Showcasing the finest works of Albanian artists, the National Gallery of Arts boasts a large array of paintings in a multitude of styles, stemming from different periods. Some of these works perfectly portray art under the influence of government, telling a tale of Albania through creativity.
Albanian fine arts exist uniquely in comparison to the rest of the art world, in large due to the fact that its greatest growth coincided with the period of the harshest censorship. As an artist under Albanian Communism, any deviation from art that promoted or enhanced the Socialist realm was strictly prohibited. At the time, artists were implicitly and explicitly expected to present an idealised figure of the communist leader, Enver Hoxha, as well as glorifying his World War II victory. The National Gallery of Arts stood as the sole institution to oversee and select those appropriate artistic works during Communism, a significant monopolistic role in Albanian arts to that of the French Salon of the 18th century. Great names of Albanian art suffered imprisonment due to their inappropriate works, names such as, Maks Velo, Edi Hila, and Edison Gjergo to name but a few. Fortunately, these works are now present and exhibited in The National Gallery of Arts.
Post-WWII, a small committee of devoted artists founded the original art gallery, the first Albanian institution of visual arts. Just a few years later, in 1954, the National Gallery of Arts was officially opened to the general public. A surge in private art galleries upon the streets of Tirana has occurred of late, but The National Gallery of Arts remains as the only cultural institution of its kind since 1949.
The gallery stands as a monument of cultural heritage on the main boulevard of Tirana, after being repositioned in 1974. The building is among those constructions that were erected during Communism, exhibiting a similar architectural style to the National Museum of History and the Palace of Culture. Divided into large-scale halls, the two-story building is shaped like the letter T, including the gallery’s library on the first floor as well as the two main exhibition rooms.
The gallery possesses more than 4500 pieces of art by Albanian and foreign artists. The largest collection is that of the Socialist Realism period, a collection that comes in epic proportions, but is unfortunately now closed. The closure caused something of a debate and was not the most popular decision. The entirety of the collection within the gallery includes pieces dating as far back as ‘800s, an Albanian art period that was the product of the Italian Academy of Fine Arts.
The international Onufri and the Mediterranean Biennale exhibitions (both of which include foreign and local artists) are of note. The gallery’s entire collection stands as a testament to art’s power in the portrayal of a country’s history, and it does this in a most beautiful and accurate manner.