It all started with Vincent Van Gogh. When Vincent Polakovic was a 10-year-old boy in Poprad, north Slovakia, he saw a reproduction of Van Gogh's Wheatfield with Crows at a friend's house, and fell in love. "I had no idea such art existed," he says. "We didn't have any pictures at home." That glimpse began a journey that has culminated in the Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum, a modern art gallery in the unlikely setting of an artificial peninsula jutting into the Danube's Gabcíkovo reservoir, some 15 km south of Bratislava. After teaching himself art history and doing a stint as a police investigator, Polakovic made repeated pilgrimages to sites related to the Dutch artist, researched a yet-to-be-published book on the last days of his life, and launched Yellow House, a modern art gallery in Poprad named after the artist's residence in Arles and exhibiting Van Gogh-inspired art. While at Yellow House, Polakovic persuaded Gerard H. Meulensteen, a Dutch art collector, to finance the $2.1 million construction of Danubiana.
With its curved walls painted brick red, cobalt blue, lemon yellow and gray, Danubiana was built to resemble a Roman galley about to sail into the serene expanse of the Danube. Since it opened in 2000 and Yellow House closed, the museum has hosted some 30 shows featuring artists like Spanish sculptor Martín Chirino, Dutch painter Ad Snijders and Slovak painter Peter Pollág. Coming up are "True Colors," the work of 68 U.S. artists responding to Sept. 11 (April 6 to May 23), and a retrospective of Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz (May 25 to June 17). Although no longer obsessed with Van Gogh, Polakovic honors the artist's legacy in Danubiana. "His idea with Yellow House was to create a community where artists could meet, work and show their works," he says. "Danubiana aspires to be such a place."