Art Collection in Bulgaria

History, Courses and Problems of the Environment

by Svetla Petkova

The collection of art in Bulgaria has a relatively short history, dating back to the end of the 19th century. In general, we could divide collection practices into several periods – pre-Liberation, from the Liberation to 1944 (with subperiods), from 1944 to 1989 and after 1989 to date. Although we are talking about a 130-year time frame, there are examples of collectors whose practice set an example for its time and left a lasting mark in history. At the same time, it should be immediately pointed out that data on the contents of most of the collections that existed are too scarce, as they are rarely accompanied by illustrative material, catalogues, descriptions, information about temporary or permanent exhibitions, etc. That is exactly why the narrative of the history of Bulgarian collecting cannot be traced without some arrangements that highlight, in particular, the differences between the world practices and the Bulgarian reality.

Unfortunately, even the wide historical angle of view shows that the collection of art was not a common occurrence among wealthy Bulgarians, it was not perceived and appreciated as a sign of prestige, class and individuality. In Bulgaria as a whole, there are no centuries-old traditions in the collection of art as a sign of intellectual elevation or social belonging, which is conditioned above all by historical factors, the most decisive of which is the five-century dependence on the Ottoman Empire and, accordingly, the absence of an aristocracy or influentially positioned for generations families of industrialists, bankers, merchants, etc. Despite the fact that subsequently, after the Liberation, the situation changed and the foundations of collection practices were laid, in the following 45-year period, when Bulgaria was part of the Socialist Camp and there was virtually no free market for art, collectors of art were rather an exception and rarely displayed and presented publicly. This, in turn, led to the lack of continuity, of succession, of creation of connections and influences.

Another characteristic feature of Bulgarian collections is that they are comprised above all of works by Bulgarian artists. Collectors are rarely part of (and never a factor for) the international art market exchange.

All this outlines the Bulgarian art collecting as a very specific and isolated phenomenon, and given that the information and access to the content of the collections are too limited, the narrative about them and their description becomes a real challenge. The good news is that after 1989, and especially in the first two decades of the 21st century, the interest in creating personal collections of art in Bulgaria is growing, although this process is slow and accompanied again by specific problems.

Transition through History  

Beginnings of Collection  
The first collections of artefacts in the country appeared relatively late (in the second half of the 19th century), while in the developed European monarchies art collection had been widespread since the mid-17th century and even earlier. Unlike the aristocratic collections of the western monarchies, suggesting the idea of the brilliance of their power, the collections here appeared for quite other reasons and for another motive. The aim in general was not to accumulate wealth in order to demonstrate power, but to preserve items from the country's glorious past that would nurture the national self-esteem during the period of the Bulgarian National Revival. These were mainly antiques, church plates, manuscripts, books, ornaments found in abandoned and destroyed old fortresses, churches, etc. The first to start collecting were wealthy merchants, who had the opportunity to travel to other countries and follow the good European examples accordingly.[1]

Post-Liberation Collections  
The actual collection of art occurred later – a few decades after the Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878, mostly in the 1920s-30s. A period in which the new state and its auxiliary institutions were established, and secular art in the country also developed. Thanks to the accumulated personal capital and under the influence of European culture, the first collections were formed. With the development of art and secular lifestyle, they became richer and more diverse. In addition to works by Bulgarian artists, works by foreign ones were also added to them. Collections were made by both rich Bulgarians – industrialists, politicians and merchants, and representatives of the intellectual stratum. Among the first collections were those of Ivan Ev. Geshov (1849-1924), Grigor Vasilev (1883-1942), and Simeon Radev (1879-1967). This period can be defined as extremely progressive, as wealthy people realised the need for arts patronage and, according to their means, supported individual artists and cultural events. This activity was a stimulus for the development of art, on an equal level with the support by the state.

The most consistent in the purchase of artistic works was Prince Ferdinand, who also possessed the largest art collection in the country. Upon his very arrival in Bulgaria in 1887, he brought some of his collection formed in Germany. Over time, the collection was enriched and encompassed works by Bulgarian and foreign artists. It featured oil paintings, drawings, watercolours, engravings, and sculpture to a lesser extent. For a long time (until his abdication in 1918), the prince remained the most important collector and art patron, who invested in art funds even larger than those the state granted.

Franz von Stuck

Lucifer, 1890.

Painting

Details

  • Material: oil painting
  • Width: 152.20 cm    Height: 161.00 cm    Depth: cm   

  • Property of: National Art gallery, Sofia, Bulgaria
  • Description: Ferdinand I of Bulgaria bought the painting for the royal collection in Sofia, from Stuck's studio in Munich in 1891. On December 25, 1930, King Boris III added it to the National Museum and from 1948 it was part of the National Art Gallery. In 1985 it was transferred to the National Gallery for Foreign Art, and since 2015 is part of the National Gallery, Fund "Square 500".
  • Copyright: Wikipedia

The 1930s can be defined as a mature period in Bulgarian art collection before World War II. This happened simultaneously with the development and achievements of Bulgarian art. The large collections of eminent merchants, industrialists, politicians, bankers, representatives of the higher civil servants dominated. In parallel to them, numerous small, precisely selected collections of intellectuals – writers, publicists and journalists were created, which included works by only a few artists. During this period, the collections of Mihail Kremen, Stoyan Pipev, Dr Naum Chilov, Ivan K. Balabanov, Todor Gubidelnikov, Velizar Bagarov, Petko Staynov, Arch Kiro Marichkov, Totyu Gabenski, Dimo Kyorchev, Stefan Tanev, Georgi Lichev, Botyo Barakov, Petar Todorov, etc. were distinguished. Especially valuable was the collection of the diplomat Georgi Lichev, which included over 150 works and was presented in an exhibition and a catalogue.

From left to right: Nikola Tanev, Nikola Marinov, Iliya Beshkov, Petar Morozov, Petar Morozov

Graphic art from the collection of Totiu Gabenski, donated to the National Endowment Fund "13 Centuries of Bulgaria", 1000.

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  • Property of: National Endowment Fund "13 Centuries of Bulgaria"

In the 1930s began the enrichment of the genres and varieties of the collections. Along with the landscape, still life and genre composition, interest in the nude figure, portrait, and caricature intensified; not only in painting, but also in graphic art in all its varieties, small sculpture, ceramics, and applied arts.

A sign of social engagement and awareness of the role of patronage and donation in the field of art were two initiatives that occurred in the 1930s. The first was the so called “Citizens' Committee”, through which private individuals donated to the state works purchased from exhibitions. The other (the “Association of Friends of Fine Arts in Bulgaria”, founded in 1935) was an attempt at turning the attention to the riches in the collections, which usually remained hidden from the public eye.

Until 1945, no special changes occurred in the development of art collections. The crisis period of the war brought a gradual end to old art collection, and the collections built between 1878 and 1944 were not preserved in their entirety. After the change of the political regime, some of them were transferred to the National Art Gallery and to the collections of some provincial galleries.  

Collections during Socialism  
Between 1944 and 1989, despite the specific conditions (especially given that free market relations were lacking and travelling outside the country was limited), some valuable collections were nevertheless created in Bulgaria. Typical of the period was that the collections were few in number, and the works in them were carefully selected. Most often, they were the privilege of people from the political and administrative elite or of individuals close to it.

Collections were also built by representatives of the cultural field – writers, painters, journalists, actors, art historians, etc. Against the background of the missing free art market, new collectors bought works directly from the artists' studios, from heirs or exchanged with each other. The collections of Bogomil Raynov, Svetlin Roussev and Boyan Radev, complemented by those of St. Ts. Daskalov, Ivan Radev, Ivan Deyanov, Alexander Lilov, Atanas Bozhkov, Georgi Yordanov, Atanas Krastev (“Nacho the Culture”), etc. were emblematic of the period.

Photo: Svetla Petkova

Interior of the House-museum Atanas Krastev (Nacho Kulturata), Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Part of his collection of portraits., 2015.

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  • Property of: Личен архив на автора.

Depending on the nature of the collection and the art of the period, the interest was mainly focused on painting, graphic art and drawings, less often on sculpture. For understandable reasons, these were mainly collections of works by Bulgarian artists, who were the collectors’ contemporaries (in most cases they began their artistic path before 1944). This was also a time of large-scale collector donations (Totyu Gabenski, Bogomil Raynov, Svetlin Roussev, Ivan Radev).

Francisco de Goya

No Quieren (They don’t like it), 1863.

Graphics

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  • Property of: Part of the art collection of Bogomil Raynov “West europian graphic art of XIX-XX century” donated to Art gallery “Dimitar Dobrovich”, Sliven, Bulgaria
  • Description: Plate 9 of Los Desastres Della Guerra (The Desasters of War), 1863-1892. Work on paper. Materials: Etching, burnished aquatint, drypoint, burin and burnisher on paper. Part of the art collection of Bogomil Raynov “West europian graphic art of XIX-XX century” donated to Art gallery “Dimitar Dobrovich”, Sliven, Bulgaria, exposed in “Uzunova house”.

Marc Chagall

Circus with Sun and Red Horse, 1979.

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  • Property of: Part of the art collection of Bogomil Raynov “West europian graphic art of XIX-XX century” donated to Art gallery “Dimitar Dobrovich”, Sliven, Bulgaria
  • Description: Еxposed in “Uzunova house”, Sliven, Bulgaria.

The first substantial collector during that period (and subsequently an example for the start of other collections) was writer and art historian Bogomil Raynov (1919-2007). He developed his collection for 60 years. At first he collected books, medals and coins, but during his stay in Paris as a Bulgarian cultural attaché (1953-1960) he began to actively increase his collection with works of art as well. He was the first to purposefully follow the auctions at Hôtel Drouot and visited the “Flea Market”, antique shops and the Bouquinistes in the French capital. To a lesser extent, Bogomil Raynov also collected sculptures (bronze). In the collection, there was also a large number of African sculptures. The focus was on Western European graphic art. After returning to Bulgaria, Bogomil Raynov began to buy large series of oil paintings, realising that he had the rare chance to acquire the first works of artists with great potential, and after doing so he maintained his interest in them for decades.

Most collections created during that period have not been preserved in their entirety (often sold out by heirs), and given the fact that they have not been displayed and in this sense are little known, it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions and inferences about the period.

Contemporary Collections  
1989 is an important milestone in Bulgaria's history – the political system was changing, setting a dividing line between totalitarianism and democracy. The country shifted from centralised government, lack of private structures and a planned economy to a market economy. The reconstruction continued for a long transition period, characterised by a crisis in various areas, especially perceived in the field of culture.

After the changes in 1989, the state as a whole did not have a clearly stated and consistent policy of preservation of cultural heritage and of completion of museum collections and, above all, offered no support for the modern processes in art. At one point, there was the desperate finding that there were no entries in the museum collections, and that gaps opened up in the preservation of the artеfacts from the history of Bulgarian art. Thus, the space of the private collection nearly proved to be the only possible way to preserve the “free” cultural heritage and a valuable source in the implementation of research and exhibition projects.

Open Arts Foundation

Collector’s Forum 2014, with the participation of the collector Georgi Voinov. Within the Introduction to Contemporary Art, 2014.

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  • Property of: Archive Open Arts Foundation

Accompanying Issues  
The existence of private collections is closely linked to the art market. In most Western countries, the market movements and the amounts invested can be clearly tracked; statistics on price growth, most sought-after and best-selling artists, etc. can be monitored. In Bulgaria, the situation is different. To speak in an orderly and tidy manner (with reference to specific examples and statistics) about the art market in the country is difficult because the market exists, but it is rather chaotic, unregulated and often in the field of the grey economy. Here the market is also specific with the fact that it is closed – many of the Bulgarian artists have a market value only in the country.

Today, collectors in Bulgaria buy (depending on which period the work belongs to) mostly from galleries, directly from the artist (heirs) and from antique shops. On rare occasions, some collectors also buy from international auctions and galleries, and some also follow the world art fairs.

The sustainable trend over time has always been for traders to offer art closer to the classical painting-graphic art-sculpture formula. In this business, supply is usually determined by demand, that is, by existing attitudes and tastes, and in Bulgaria they are persistently conservative. Relatively rare are the cases in which galleries exhibit and manage to sell contemporary art forms.[2]

At the beginning of the 21st century, the art market and the practice of building collections were concentrated in the big cities and especially in the capital. An art fair in the country, in the sense of international fairs, where a position is declared and contacts created, did not exist. Bulgarian galleries participated relatively rarely in international fairs [3] (usually because this requires a serious financial investment), and interest in Bulgarian artists was usually low outside Bulgaria.

Private gallerists consider it very important to construct an information environment, i.e. the education of the audience, to which both current and potential collectors belong. The greatest need is to expand the knowledge in the field of contemporary art, especially given that communicating with it usually requires greater effort.

Open Arts Foundation

Collectors' Forum 2016. Lecture by Alain Servais, collector, 2016.

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  • Property of: Archive Open Arts Foundation

The priority for the Open Arts Foundation, Plovdiv, managed by Vesselina and Katrin Sarievi, is precisely the educational programmes. In order to enrich the information about contemporary artists and phenomena that are less familiar to the art-tempted audience, the programme Introduction to Contemporary Art has been organised since 2011.[4] It also includes the so-called “Collectors’ Forum”[5], organised for the first time as part of the Night of Museums and Galleries – Plovdiv in September 2011. The forum became an annual event, held free of charge in Plovdiv and in Sofia, which gives visibility to well-established private and corporate collection practices, and guides and encourages young collectors in the building and keeping of a collection, and creates a communication environment. Over the years, various collection practices (both Bulgarian and international) have been presented and lectures have been organised (by Georgi Voynov, Véronique Souben, Alain Servais, Reynold Schumacher, Luis Bassat, Christian Kaspar Schwarm of Independent Collectors (https://independent-collectors.com/), etc.).

Open Arts Foundation

Collectors' Forum 2017. Lecture by Rainald Schumacher (Berlin): Narration and Collection – the Deutsche Telekom Art Collection, 2017.

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  • Property of: Archive Open Arts Foundation

Another direction in Sarievi's work is the assistance in the presentation in Bulgaria of foreign corporate collections which include Bulgarian art, as well as to complete similar collections with works by Bulgarian artists. Thanks to contacts of Sariev Gallery, for example, the collections of EVN and Deutsche Telecom came as guest exhibitions to Plovdiv in 2019.

Between 2011 and 2015, the Collectors’ Module[6] was organised in Varna. It was conceived as an annual event, and its purpose was to promote and develop collectors’ attitudes in the field of contemporary art through the organisation of lectures, discussions and round tables with the participation of local and international leading experts in the field. The event was held within the Contempo International Festival of Contemporary Art and was implemented by the Raya Georgieva Foundation. Artistic director and curator of the forum was Dora Doncheva. Over the years, various topics have been presented and discussed, mainly affecting issues related to the art market and collection practices in Eastern Europe. The guest lecturers included Hans Knoll (gallerist, collector and curator, director of the Knoll Galleries (Vienna-Budapest), Vessela Nozharova (gallerist and curator), Maria Vassileva (gallerist and curator), Johann Nowak (gallerist from the DNA Gallery, Berlin), Basak Senova (Turkey), Branko Franceschi (Croatia), Stefan Stoyanov (Bulgaria-USA, gallerist and art dealer), etc.

Contempo

Module Collectors 2012, Varna, Bulgaria. With the participation of Dora Doncheva, Vessela Nozharova, Simona Vilau (Bucharest), Hans Knoll, 2012.

Painting

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  • Copyright: Archive Festival of Contemporary Art Contempo

It is common in Bulgaria for collectors to avoid publicity. The reason largely lies in the societal moods, attitudes and perceptions that are able to provoke or limit, even condemn certain processes, usually related to the construction and imposition of some image in society, especially as regards affluent people. Unfortunately, much of the riches of the collections still remain hidden to the public, aside from the sporadic appearance of some works in exhibitions. In individual cases, even if they participate in exhibitions, collectors prefer not to reveal their names. In recent years, the exhibitions of the Union of Collectors in Bulgaria have had a positive impact on the practice of displaying works from private collections.

It is also interesting to follow up on the attitudes and behaviour of the collectors themselves. Collectors in Bulgaria rely mainly on their own flair and understanding when buying art, without working with consultants. However, most of them share that they consult the expertise of specialists if necessary and this helps them to make their choice more easily, as well as to expand their knowledge. Collections in Bulgaria are most often stored under good conditions (in a home, office or warehouse/depot), and the collector is aware of their activity as a contribution and is concerned with the maintenance of the works. Some collectors are considering donations to the state, but express their doubts that it would provide good enough care. So far, examples of permanent exhibitions of private collections in their own space in the form of a museum have been an exception.

Anel

Interior of Hotel Anel Sofia. Collection Angel Simeonov, 2021.

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  • Property of: Art Collection Angel Simeonov

The content of the Bulgarian collections is characterised mostly by the collection of more classical type of art, with most collections repeating the same (Bulgarian) names. The reasons for this fact are multi-layered – starting from what the Bulgarian museums display in their permanent exhibitions, going through the example of existing private collections in past periods and through the advice of universally acknowledged mentors and arriving at the opinion that investing in familiar and well-established names is more secure. However, the collection of art from the beginning, and even from the second half of the 20th century, unlike that of today, was accompanied by some important factors, such as the spread of forgeries and poorly worded legislation.

Structura art gallery

The exhibition “LOOK AT THE DEPOT (or Collect modernity!)”, art collection Nikolay Nedelchev, SKLAD, Plovdiv, Bulgaria, 2019, 2019.

Painting

Details

  • Photographer: Structura art gallery

  • Property of: Nikolay Nedelchev art collection

Profile of the Bulgarian collections. Who and why collects after 1989  
After 1989, collections of art were generally built in Bulgaria in two directions – of Bulgarian artists who had established a name for themselves in the past (mostly the so-called “old masters” of the early 20th century) and of contemporary artists, which in the latter case can be of the classical type and contemporary art. Collections sometimes include works from both directions.

Most Bulgarian collections focus on Bulgarian art from the beginning and the second half of the 20th century. Interest is mainly directed to more famous names, rarely showing a taste for discovery or little-known artists. The same applies to the interest in currently working contemporary and young artists, which is traditionally weaker, but still in recent years there has been a tendency towards an increase. Traditional types of art are mostly bought, such as paintings, graphic art, drawings, and less often sculptures. In terms of genre, the more understandable and familiar – portraits, landscapes, still life, thematic compositions – is in demand.

In Bulgaria, collectors are people who have financial means (but usually these are not the richest). They are representatives of various social spheres – business/trade, tourism/hospitality, construction entrepreneurship, medicine, advertising, publishing/media, arts, legal system, etc. There are also a number of examples of artists-collectors (Svetlin Roussev, Ivan Radev, Nedko Solakov, Ivan Moudov), who usually build some of the most valuable collections. Another specific group comprises the collections of the traders-collectors, who, in addition to supporting the general circulation of art by trading, retain for themselves the most valuable of what passes through them. This is the way, for example, in which Dimitar Indjov, Igor Markovski, Lavren Petrov, Stefan Maletzov, Emil Chushev, Veselina Sarieva, Vladimir Iliev, the owners of auction houses Enakor and Victoria and others operate.

In addition to personal collections, those of banks, foundations and associations are established, among which the collections of UniCredit Bulbank, Allianz Bulgaria and others have been the most popular lately.  

Selected Collections  

Collections of Classical Type of Art  
After 1989, two of the largest collections in the country continued to develop – those of Svetlin Roussev and Boyan Radev. They largely serve as an example of shaping the look and content of emerging collections involving classical art.

Svetlin Roussev (1933-2018) is among the iconic names in Bulgarian art. He started collecting art at the end of the 1960s. This is the best publicly presented private collection of painting, graphic art and sculpture with two permanent exhibitions: the Svetlin Roussev donation-collection in Pleven and the Svetlin Roussev studio collection in Sofia (until 2018). The collector often organises large-scale exhibitions with new entries in his collection. Crucial for him is the notion that a collector should not be led by imposed names, but build their own criteria and flair, so that they can evaluate something worthwhile by less famous and even young artists.

Kultura Weekly Newspaper

Interior of Studio-collection Svetlin Roussev, Sofia, 2005.

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  • Property of: Archive Kultura Weekly Newspaper

Roussev mainly collects Bulgarian artists, but he also owns works by Romanian, Serbian, Russian, Western European and Mexican ones, as well as icons from the 16th-19th centuries, African plastic art works and Christian sculptures from India. His collection allows for tracing the entire development of Bulgarian art from the end of the 19th to the beginning of the 21st century, without any attempt at accomplishing a comprehensive chronological scope.

Zlatiu Boyadzhiev

Zafirka, 1940.

Painting

Details

  • Photographer: Svetla Petkova
  • Material: oil painting

  • Property of: Art collection Svetlin Roussev

Svetlin Roussev contributes to a large extent to the construction of the image of Bulgarian art collection and its visibility, and he often expresses an opinion and position on the issues of legislation in the field of collecting.

When Boyan Radev (b. 1942) began collecting, he was at the peak of his fame as a Graeco-Roman wrestling contestant. Having a colourful personality, he fell into the art world by accident, but became one of its most avid admirers. The collection he has managed to create can rival in wealth and quantities with those of national institutions. The collection is dedicated exclusively to Bulgarian art and the emphasis is on authors who appeared in the 1930s. He collects Bulgarian paintings from the 20th century, icons from the 18th and 19th centuries, antique objects and tombstones from Roman times. Items from the collection are often displayed in exhibitions.

Zlatiu Boyadzhiev

The actress Katya Paskaleva (triptych), 1960.

Painting

Details

  • Photographer: Svetla Petkova
  • Material: oil painting

  • Property of: Art collection Boyan Radev

Of the collections created after 1989, including mostly Bulgarian art from the 20th century, but also works by currently active artists, the richest are those of  Dimitar Indjov, Angel Simeonov, Bojidar Danev, Ventzislav Kadiev, Dr. Kolyu Byanov, Stefan Maletzov, Dana and Georgi Voynov, Alexander Kerezov, Dobromir Kolev, etc.

The best known collection among the listed is that of Dimitar Indjov (b. 1963). He has repeatedly provided paintings and sculptures for exhibitions organised by state and municipal institutions, by the Union of Collectors (“The Other Museum”), as well as outside Bulgaria. He began buying graphic art and drawings as a student and eventually the collection grew steadily. Today it includes over 3,000 canvases, graphic art and drawings by Bulgarian and foreign artists, with a specific part comprising works by Plovdivian artists.

Misho Koychev

Landscape from Sahat tepe, 1990.

Painting

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  • Material: oil painting

  • Property of: Art collection Dimitar Indjov

Gredi Assa

Seascape, 1990.

Painting

Details

  • Material: oil painting
  • Width: 70.00 mm    Height: 90.00 mm    Depth: mm   

  • Property of: Art collection Dimitar Indjov

The collection of Angel Simeonov (b. 1961) consists mainly of paintings and sculptures of Bulgarian artists who worked in the second half of the 20th century, but there are also works by currently working ones. Their works are arranged in Simeonov’s two Anel hotels – in Sofia and in Sozopol. The Anel art complex in Sozopol includes a sculpture park, where monumental sculptural works are situated along the rocky shore.

Emil Popov

Composition. Sculpture park, Art complex Anel, Sozopol, Bulgaria, 2005.

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  • Property of: Art Collection Angel Simeonov

Pavel Koychev

Figure. Sculpture park, Art complex Anel, Sozopol, Bulgaria, 2010.

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  • Property of: Art Collection Angel Simeonov
  • Description: * Годината на създаване е условна.

Bojidar Danev (1939-2018) began collecting in the mid-1960s. Initially, his interest focused on painting (mainly portraits and landscapes) by established but also young artists from the period, and at a next, more mature stage of his collection practice, he turned to sculpture as well.

Another part of Bojidar Danev's collection, which singles it out in the Bulgarian environment, includes dozens of works by Western European artists from the 17th to 19th centuries (mainly Dutch and Flemish) – portraits, allegorical and genre figurative compositions, landscapes and biblical plots. Many of these works were donated to the New Bulgarian University in 2012, displayed as a permanent exhibition at UniArt gallery, and today they are at the heart of the collection of the university gallery.

Genko Genkov

Forest landscape, 1980.

Painting

Details

  • Material: oil painting
  • Width: 84.00 cm    Height: 140.00 cm    Depth: cm   

  • Property of: art collection Bojidar Danev / donation gallery Uniart
  • Description: * годината на създаване на творбата е условна

Flemish painting, 17 c.

Allegory of Fertility (Autumn), 1600.

Painting

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  • Material: oil on canvas
  • Width: 82.00 cm    Height: 72.00 cm    Depth: cm   

  • Property of: art collection Bojidar Danev / donation gallery Uniart

One of the collectors whose attention is focused entirely on artists who work at present is Ivan Nenkov (b. 1947). In addition to established artists, he has also included less well-known, young but promising names, which makes his collection different from most Bulgarian ones. A special place in it is occupied by artists from Varna, especially those from the Vulcan circle, who worked in the eponymous former factory for solid fuel stoves, which in the 80s housed numerous studios. Works from the collection participate in general exhibitions, and have also been displayed in seven solo exhibitions.

Georgi Chapkanov, Ivailo Mirchev, Svetlin Rusev, Andrei Daniel, Pavel Koichev, Garo Keshishan, Daria Vasilyanska, Maria Zafirkova, Dolores Dilova, Milko Bozhkov, Vanko Urumov etc.

Exhibition: The Collector 30 from 70, Art gallery “Boris Georgiev”, Varna, Bulgaria, 6.10 – 8.11.2017. Paintings, graphic art, photographs, sculptures from the collection of Ivan Nenkov, 2017.

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  • Property of: Art collection Ivan Nenkov

Among the most consistent, precise in their choice and educated in the field of Bulgarian art from the 20th century is Ventzislav Kadiev. His interest is focused on Bulgarian classical artists from the beginning of the twentieth century (painting, graphic art, drawings, less sculpture), and what is specific about him is that he searches for works by Bulgarian artists abroad (through auctions) and, if possible, buys and returns them in Bulgaria.

Aleksandar Kerezov is a unique case in the Bulgarian collection practice. He collects works by talented artists who worked in the early 20th century but remain little known to history.  

Collections of Contemporary Art  
The Bulgarian collector relatively rarely turns to collecting contemporary art, but in recent years interest has increased. However, it is rather rare to include contemporary art forms such as art installations, video and even photography in collections.

Paradoxically, in the years immediately after 1989, the interest in collecting contemporary Bulgarian art was mainly on the part of foreigners – the collections of the Swiss diplomat Gaudenz B. Ruf and the Belgian owner of a supermarket chain, Hugo Voeten, are emblematic. Over time, Bulgarian art has also been included in some international personal and corporate collections, such as those of the German gallerist and curator René Block, the Austrian Contact of the Erste Foundation and EVN, the German Deutsche Telekom, the Turkish Koç Foundation, etc.

In 1995, Gaudenz B. Ruf (b. 1941) arrived in Bulgaria as Ambassador of the Swiss Confederation. His five-year stay and the relationships he established were at the heart of his decision to invest in the development and accomplishments of the young Bulgarian art after the end of his diplomatic career. This he did in the period 2007-2012 through the Gaudenz B. Ruf Award for New Bulgarian Art, and later (until 2019) he financed the creation of new works by Bulgarian artists, as well as the organisation of events presenting contemporary Bulgarian art in Bulgaria and abroad. In addition to being an art patron, Ruf is also a collector and over time has purchased numerous works by Bulgarian artists. The beginning of his collection of Bulgarian art was set in the period 1995-2000. During this period, he acquired works by Luchezar Boyadjiev, Kiril Prashkov, Elena Panayotova, Pravdoliub Ivanov, Kalin Serapionov, etc., which he presented in the Swiss Embassy. Ruf's Bulgarian collection was shown in 2014 at Sofia City Art Gallery in the exhibition To Be Continued..., which displayed over 100 works by 40 artists.

Open Arts Foundation

Gaudenz B. Ruf and the artistic director Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt during Focus: Bulgaria, Vienna Contemporary, 2015, 2015.

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  • Property of: Archive Open Arts Foundation

Pravdoliub Ivanov

Trap, 2007.

Installation

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  • Photographer: Svetla Petkova

  • Property of: Art collection Gaudenz B. Ruf
  • Description: Shown in the exhibition “To be Continued…”, Sofia City Art Gallery, 2014

Hugo Voeten (1940-2017) arrived in Bulgaria as an avid hunter and in the mid-1990s became a passionate collector of works by Bulgarian artists, as well as a donor for the realisation of various events. When he came to Bulgaria, Voeten had already succumbed to the collection passion, and among the foreign names in his collection were Frans Masereel, Arno Brecker, Félicien Rops, Ai Weiwei, Anish Kapoor... In Bulgaria, however, he discovered a new source of inspiration and gradually built an extremely valuable and rich, chronologically consistent collection of Bulgarian sculpture, painting, graphic art and drawings from the early 1960s to current works, including of young artists.

Krum Damianov

Corida, 2004.

Sculpture

Details

  • Photographer: Svetla Petkova
  • Material: brass, enamel

  • Property of: Sculpture park Hugo Voeten, Geel, Belgium
  • Description: Composition from 13 figures. The average height: 170 cm

During his first visits to Bulgaria, the Belgian developed his private sculpture park in Geel and decided to populate it with works by Bulgarian artists. Thanks to his support, many sculptors had the opportunity to implement their conceptual projects on a large scale, and in individual cases they created new works for the park.

Stanislav Pamukchiev

Tzedila (Slings/Hammocks), 2001.

Installation

Details


  • Property of: Art center Hugo Voeten. Herentals, Belgium

In 2006, Hugo Voeten acquired a 1950s grain factory in the Belgian town of Herentals, which he reconstructed and converted into Hugo Voeten Art Centre[7], which opened in 2012. There, together with international names from the 20th century, works by Bulgarian artists are also displayed. The highlights in the exhibition include paintings by Jules Pascin, projects by Christo, as well as works from different periods of Svetlin Roussev and Nedko Solakov.

Nedko Solakov

Icons with Donated Stories, 2005.

Painting

Details

  • Material: tempera on wood

  • Property of: Art center Hugo Voeten, Herentals, Belgium

Some of the Bulgarian collections with a focus on contemporary art have been initially started with the purchase of classical works from the 20th century (Georgi and Dana Voinov, Rumen Draganov, Todor Staykov). In others, created later, the initial interest is exclusively in works by contemporary authors (Marius Velichkov for DGKV, Nikolay Nedelchev, etc.).

In the late 1980s, the collection of the artist Nedko Solakov (b. 1957) and his wife Slava Nakovska was started. The first work they bought in 1986 was a drawing by Stoyan Sotirov from the 1940s. Over time, the collection developed and expanded, at first with works by Bulgarian and later by international artists from different periods. The focus of the collection is on various forms of art on paper – drawing, watercolour, collage, graphic art, etc., but there are also paintings, videos, art installations and photographs. For the Solakovs, the story behind each acquisition, the process of communication around the acquisition of the work and the specific relationship they built with the artists whose works they collect is of particular importance.

Karin Sander

Slava Nakovska 1:7 and Nedko Solakov 1:7, 2013.

Object

Details

  • Material: 3D body scan of the living persons, monochrome 3D printing

  • Property of: Art collection Nedko Solakov and Slava Nakovska

The collection of Bulgarian art of the Solakov family can be conditionally divided into three groups – the first one includes works by artists who worked or began working in the first half of the 20th century (Ivan Milev, Iliya Beshkov, Georgi Mashev, Vladimir Dimitrov – The Master, Nikola Kozhuharov, Vasil Stoilov, Kiril Petrov, Genko Genkov, Svetlin Roussev), with part of the works of Bulgarian classical artists being inherited from Slava Nikovska’s family (Ruska Marinova, Slavka Deneva, etc.). The second group is made up of works by artists of the generation to which Solakov himself belongs (Andrei Daniel, Vihroni Popnedelev, Bozhidar Boyadjiev, Kiril Prashkov). The third one includes works of the younger generation, and it comprises paintings, videos, installations and photographs by Pravdoliub Ivanov, Ivan Moudov, Samuil Stoyanov, Rada Boukova, Michaela Vlaseva, Iskra Blagoeva, Zara Alexandrova, etc.

On the photo from left to right are the artworks of: Cristina Lucas, Karin Sander, Marlene Dumas, Mikhaela Vlaseva, Karin Sander, Mona Hatoum, Paula Pivi, Monica Bonvicini, Nevin Aladag, Slavka Deneva, Šejla Kamerić

View of the exhibition “International Women’s Day”, Gallery ICA Sofia, 7 March – 19 April 2014, 2014.

Photography

Details


  • Property of: Art collection Nedko Solakov and Slava Nakovska

Since the early 1990s, when Nedko Solakov began travelling around the world for his participations, the collection has also been enriched with international art. It was completed with purchases (from galleries, fairs, artists and less often from auctions), and most of the works have been acquired following exchanges with his fellow artists and gallerists. The fact that Nedko Solakov has had a successful career and participated in the world's largest art forums has enabled him to establish contacts and friendships with some of world-known names. To some of these artists, he offered an exchange of his own work against their drawing (the main part of these exchanges were of drawings).

Nedko Solakov's collection is extremely rich, currently numbering over 1,000 works by more than 200 artists and is probably the richest in contemporary Western European art in Bulgaria. It includes works by Paul McCarthy, Nam June Paik, Raymond Pettibon, Lawrence Weiner, Lucio Fontana, Sol LeWitt, Daniel Buren, Paola Pivi, Monica Bonvicini, Mona Hatoum, Erwin Wurm, Gelatin Group, Martin Creed, Yoshitomo Nara, Ryan Gander, etc. It also has a specific focus on artists from Eastern Europe and Russia, for example, Ion Grigorescu, Dan Perjovschi, Geta Brătescu, Ciprian Mureşan, Julius Köhler, Roman Ondak, Zbigniew Libera, Miroslaw Balka, Boris Mikhailov, Ilya Kabakov, Andrey Monastirski, etc.

On the photo from left to right are the artworks of: Zara Alexandrova, Iskra Blagoeva, Cristina Lucas, Mathilde ter Heijne, Cristina Lucas

View of the exhibition “International Women’s Day”, Gallery ICA Sofia, 7 March – 19 April 2014, 2014.

Photography

Details


  • Property of: Art collection Nedko Solakov and Slava Nakovska

So far, the collection of the Solakov family has been presented to the public only once – in the exhibition International Women's Day, curated by Iara Boubnova, ICA Gallery - Sofia, 7 March – 19 April 2014. It included works by artists from Bulgaria and 20 other countries. The exhibits, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, videos, author's books, newspapers and objects, demonstrated the diversity of artistic practices in recent decades. The choice of works, their origin and the specific links in the exhibition were commented on by Nedko Solakov next to each exhibit in the hall. Among the names presented were those of Adelina Popnedeleva, Alla Georgieva, Anetta Mona Chişa and Lucia Tkacova, Boryana Rossa, Dessislava Mincheva, Emily Jacir, Zara Aleksandrova, Iskra Blagoeva, Karin Sander, Cristina Lucas, Mariela Gemisheva, Maria Eichhorn, Markus Muntean and Adi Rosenblum, Marlene Dumas, Mathilde ter Heijne, Mihaela Vlaseva, Mona Hatoum, Monica Bonvicini, Nevin Aladağ, Paola Pivi, Pipilotti Rist, Rada Boukova, Ruska Marinova, Slavka Deneva, Snezhana Simeonova, Sophie Calle, Frances Goodman, Francesca Woodman, Šejla Kamerić, etc.

In 1986, the collection of Georgi and Dana Voinov was started, and in the beginning they purchased mainly classical works by Romanian (C. C. Constantinescu) and Bulgarian artists (Rafael Mihaylov). Gradually, they developed as collectors, developed their knowledge of art, strived to present the main artists in their collection with more works. The collection includes works by Bulgarian artists from the second half of the 20th century, such as Magda Abazova, Atanas Patzev, Andrei Daniel, Petar Dochev, Edmond Demirdzhiyan, Nedko Solakov, Monika Popova, Krum Damyanov, Rumen Skorchev, representatives of the Cluj Art School (Mircea Suciu), etc. The collection is focused on graphic art and drawings, but it also includes painting, sculpture, as well as multimedia works. In addition to works by well-established artists from the 20th century, in recent years the collectors’ interest has also been directed to young artists.

Andrei Daniel

City landscape, 2006.

Painting

Details

  • Material: oil on canvas

  • Property of: Art Collection Georgi and Dana Voinov

Rumen Draganov has a well-selected collection, which he began completing in in the early 1990s. His idea is to preserve some of the works created during this period, when almost no one bought art of contemporary artists, because the state galleries no longer had a budget, and the interest of the business was directed to “old masters”. For him, it is important that from an exhibition of a contemporary artist he can choose what he likes among the best of the respective artist at the time. The very contact with the artists and their way of thinking is also important. Today, he owns representative works by a number of Bulgarian artists from that period. When choosing artists, he often consults gallerists, from whom he receives valuable advice. In recent years, Rumen Draganov's interest has been directed at established and young contemporary artists, such as Nedko Solakov, Ivan Moudov, Kamen Stoyanov, Iskra Blagoeva, Kiril Kuzmanov, Valentin Stefanov, Nina Kovacheva, Stefan Bozhkov, Svetozar Benchev, etc.

Iskra Blagoeva

Love yourself, 2009.

Painting

Details

  • Material: acrylic on canvas
  • Width: 30.00 cm    Height: 30.00 cm    Depth: cm   

  • Property of: Art collection Rumen Draganov

Nikolay Nedelchev is the first collector of contemporary art to try to break the conservatism in collection practices in the country, as well as to show a fully open approach and specialised attitude to the way in which the collection is stored in professionally made depots, the presentation of the collected works in exhibitions, their description and cataloguing. He began collecting more consciously in 2010, with the collection undergoing development over the years. At its centre is contemporary art, and the main directions at the beginning were painting and sculpture, but the collector did not limit himself and today the collection features a great variety of artworks. A special emphasis is placed on twenty-odd names of artists, who are presented with more works. Nedelchev also collects international contemporary art (Aydan Salahova, Sergey Borisov, Sheikh Rashid al Khalifa, etc.). For him, the interest in contemporary and young artists is a kind of discovery – to be able to see the potential of a particular artist, to support them and in time to realise you have made a collector's find. The collection includes names such as Kolio Karamfilov, Sasho Stoitzov, Dimitar Genchev, Lyuben Petrov, Ventsislav Zankov, Nina Kovacheva, Alla Georgieva, Stanimir Genov, Rudi Ninov, Adelina Popnedeleva, Dimitar Yaranov, Iva Yaranova, Ivan Kyuranov, Ivan Kostolov, Anton Terziev, Krasimir Krastev-Rassim, Stefan Ivanov, Radoil Serafimov, Bogdan Alexandrov, Miryana Todorova, Deyan Yanev, Kalia Kalacheva, Valentina Sciara, Yonko Vasilev, Dimitar Shopov, Zara Alexandrova, Valio Tchenkov, Nora Ampova, etc.

Kolio Karamfilov

Modern Dilemma, 2012.

Painting

Details

  • Material: mixed media on canvas
  • Width: 60.00 cm    Height: 80.00 cm    Depth: cm   

  • Property of: Art collection Nikolai Nedelchev

Sirma Sarafova – Orahovac

Composition, 2012.

Painting

Details

  • Material: charcoal, pencil, acrylic and oil, felt-tip pen on foam board
  • Width: 70.00 cm    Height: 100.00 cm    Depth: cm   

  • Property of: Art collection Nikolai Nedelchev

Marius Velichkov collects contemporary art for the business law firm to which he belongs (DGKV). The corporate collection was established after 2005 and is located in the offices of the association. It includes mainly paintings, sculptures and photographs. The focus of the collection is on artists starting to establish themselves in the late 1980s and in the 1990s, especially the XXL group and The City group (Andrei Daniel, Vihroni Popnedelev, Bozhidar Boyadzhiev). In the collection, there are works by Ivan Kiuranov, Houben Tcherkelov, Kosyo Minchev, Georgi Tushev, Rassim, Ventsislav Zankov, Georgi Ruzhev, Genadi Gatev, Rosen Toshev, Dimitar Yaranov, Plamen Todorov, Ivan Kostolov, Dimitar Shopov, etc. The collection, on the one hand, is an investment in valuable works according to the collector (but not for the purpose of resale and profit), and on the other hand is support for the artists.

RASSIM

Self portrait with cigarette, 2001 (from the video “Self portrait with cigarette”, 1995), 2001.

Painting

Details

  • Material: oil on canvas
  • Width: 100.00 cm    Height: 130.00 cm    Depth: cm   

  • Property of: Art collection DGKV

Kossio Minchev

Erasing The History, 2006.

Sculpture

Details

  • Material: aquaresin

  • Property of: Art collection DGKV

A striking example of commitment to discovering and supporting the development of young artists (even during their training) is that of the collector Todor Staykov. His interest in students graduating from the National Academy of Art dates back to 2015, when a selection of artists graduating in Painting and Sculpture was first made on his initiative. A jury consisting of NAA lecturers and established artists selected several graduate students whose works were distinguished by great artistry, professionalism and creative charge – some of them joining Staykov's collection. In order to make a better visibility and presentation of the competitions, initiatives and the artists supported by Todor Staykov, the “Young Bulgarian Artists” platform (http://young-bulgarian-artists.org) was created.

Albena Petkova

Emanuela, 2019.

Painting

Details

  • Material: oil on canvas

  • Property of: Art collection Todor Staikov

Todor Staykov is one of the founders of the Union of Collectors in Bulgaria. He has been collecting art since 2000 and his interest is in painting, graphic art and sculpture by Bulgarian artists, without having specific preferences for period or artists. His collection is rich and diverse, but so far works from it have rarely been shown. He keeps in touch with various artists, art historians and culturologists. His collection of young artists, part of which can be seen on the Young Bulgarian Artists site, is more well-known.

One of the few Bulgarian private collections focused entirely on contemporary art is located in Plovdiv.[8] It was started in 2006, but has been completed more intensively since 2011. It includes mainly works of the Bulgarian contemporary art, but it also includes works by foreign artists who are somehow related to the Bulgarian scene. The rule is that the works be of living artists, so that they can be supported at present. Leading is the motive that the collection of contemporary art is an investment in the artist, in their development and through it of the environment in which we live. And in this regard, the collection of contemporary art is an important part of the sense of time and place.

Pravdoliub Ivanov

Childhood, 2014.

Object

Details

  • Width: 20.00 cm    Height: 10.00 cm    Depth: 60.00 cm   

  • Property of: Private collection
  • Description: edition 2+1AP

The collection consists of painting, graphic art, sculpture, limited editions, video and photography, purchased mainly from galleries. The collector aims to acquire over time at least 2-3 works of the artists who once entered the collection.

Nedko Solakov

Midday, 1978.

Painting

Details

  • Material: oil on canvas

  • Property of: Private collection
  • Description: size of painting: 39 x 58 cm
    size of work: 80 x 123 cm

Although the collector does not feel the need to show the collection on its own to a wide audience, items from it participate in exhibitions. What is more, it is accessible to people who are interested in contemporary art and make efforts for the development of the scene in Bulgaria.

Krassimir Terziev

Monument to the Time Elapsed, 2013.

Object

Details

  • Material: defunct notebook, engraved drawing (dry point) on LCD screen
  • Width: 30.00 cm    Height: 33.00 cm    Depth: 27.00 cm   

  • Property of: Private collection, Plovdiv

In the collection there is painting, graphic art, sculpture, limited editions, video and photography, purchased mainly from galleries. It includes works by Nedko Solakov, Luchezar Boyadjiev, Atanas Hranov, Voin de Voin, Sevda Semer, Missirkov/Bogdanov, Vikenti Komitski, Dimitar Genchev, Dimitar Solakov, Dimitar Shopov, Zoran Georgiev, Ivan Moudov, Kamen Starchev, Kamen Stoyanov, Kiril Kuzmanov, Kokimoto, Krassimir Terziev, Mike Bouchet, Maxime Bondu, Mariela Gemisheva, Maria Dzhelebova, Martina Vacheva, Mitch Brezounek, Monika Popova, Pravdoliub Ivanov, Rada Boukova, Rassim, Rudi Ninov, Roshpaka, Stela Vasileva, Stefan Nikolaev, Stefania Batoeva, Tekla Aleksieva, Şakir Gökçebağ, Christo – signed limited print, etc.

Another collection that includes a distinct part of contemporary art is that of Vladimir Iliev – art manager and gallerist. About this collection, we can judge mostly from two exhibitions – Lika Yanko. Drawings (together with Alexander Toshev), National gallery: Square 500, 7.11.2019-8.03.2020, as well as Collecting Contemporary Art, curated by Ivo Milev and Boryana Valchanova, National gallery: The Palace, 22.04-27.06.2021. The latter presented the Bulgarian art scene of recent decades through Vladimir Iliev’s own eyes. The exhibition included works by Sasho Stoitzov, Boryana Petkova, Valentin Stefanov, Krassimir Terziev, Georgi Ruzhev, Nina Kovacheva, Georgi Georgiev – Jorrras, Boris Kolev – B.A.i.L.A, Kalina Dimitrova, Stefan Ivanov, Peter Tzanev, and Iskra Blagoeva.

Nina Kovacheva, Krassimir Terziev, Iskra Blagoeva

View from the exhibition “To collect contemporary art”, National gallery “The Palace”, 22.04-27.06.2021, 2021.

Photography

Details


  • Property of: Art collection Vladimir Iliev

Yonko Vassilev's collection of contemporary art has been created with a conceptual motif. His acquaintances with young artists and observations on the stage prompted him to create a collection in the sense of an art work in which each "piece" of art has its specific place in the whole and together they defend the collector's position on the history of contemporary Bulgarian art and who are the "important players" in it.

Iva Yaranova

The Collector (Yonko Vassilev), 2012.

Painting

Details

  • Material: oil on canvas

Collections of contemporary artists, albeit extremely rare, are also built by some of the richest Bulgarians, and they usually remain unknown to the general public. Thus, they significantly differ from the approach of world and Russian millionaires and oligarchs, such as Charles Saatchi, Bernard Arnault, François Pinault, Roman Abramovich, Igor Markin or Roman Trotsenko, who in addition to investing in art actively participate in cultural life with their own galleries, museums and art centres. One example is businessman Spas Roussev, who has been living mainly in London since 1991. He has been repeatedly mentioned in the press as a significant and highly esteemed collector, whose collection consists above all of international contemporary art (Doug Aitken, Richard Serra, Terence Koch, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Zeng Fanji, Christo, photographs of Marilyn Monroe by Lawrence Schiller, photographs by Annie Leibovitz, etc.), but it also includes works by contemporary Bulgarian artists such as Nedko Solakov, Pravdoliub Ivanov, Stefan Nikolaev, Houben Tcherkelov, etc. The collection has never been presented in public. Spas Roussev has been a member of the board of the Serpentine Gallery in London and one of the patrons of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Great Britain. 

Closing words  

The situation in Bulgaria can be defined more as conservative and closed within the country. The Bulgarian collector still does not adequately occupy the position of driver of modern processes in art, being fundamentally a passive guardian of cultural property. They still fail to take on adequately enough the job of an art patron, a discoverer of new phenomena and a patron of young artists, who would be encouraged to develop. A need for a wider collector's dash can be perceived, for a stronger position statement, the opening of private art museums, better knowledge of and even participation in international artistic processes. Fortunately, although a few, active and open collectors exist. The hope remains that their example will be bright and impactful enough to ignite the passion for art in more and more people, and thus the culture of collecting in the country, especially in the field of contemporary art, will be able to rise to another level. 

* In English, the text is translated with abbreviations.


Main sources of information:
- Petkova, Svetla. The Bulgarian experience in the private art collecting (of painting, graphic art and sculpture) between the end of XX and the beginning of XXI century – PhD research. Original language: Bulgarian.
- Nozharova, Vessela. A Short History of Art Collecting in Bulgaria, part of the Eastern European Collectors online platform (http://www.knollgalerie.at/622.html?&L=3)
- Nozharova, Vessela. Introduction to Bulgarian Contemporary Art 1982-2015. Open Arts Foundation, 2018.


[1] More about the collections from this period can be learned from the text by Petkova-Campbell, G. Nineteenth-century Bulgarian private collections Journal of the History of Collections (2010) pp. 1–11.
[2] The most emblematic in this regard are the examples over the years of the galleries Ata, Arc Projects and Yuzina (no longer existing), of Arosita, Rakursi, One Gallery, Monev Contemporary, Structura, Little Bird Place, Co-op (in Sofia), Sariev Contemporary (in Plovdiv), and Bulart (in Varna).
[3] The most consistent in this regard has been the policy led by Sariev Contemporary, as well as the galleries managed by Dessislava Zafirova, which work with a certain circle of artists and aim at the participation in and establishment of the Western and Eastern art market.
[4] https://openartfiles.bg/en/about/1546-въведение-в-съвременното-изкуство
[5] http://sariev-gallery.com/lab/the-collectors-forum [6]http://contempo2012.blogspot.com/; http://contempo2013.blogspot.com/2013/05/contempo-2013-18-may-collectors-module.html
[7] http://artcenter.hugovoeten.org/
[8] Subject to an agreement with the collector, we present the collection anonymously, with no indication of their name, gender or social affiliation.