The Gallery of Fine Arts Slovenj Gradec was founded in 1957 as a central regional gallery institution. It is focused on contemporary art, which does not exclude other periods in history. Special attention at home and abroad was drawn by international fine art exhibitions under the sponsorship of the United Nations in 1966, 1975, 1979, 1985 and 1991. There was an important exhibition The Artist and Urban Environment in 1997, which displayed art activity in Peace Messenger Cities from all over the world. The Gallery of Fine Arts, Slovenj Gradec, is housed on the first floor of the old town hall in the centre of the historic town core. A modern exhibition gallery was added to the existing building in 1966.
The selectors for interantional events were fortunate, since many of the young artists invited have since become prominent in the domestic and international fine art scenes. But several famous stars of fifties and sixties art also exhibited, including Henry Moore, Ossip Zadkine, Victor Vassarely, Johny Friedlaender, and others, which in the given social conditions of the existing state meant freshness and the will to supplant the provinciality of the surroundings with lively international artistic activity. For over a decade and half the Academy of Fine Arts had been operational in Ljubljana, and it was its professors, students, and graduates who - beside the central Slovene contemporary art institution, the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana - explored ways to assert themselves also beyond the domestic cultural arena. Others had followed these endeavours, and Slovenj Gradec was one of them. The incentive behind fine art exhibitions in Slovenj Gradec came from the local academic circle with Karel Pečko, a graduate from the Ljubljana Academy of Fine Arts, on its forefront. He conceived an ambitious exhibition programme, and invited fine art critics to co-operate as selectors, which in the sixties was by no means established practice in Slovene galleries. The first Documenta in Kassel was launched by Arnold Bode in 1955, while somewhere in the province, on the fringe of Europe, the painter and pedagogue Karel Pečko had a similar dream: to animate this sleepy town and give it a cosmopolitan character with the help of the fine arts. Perhaps the comparison is too ambitious, but the endeavour to create a fine arts centre out of a rural town like Slovenj Gradec, certainly merits it. Slovenia was part of the then Socialist Yugoslavia, and only a skillful organiser could successfully have convinced the ruling elite in the town that the fine arts were precisely what was needed to elevate the town's reputation. The decision to invite the United Nations to take honorary patronage over the exhibitions proved to be appropriate, and it guaranteed the participation of renowned artists. Last but not least, participation in exhibitions in a socialist country represented a kind of challenge to some artists. One way or another, the exhibitions have opened Slovenj Gradec up to the world, and domestic fine art production has taken its place side by side with that from abroad.