A large, merry and colourful exhibition is set to open in Rijeka that will win the hearts of visitors, big and small, and anyone who appreciates the heart and ingenuity of the one and only Professor Balthazar.
On Saturday, 24 October 2020, the biggest exhibition of the Children’s House flagship – 51000 Balthazar Town, which is jointly produced by Rijeka 2020 and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka, will open at the Museum as the largest exhibition ever dedicated to Professor Balthazar.
Its title was inspired by the fact that the appearance and atmosphere of Rijeka gave Zlatko Bourek the idea to draw Balthazar Town, where the good professor lives and comes up with his inventions.
This is why Professor Balthazar, an animated genius, should feel right at home in Rijeka, and all the visitors will be able to immerse themselves in the universe of the famous cartoons featuring the beloved professor, with the exhibition area divided into Space, the Sea, the River and the City. Arriving in the city from the sea and across the river emphasises the similarity between Balthazar Town and Rijeka and invites visitors to become Balthazar’s fellow townspeople, at least for an afternoon.
This exhibition will tell the story of Professor Balthazar’s origin and the many layers revealed by watching his adventures, as well as of the significance of this animated series within the context of living in this day and age, in an eye-catching, fun and interactive way.
With its visual appeal, bright colours and interactive segments, the exhibition will delight little visitors and is bound to warm the hearts of parents, grandparents and anyone who remembers Professor Balthazar from their childhood cartoons.
Professor Balthazar was created, as is noted by the curator Željko Luketić in the exhibition text, at a fortunate and rarely seen crossroads of new ideas, liberties and art at the Zagreb School of Animated Film in the 1960s.
The series itself was a spin-off of the cartoon The Shoe Inventor, which was directed and animated by Zlatko Grgić in 1967, who also wrote the screenplay together with Borivoj Dovniković Borda. The background art was made by Branko Varadin, and Aleksandar Bubanović wrote the score. Back then, Balthazar was still a typical Zagreb School film, with white backgrounds and set in a city that did not yet resemble Rijeka, but was more of a blend of Zagreb and New York.
After winning an award at a festival in Romania, the idea of making an animated series was formed. The first series, consisting of 12 new episodes with an average length of approximately 10 minutes, was a follow-up to The Shoe Inventor, adding up to 13 episodes, which became the standard number until the fourth series when the creators revamped Balthazar and made 20 shorter episodes, averaging 5 minutes in length.
A total of 59 episodes were made up to 1978. The cartoon was jointly written, directed, drawn and animated by Zlatko Grgić, Boris Kolar and Ante Zaninović, while Zlatko Bourek drew the backgrounds and transformed the Zagreb-New York combo into Rijeka, with assistance from Branko Varadin and Srđan Matić.
Bourek drew inspiration from 1960s psychedelic art, which he fused with local naive art, so the panorama of Rijeka, with its towering skyscrapers in a seaside city dotted with small coastal houses, became the perfect backdrop for the childlike playfulness of his geometric interventions and completely distorted spatial ratios. All this led to the creation of the fictional Balthazar Town, although Bourek’s sketches bore a striking resemblance to very specific parts of Rijeka. Tomislav Simović would ultimately take over scoring from Bubanović.
Professor Balthazar has been extremely successful, both commercially and financially: it has aired all over the world – from Iran and on the ABC (the American Broadcasting Company) to Scandinavia, where it was a huge hit. One fun fact is that it was the first children’s series with a human protagonist to be shown in Swedish prisons, delivering environmental, pacifist and non-violent messages that advocate science, tolerance and solving problems together and which can, as a result, educate not only children but adults as well. Numerous short public information films have been shot for German television with Professor Balthazar in the main role, and Zaninović also made a comic in which Balthazar entertains children in a variety of ways and teaches them English.
51000 Balthazar Town is the largest exhibition exclusively dedicated to Balthazar to date, with exhibits that tell a large part of the story of the professor who enjoys solving the problems of others. He is an unlikely hero – an old and grey professor with glasses and a distinctive hat.
Although originally aimed at children, adults are also irresistibly fond of Balthazar. The exhibition in Rijeka honours the historical significance of this art concept, which mirrors the concept of the European Capital of Culture as a port of diversity and mutual respect, science and facts, imagination and games, freedom and togetherness, the local and the global. Those values are highlighted in every single episode of Balthazar.
The exhibition in Rijeka also shines a light on another interesting fact. It deals with the work done by the women copyists and colourists, which was never acknowledged during the end credits, or at all, for that matter. For example, Tea Brunšmid was responsible for the masterful editing, and it is a little-known fact that the big musical star Gabi Novak was also one of an array of workers at Zagreb Film. The part of the animation process that requires copying and colouring hundreds, even thousands of transparent foils that add up to a single minute or episode of the cartoon had to be done by someone, by hand – and anonymously. This was done by entire departments of female employees, uncredited and unnamed workers without whose meticulous strokes the animated films would never have been completed. The Rijeka exhibition pays homage to them as well.
Unfortunately, many of the foils, sketches and other similar artefacts from Zagreb Film were discarded over time by the previous managements, with only a few of these materials remaining to this day. But those that still exist have been preserved due to the great care of the archivist Bajko I. Hromalić and the production coordinator Drago Prokopec. The Zagreb Film materials were organised systematically for the first time in 2019. Most of the preserved materials pertaining to Professor Balthazar will be displayed at the exhibition in Rijeka.
Something that will certainly interest aficionados of Balthazar and the way he handles almost every problem is his invention machine. It was made specifically for this exhibition by the young multimedia artist Lina Kovačević. Whether simple or complex, and made from objects at hand, such as a toy ear or an umbrella, Professor Balthazar’s machine is the highlight of Balthazar Town. It doesn’t come with an instruction manual, it either runs perfectly or not at all, but it always provides a solution for a problem at a school, a love quandary, scientific question or a general social problem. The artist Lina Kovačević works with new media, images and objects. She graduated from the Faculty of Architecture in Zagreb with a degree in Design and earned her masters degree from Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design in London. Her work has often been described as subversive and critical, but also as humorous, with a poetic touch at the individual and collective levels.
The exhibition 51000 Balthazargrad is suitable for children and adults and will lead visitors through the episodes of Professor Balthazar in chronological order, while at the same time encouraging them to play and learn.