With a population of just over 2 million, Macedonia is one of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, having declared its independence in 1991 and attained the status of United Nations member state in 1993. Today, with over 20 years as a sovereign country behind it, Macedonia has been steadily building a reputation as a destination for business, tourism, and culture.

At the center of Macedonia’s economic, political, and cultural life is Skopje, a bustling capital city that is exemplary of the kinds of shifts—both economic and political—that have been occurring in the country over the centuries. The site of modern Skopje has been continuously inhabited since at least 4,000 bc, going through various epochs under the control of the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottomans, and others. In the 1960’s, Skopje had to be largely reconstructed after approximately 80% of the city was destroyed by an earthquake, leading to its unique modernist urban planning that persists today. Economically, the city is a major center for the metal processing, chemical, timber, textile, leather, and printing industries. It is also home to most of the major cultural and educational institutions in the country, and Skopje is no doubt rich in culture. Its cultural institutions include the Saints Cyril and Methodius University of Skopje, the historically focused Museum of Macedonia, and the National Theater, just to name a few.

But of all the theaters, operas, museums, and art galleries in Skopje, one stands out as perhaps the most uniquely focused—and most globally essential—of all of them: Osten, a private art organization dedicated to what it calls “art on paper,” cartoons, sketches, and drawings of various media.

In the art world, the prevailing attitude towards drawings and sketches has been, if not somewhat dismissive, constraining. Drawings have only attracted significant attention if they are the product of one of a handful of deigned great masters, such as Picasso or Rembrandt. The idea is that the sketchbook and drawing pad are artistic shorthands for scratch, forms in which the artist’s mind can roam free, far away from the prying eyes of the public or the pressure of the frame. On paper, artists plan or invent their latest creations for the canvas, or conceptualize final products in 3D forms such as sculpture, rarely attempting to create a final product.

This attitude is most clearly demonstrated in art collecting circles, where drawings rarely attract the dizzying ransoms coffered for paintings. Paintings by famous artists regularly go for tens of millions of dollars at auction, and world-class masterpieces by luminaries such as Cézanne and Mark Rothko have been sold for nine-figure sums, hundreds of millions of dollars, bought and sold competitively and fiercely sought after by the richest people in the world.

Drawings, on the other hand, have been relegated to secondary wings of museums or smaller private collections, merely serving as curiosities that provide context for an artist’s private ruminations or shed light on the planning process for a well-known masterpiece. The most expensive drawing ever sold was Raphael’s masterful The Head of a Muse—an antiquity and unique relic from a renaissance artist whose works rarely ever land in private hands—when it went for twenty-nine million pounds at auction at Christie’s in London in 2009, smashing previous records by a factor of four.

© 2016 R. Ulmena / Davega

Clearly, “art on paper” hadn’t been receiving anything like the attention or prestige that its counterparts on canvas, marble, and mixed media regularly enjoy. Perhaps, then, it is fitting that it took the outrageous and innovative thinkers at a publication from a city not yet the capital of its own country to recognize the true value of the medium, changing everything in the process.

Osten, which today operates the world’s only registered museum dedicated to the art of drawing, found its way into the art world, and its passion as an organization, through a series of back doors and lateral shifts. The organization was founded in 1945 as a political satirical bulletin. During the 1950’s and 60’s, Osten grew into a monthly (sometimes bi-weekly) journal with sections focusing on humor, satire, and cartoons. It was through this last item, cartooning, that Osten initially became involved in art. In 1969, Osten founded the “World Gallery of Cartoons,” an annual event that brings together cartoonists from all over the world.

By the 2000’s, Osten had well completed much of its transformation into an art-focused organization. The “World Gallery of Cartoons” is still ongoing, hosting thousands of cartoonists from around the world and giving out prizes for submitted work. Osten now also hosts the “Osten Biennial of Drawing” a similar event focused on artists that draw, and a global competition held every two years that hands out awards to both emerging talents and established masters. Osten has, perhaps more than any other organization, shone light on the special properties of “art on paper,” of which it holds a very broad and inclusive interpretation. Anything that the artist considers to be a drawing, Osten does as well. Even drawings made using digital technologies are welcome in the Biennial of Drawing. 

Osten’s Museum of Drawing has around 9,000 pieces in its collection, including dozens of works each from great masters such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Victor Vasarely. It also features works by Joan Miró, Rembrandt, Henri Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, and many other of the most famous artists of the past few centuries. But perhaps most importantly, the Museum of Drawing displays work by renowned contemporary artists who have won the major prizes at the Osten Biennial including: Marina Abramovic, Tony Cragg, Christo, Vladimir Velickovic; as well as the work of younger more recent artists, introducing a new generation to the world. Publishing collected works in book form is also an important component of Osten’s work.

For its innovative and unique perspective on an important art form, for its impressive and thoughtful collection of drawings, for all of the initiatives that help create a better understanding of and appreciation for artists from around the world, and for establishing a globally recognized voice in the art world in Skopje, Macedonia, OSTEN has been selected to receive the 2016 BID International Quality Award in Paris, France this October, which is among the most prestigious recognitions for organizational excellence in the world.

ABOUT BID AND THE WORLD QUALITY COMMITMENT AWARD:


BID is a private and independent organization founded in 1984, whose primary activity is business communication orientated towards quality, excellence and innovation in management. A leader in the broadcasting of Quality Culture, BID recognizes those companies and organizations which lead the most important activities in the business world, and is considered the founding organization in the broadcasting of the Culture of Quality, Excellence and Innovation in 179 countries. The trophy symbolizes a pledge to the principles of Quality Culture. The QC100 Total Quality Management Model, together with the Quality Mix program, media coverage of the convention and its impact on the community and business sector, create an unmatched platform for continuous improvement within the organization and awareness of the achievements of the company at an international level. Awards are given only to those who are committed to improving their Quality Culture based on the principles of the QC100 Total Quality Management Model. Candidates are proposed by the leaders of previously awarded companies who they consider worthy of the award. Especially meritorious candidates may also be nominated. The International BID Quality Award Selection Committee then chooses the winning companies who will receive the award in New York, Paris, Geneva, Frankfurt, Madrid and London.

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