Typically however, it being 12.10, it was closed for the long lunch break and – despite the seductive poster advertising a special exhibition – we moved on for Russe on the basis that we could visit next week when a workshop is being held nearby.
I’ve wanted to visit the Russe municipal gallery for some time – the town, after all, has more than 200,000 people; has been an important port on the Danube for a long time; and has a proud tradition of culture – with quite a few well-known painters to its name eg Marko Monev. And the gallery was not difficult to find – the girls in the OBV petrol station at the central station roundabout knew it was just round the corner. However the gallery is in a scandalous state for such a city – with (a) no heating and (b) the paintings in one of the three rooms lying propped on the floor with no means of identification. Unlike all the other regional galleries I’ve visited in Bulgaria, the Russe one charges for entrance – OK only 50 pence - but that does raise expectations a little. No Monev paintings were on display but there were some superb works from Vladimir Dmitrov-Maistera, Atanas Mihov, Benchko Obreshkov and Nenko Balkanski – all, however, at risk from the disgraceful conditions. What was even more galling was that an expensive book was on offer – at 25 euros – celebrating 75 years of the gallery. It must have cost 5,000 euros to produce – money which would have been much better spent to keep the paintings in a safer condition.
I can understand the galleries of smaller municipalities being in poor conditions – but there is asolutely no excuse for this neglect for a city such as Russe. Places like Razgrad and Kazanlak – with one fifth of the population – clearly do so much better! Pity the poor young warden who sat wrapped up and freezing in his cubicle as I happily snapped the choicer exhibits.
What sort of future does he have? He shrugged his shoulders when I asked about the Monev paintings – and smiled sadly when I asked if there was a feedback book available for me to make my comments! At the very least, the city authorities should relocate the paintings to a smaller place which is easier to heat! And it doesn’t take much money to produce a CD of the gallery collection.
Of course art galleries are a municipal responsibility and rightly so. And the Sofia and Kazanluk galleries show what can be done by committed local authorities and staff – with both organising special exhibitions and having a range of products (including CDs) for sale. But the protection of Bulgarian painting patrimony is surely a national issue.