Artists as Curators


by Daniela Radeva

The word curator was introduced in Bulgaria by a painter. This was Lachezar Boyadzhiev, who, in the course of a lecture held in the current room and storage space of the Contemporary Art Collection of SCAG in May 1984, explained publicly terms of the contemporary art coming from the West for the first time.

The purpose of this text is to identify some of the exhibitions curated by artists in Bulgaria, from the time of the late 1980s to the present day. Unfortunately, they cannot be listed exhaustively and unfortunately specific exhibitions cannot be analysed and examined in detail here, but it is possible to outline generally the artists’ intervention in the field of the curator’s profession.

In 2010, in Sofia City Art Gallery, the then-chief curator Maria Vasileva launched the project The Other Eye – a series of exhibitions for which people from other professions were invited as curators. They were given the opportunity to develop thematic exhibitions using museum collections and the gallery space. It is no accident that Lachezar Boyadzhiev, who had had a background as an art critic and curator prior to starting a career as an artist in the 1980s, was invited for the first edition of the project. He accepted the invitation, but on the condition that his work would not be considered curatorial but that of an artist. He made his personal work of art, in a sense a giant site-specific installation which was in the form of a museum exhibition and used the gallery collection as material. The Artist in the Storage [1] project should be perceived as an individual exhibition, or as one of Lachezar Boyadzhiev’s works from his mature period, in the same way as his works in the form of guided tours and lectured walks, which also operated with works by other authors and were possible due to his extensive knowledge of the history of art and culture (note: link to tours and schadenfreude). The Artist in the Storage project from The Other Eye series at SCAG in 2010 represents a very personal artist’s narrative about life, art and various professional and life relationships. All of them made unexpected visual and conceptual references between periods and generations, professional circles and groups of friends. In the catalogue of the exhibition, the artist said, "The important thing in this solo exhibition of an artist is that it’s all personal! Think about this exhibition as an installation of ready-made objects that were first found by the artist in the depot and then were located by him in the space of the museum, but in another way. I hope this exhibition will not only act of de-constructing the history of art, but also a fact of re-constructing its life from the personal viewpoint of an artist.”

It is no coincidence that this began with an artistic expression by Lachezar Boyadzhiev, since he had a significant contribution to and direct intervention in the process of establishment and positioning of the curatorial profession in Bulgaria at the end of the 1980s. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the communist regime reflected on the artistic life as well, so "curator" could be added to the professions "art historian" and "critic", regardless of the fact the course of this ran slowly and tentatively. A look at the chronology of the contemporary Bulgarian art between 1982 and 1995 shows that at that time was a certain division of the activities related to creating an exhibition – “commissioners”, “curators” and “organisers” were mentioned, and many sources indicated who the author of the idea of an exhibition was. The distance of these more than thirty years of history of contemporary art in Bulgaria gives the impression of the erstwhile working relations between art historians and artists—rather in the spirit of cooperation, association and sharing. All of this implies influence and sharing of knowledge or creative methods between the two parties.  

"Based on the idea of" Lachezar Boyadzhiev, several exhibitions were held at the time of these changes, of which perhaps the most important one for the history of art remained Unquote, Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski, Sofia, 1990, and “Happy – ending”, Shipka 6, Sofia, 1991 (together with Georgi Todorov). Without compromising on the terms, Lachezar Boyadzhiev was the curator of the Bulgarian participation in the third Istanbul biennial In 1992 – the first major international appearance of contemporary artists from Bulgaria. " Based on the idea of " Kiril Prashkov, the exhibition Author's Imprint, Rakovski 125, Sofia, was held in 1987, and years later "Based on the idea of" Adelina Popnedeleva, the exhibition Caprice, ATA Center for Contemporary Art, Sofia (1998), took place. Artist Georgi Todorov was Diana Popova’s co-curator at the legendary exhibition Earth and Sky, which took place on the roof of the Union of Bulgarian Artists building, immediately before the changes in the autumn of 1989.

Земя и небе, 1989

Sasho Stoitsov was the main driving figure of the exhibitions which remained in history with their political themes – 11.11.88 and 11.11.89 in Blagoevgrad. More information on these early events can be seen In Maria Vasileva’s text "The Beginning of Curatorial Practice in Bulgaria".

From 2004 to 2008, Ventsislav Zankov developed the project A-a-h! (All About Him). To a certain extent, this was a response to the crossing of borders in the actions of feminist movements, as well as a criticism of the institutionalisation of certain topics in art such as gender, minorities, etc., to respond to the themes in some funding programmes. However, perhaps the most important was the topic of men's right to be themselves, in contrast to the images that modern advertising imposes on them. Therefore, the project presented works on hoardings in the streets of Sofia – a peculiar editing of the visual environment through artistic propaganda on the territory of the image it had to sell. This was just one of a series of curatorial projects that Zankov developed between 2001 and 2019. In 2006, the aforementioned Adelina Popnedeleva created the archive 10 Years of Video Art in Bulgaria, which comprised selections of video works by different artists in several thematic sections. Actively practising as curator was Boryana Rossa, who developed mainly abroad. In Sofia, however, she actively supported the holding of the annual exhibition Sofia Queer Forum, which began in 2012.

Boryana Rossa

Sofia Queer Forum, 2012, poster, 2012.

Poster

Details

Curators: Boryana Rossa and Stanimir Panayotov

Sofia Queer Forum, 2012, Aeter, Curators: Boryna Rossa, Stanimir Panayotov. Catalogue design: Kalina Dimitrova., 2018.

Book

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  • Property of: Sofia Queer Forum
  • Description: On the front cover: © Front cover features a photograph of Osip Brik, Lilya Brik and Vladimir Mayakovsky (1928) by Alexander Rodchenko and an element
    from Erotic Alphabet (1931) by Peoples’ Artist (Narodnyi hudoznik) Sergei Merkurov
  • References: http://novilevi.org/media/SQF_2017_Online_Edition.pdf

Curator: Stefka Tsaneva

Sofia Queer Forum, 2014, Gallery Vaska Emanuilova. Stanimir Panayotov, Vladiya Mihailova, Stefka Tsaneva. Curator: Stafka Tsaneva, 2014.

Action

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  • Photographer: Philip Panchev
  • Material: Photo documentation of an event

  • Property of: Sofia Queer Forum
  • Description: The concept of this year’s Sofia Queer Forum, Manifestations of the Personal, resulted mainly from the Politics-Art-Gender/Queer panel discussion initiated after the forum’s first edition in 2012, published in the online magazine for art and criticism Blister. A contentious issue in the discussion was that sexuality and sexual identity are something personal and, as such, are apolitical – just as one’s taste for clothing, food or music. In conclusion, one of the participants in the discussion came to the question: Why politicize the apolitical?

    Yes, the issues of gender, gender identity and sexuality can be perceived as personal (and apolitical?) but only in an ideal environment free from any conflicts. It is a fact, however, that we are not living in one. Here and now (in Bulgaria, Europe, the world, albeit to a different extent) there are established and sometimes seemingly unshakable standpoints prescribed by the heteronorm. By deviating from it or not accepting it, an individual comes into a direct confrontation with moral and institutional prescriptions, the transgression of which is invariably “political”. Speaking about the notions of queer the sublime moment of manifestation of the personal (i.e. its becoming public) is saturated with conflicts and contradictions and it is precisely this fullness of senses, meanings and interpretations that is the uniting theme of this year’s forum.

    “Manifestations of the Personal” is a kind of provocation – exposure and disclosure, creation of multiple shared personal spaces. Contradictory and multidirectional “intimate” self/expressions by eleven artists, some of whom are engrossed in exploration of their own nature, others deal with feminism, religion and fetishism, and still others proceed from their personal stories in search of the basic question of predetermination. It is not by chance that this exhibition is prevailed by self/portraits which represent most of all self/contemplation and self/analysis.
    .
    The exhibition at Vaska Emanouilova Gallery features the works by the artists Svetozara Alexandova, Kiril Bikov, Voin de Voin, Antonia Gurkovska, Ivo Dimchev, Stanka Koleva, Krassen Krastev & Paul Dunca, Lubri, Boryana Rossa, Natalia Todorova.

    Directors of the forum are Boryana Rossa and Stanimir Panayotov.
  • Copyright: Sofia Queer Forum
  • References: https://sofiaqueerforum.org/media/SQF_2014_Online_Edition.pdf

Huben Cherkelov, one of the members of the group XXL, curated several exhibitions at the end of the 1990s  – two editions of New Bulgarian Painting (1996 and 1999); Gangstart (1998) and Contemporary Iconology (2000). The topic of New Bulgarian Painting was related to the long-ongoing political transition and the slow assimilation of the means of expressive of contemporary art by the general Bulgarian society. At some point, the artistic stage proved to be divided in its perceptions of which art was "contemporary", not only as content, but also in terms of technique and material. Cherkelov reacted to this by creating "picturesque" exhibitions, presenting different means of expression.

Some of the leading independent spaces for contemporary art in recent years have been driven by artists. To a large extent, their activities are also curatorial. A number of the currently established artists of the "middle generation" made their first exhibitions exactly in those galleries and it can be claimed that they were discovered and supported at the beginning by Leda Ekimova, who set up the Pistol gallery, or by Ivana Nencheva and Nataliya Todorova with the independent space The Fridge. Quality thematic exhibitions were curated by Bilyana Rubinova in Contemporary Space in Varna, co-managed with Vasil Daskalov. An interesting exhibition programme was that of Baba Vasa's Basement in Shabla, where Lazar Lyutakov curated an exhibition only once a year, during the summer holidays while he was visiting his grandmother. At first glance, he seemed to have no ambition to compete with the institutions, but actually Lyutakov made a significant contribution to the presentation of foreign artists in Bulgaria.

If at the time of the changes curating exhibitions and art work supported each other in the opposition to the institutions and in the transition from communism to a democratic society, at the beginning of the 21st century artists found themselves outdistanced by curatorship, which acquired the status of an institution. This did not apply in full force for Bulgaria, but is a subject that artist Voin de Voin put on the table in the form of curation and management of the independent space Ether, set up in 2016 in Sofia. In the conception and realisation of each of his exhibitions, he acted as an artist. Sometimes this can be confusing for the audience, who are accustomed to watching and perceiving exhibitions following a particular etiquette, but for the professional curators it was a good example of how non-compliance with the rules can generate a good result. As early as 2016, Voin de Voin started with a series of exhibitions in which artists who were couples but generally worked independently were invited to make joint projects. The essential here was his approach in the communication with the artists, which could not be literally called “curating" but rather "sharing". He was interested not only in what they did as artists, but also in what they were like people and, in a delicate way, what they were to each other in their relationship.

Æther

Street view while opening reception, 2016.

Photography

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Different, but also very specific approach was that of Ivan Mudov in the management of his artistic spaces One Night Stand, 0GMS and 0GMS-cabinet. 0GMS started as joint idea about an independent gallery together with artists Kamen Stoyanov and Steven Guermeur, and for some time they curated the project together in a flat in Sofia. Meanwhile, 0GMS-drawer was also founded and In the one single drawer In the kitchen of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Sofia. The idea was to make it an independent exhibition space that would "parasitise" in an institutional environment. With no intent of any subversion or sabotage, but rather of benefitting for convenience purposes from the institutional conditionalities already established, the programme of the openings at 0GMS was synchronised with that of the ICA-Sofia gallery, so that there was sharing and exchange of audiences between the two galleries. 0GMS was resident in ICA-Sofia from 2010 to 2013, and in the meantime appeared in Škuc Gallery in Ljubljana; Cabaret Voltaire gallery in Zurich.; (I.C.A.N.), Sydney; the Aichi Triennale in Nagoya; 14 Biennial in Jakarta; Verkligheten gallery, Umeå. The most serious change to the space occurred in 2011, when it was separated from the built-in furniture in the ICA-Sofia kitchen and expanded to four drawers. However, this was less significant than the transformation in its status – it was already an artistic object, a work by Ivan Moudov, entitled 0GMS-cabinet. As one of Moudov’s works, 0GMS-cabinet can be part of exhibitions and institutions, for an indefinite time, together with the exhibitions that are inside it. The same status of an artistic work is that of One Night Stand, located at 25 Hristo Belchev St in Sofia, where the exhibitions are always held for one night only. Ivan Moudov strictly observes the rule never to participate in exhibitions in his own galleries. If he happens to be invited to joint projects that take place in them, his work is the space itself.

In 2018, a school for curators was organised in the Swimming Pool gallery in Sofia, which concluded with the exhibition project United Spaces. Within this initiative, young artist Sofia Grancharova curated the exhibition Space for Sparkling Water. In this experiment, she was driven by the question of what the perfect curator would be and she herself played the role, acting on her own idea of this image. She chose artist Jordan Derrien, her fellow student and friend, with whom they have close creative visions, and invited him to work in her own studio in Sofia for the time needed for the project. The exhibition was held in a hotel room, for only one night. The place was specially chosen by Sofia Grancharova and reflected her desire that the exhibition spaces would be such that a person would feel in a familiar setting, comfortable and cosy. A setting in which they would have an immediate, even tactile connection to the works and they would be a natural part of life. Instead of the audience seeing the exhibition in haste and then leading worldly conversations with them, she could stay longer with her works. Even if she wanted, she could quickly go to the bathroom or take a nap on the bed until they are there.      

[1] Lachezar Boyadzhiev – Artist in the Storage (The Other Eye), 2010. 47:57 (English subtitles) Video film of a guided tour across the author’s installation of parts of the Sofia City Art Gallery Collection. April 7th, 2010/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpS_x9XZ-s4&t=415s