Slovenski etnografski muzej

Asia in the Heart of Ljubljana: The Life of the Skušek Collection
Exhibition building ground floor
29. May 2024
31. August 2025

Asia in the Heart of Ljubljana: The Life of the Skušek Collection

We invite you to discover the exciting story of the Austro-Hungarian naval officer Ivan Skušek Jr., who returned to Ljubljana with his family from war captivity in China over a hundred years ago. He brought with him a rich collection of Asian objects with the idea of establishing a museum of Asian cultures, which he failed to realize. The collection has been conserved by the Slovenian Ethnographic Museum since 1963 and is now available to the public to admire it.

The exhibition is revealing the extraordinary story of the collection and its owners, and reintroduces the public to remarkable East Asian objects that have not been on display for several decades. The exhibition opens the questions of the creation of the collection and the art market in Beijing at the time, follows the collection's transport to Europe, shows the story of the Skušek family and reconstructs their life, crammed in the middle of heaps of objects in several apartments. Skušek's attempts to make the collection an independent Asian museum are also presented, and for the first time a model of a Chinese building, which he most likely bought for this purpose, is also presented. The model was restored in 2023 by experts from the Palace Museum in Beijing and will be exposed for the first time in a hundred years.

The path through the exhibition leads to the reconstructed living room of the Skuskovs, where we relive the experience of contact with East Asian culture, which has inspired generations of its visitors. In addition to the model and selected pieces of furniture, a number of outstanding objects from the Skušek Collection are exposed, such as a large carved stand with a mirror, a collection of Buddhist statuettes and embroidered court garments. A collection of unusual Chinese objects, which had a special place in the Skušeks' home, are also present (for example, an opium set, pigeon whistles and musical instruments). Visitors will be able to see a virtual simulation of a museum object and the process of exploring objects using 3D modeling.

The story of Ivan Skušek Jr. and Tsuneko Kondō Kawase
During Skušek's stay in China (1914-1920), the art market was particularly vibrant due to major political changes and the invasion of foreign powers, which made it easier for him to buy antiques. In Beijing, he met and married a Japanese woman, Tsuneko Kondō Kawase (she later assumed the name Marija Skušek). In 1920, he returned to Ljubljana with her and her two children from an earlier marriage, and soon after their extraordinary collection of Chinese and Japanese objects was transported to the city. Ivan and Tsuneko planned to establish an Asian museum open to the public an idea that remained unrealised. Until their deaths, Ivan's in 1947 and Tsuneko's in 1963, they thus lived among the objects they had brought from China, and in this way a wide circle of acquaintances and friends and many other visitors to their home were introduced to the cultures and arts of East Asia. Tsuneko was particularly active in this field, giving numerous lectures, appearing on the radio, working with theatres, teaching Japanese and much more. Even before World War II, many people in Ljubljana came to admire their collection, and after the war their apartment on Strossmayerjeva Street in Ljubljana acquired the role of a de facto private museum, where Slovenian and foreign artists and intellectuals would come to admire the artefacts. The Skušeks bequeathed many of the objects to family and friends. Since Tsuneko Kondō Kawase's death in 1963, the rest of the collection has been held by the Slovene Ethnographic Museum.

Authors of the exhibition: the head of the research project dr. Helena Motoh (Science and Research Centre Koper), prof. dr. Nataša Vampelj Suhadolnik (Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana), curator mag. Ralf Čeplak Mencin (SEM), Ph.D. Gerald Kozicz and Max Frühwirt (Graz University of Technology).

Exhibition design: RAKETA / project team: Katjuša Kranjc, Maja Horvat, Rok Kuhar

Visual interpretation and identity of the exhibition: DGDESIGN / Danijela Grgić

The exhibition was curated by the Slovene Ethnographic Museum in cooperation with the Science and Research Center Koper (ZRS Koper), the Department of Asian Studies of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana and the Institute of Architecture and Media of the Graz University of Technology.

The exhibition is financially supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia, and co-financed by the Slovenian Research and Innovation Agency and the Austrian Science Fund - FWF within the framework of the project The Life of the Skušek Collection (J6-4618).

The partner of the accompanying program of the exhibition is the Confucius Institute Ljubljana.