Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Sofia City Gallery scores again!
The Sofia City Art Gallery has put together another excellent exhibition – this time to honour the memory of the Bulgarian Association of New Artists which was active from 1931 to after 1944. Founded in Sofia, its objective was to unite artists with similar aesthetic viewpoints who espoused new trends in art in keeping with movements in western Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. Although its first members worked primarily in a realistic manner, around 1936—when membership had grown to 55—other Bulgarian artists who had studied and worked in Paris, Munich and Vienna joined its ranks. Artists such as Alexandar Zhendov, BENCHO OBRESHKOV, Boris Eliseev, Vera Nedkova, David Perets, Eliezer Alshekh, IVAN NENOV, Kiril Petrov and KIRIL TSONEV contributed more modernist approaches, rejecting academic art, folkloric elements and especially the ideas of Social Realism put into practice by the founders of the Society. An internet review said its members created works with a „sophisticated approach to style, a purity of form and a stable internal structure”. But this sort of jargon doesn’t tell me anything – and I have to say that, much as I appreciate this insight into the historical developments of Bulgarian painting and the imaginative way the City Gallery has dealt with it (with blow-ups of the agonised press receptions of the time addorning the gallery’s pillars), this is not a genre which particularly appeals to me. But I was deeply impressed with the graphics of Vesselin Staikov and the work of Ivan Penkov and Bronka Gyurova. After 1944 the New Artists’ Society was absorbed by the Union of Bulgarian Artists . Many of those who had been members of the Society were declared ‘bourgeois artists’ by the Communist regime and were no longer able to take part in exhibitions; several, including Alshekh, Elisev and Perets, emigrated.
The frequency of these special exhibitions at the City Gallery (which always borrow works from the country’s regional galleries) contrasts so favourably with the lack of imagination shown by the National Gallery just across the road which never changes its permanent exhibition and rarely puts on worthwhile specials (I do remember a great tanev exhibition they mounted a year or so ago. The National Gallery charges about 5 euros – and the City Gallery is free. Therein lies a lessons about the better service generally offered by local government!
The graphic is one of Vesselin Staikov's at the exhibition. In addition to engravings with themes from nature, old towns and mountain villages, Staikov produced a cycle of engravings on the modern city: Sofia with its modern architecture, the clearing of rubble after the air-raids and the construction of new houses and buildings. The artist is also fond of doing ancient, strangely shaped trees. Labour themes occupy an important place in Staikov’s work. He shows love and understanding for the worker, the peasant. Some engravings reflect the romanticism of Bulgarian scenery and architecture, others – the primitive force and ruggedness of the village landscape. .