Good news! Two oil on paper studies from my Valencia series have been chosen for the Ferens Gallery Open Exhibition 2019. The exhibition will be on 2 February- 14 April 2019 at the Ferens Art Gallery, Queen Victoria Square, Carr Lane, Kingston-upon-Hull, East Yorkshire HU1 3RA, opening hours Mon-Sat 10am-4.30pm and Sun 11am-4pm (See a map here).
The Ferens is Hull's top public art gallery and hosted the Turner Prize (the UK's top award for the arts) in 2017. It houses an extensive permanent collection as well as an active programme of temporary exhibitions so I'm pleased to have been selected for this year's Open.
My Valencia series is inspired by my home town of Valencia, in Spain. You can see more works from the series on the Landscapes and Cityscapes section of my website.
Good news- I will be taking part in the Dulwich Art Group and School exhibition of paintings and drawings which opens this Thursday 2 February 6-9pm at the Artists Space, 155a Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, SE22 8HX in South London (you can see a helpful map here). After the opening, the show will be open 8 and 9 Feb 10am-5pm and 14-15-16 Feb 10am-5pm.
I will be showing the two oil on paper landscape studies from my 2016 artists’ residency at the Haihatus Art Centre in Joutsa, Finland which I also exhibited recently at the Croydon Art Society Annual Exhibition 2018 (I believe Haihatus still has places available for this coming Spring/Summer if you fancy a creative break in the breathtakingly beautiful Lakeland region of Finland).
The Dulwich Art Group and School has recently expanded its activities to include not just life drawing sessions most days of the week but also a range of art courses- The full programme can be found on the Group’s website.
The Artists Space is a new and exciting initiative which opened its doors only last year. I believe this will be the third exhibition held at the space.
Hope to see you there!
After two successful Open Studio days last year, Turf Projects is repeating the experience on Saturday 2 February. Both of Turf’s sites in Croydon (here’s useful maps to the Arts Store in the Whitgift Centre and the Keeley Road site, both very close to East Croydon and West Croydon stations) will be open from 12 to 4pm so that visitors can meet the artists and see their working spaces and recent production. My own studio is located in the basement of the Arts Store (46-47 Trinity Court, Whitgift Shopping Centre, Croydon CR0 1UQ).
Hope to see you there!
Personally speaking I love the period in art history around the turn of the 20th century, when the conventions of academicism were giving way to a plethora of new possibilities and movements which often influenced and cross-pollinated each other, across and beyond rigid boundaries. I often think that the it was the strong work discipline of academic training that helped artists produce such enduring art once they started looking for new directions. Some might even be tempted to think that such sense of thoroughness and discipline is, sadly, entirely missing from art education today, with predictable consequences. Or maybe not- Who am I to say? In any case, a preeminent example of such fin-de-siècle restlessness was the so-called Vienna Secession (properly the Union of Austrian Artists, Vereinigung Bildender Künstler Österreichs), a group of artists determined to find a new way of expressing their philosophical and aesthetic concerns in the sizzling cauldron that was then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Secession artists were strongly influenced by Symbolism, a broader figurative current which attempted to probe the higher and deeper truths about human life and the human spirit that lay beyond the rigid conventions of academicism. A salient example of this is, of course, Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), the Secession's first president and -probably- its top representative, whose work is exhibited at the Royal Academy until 3 February alongside that of Vienna's next well-known enfant terrible, Egon Schiele (1890-1918).
Consisting exclusively of drawings from the Albertina museum in Vienna, Klimt / Schiele is comparatively limited in range but offers great insights into Klimt's and Schiele's working processes, as well as their biographies. Klimt used drawings almost exclusively as preparatory studies for paintings but, as is well known, finished drawings became a considerable part of Schiele's output, and some top-notch examples are shown here. Klimt's studies for his well-known Beethoven Frieze (on display at the Secession building in Vienna) and his scandalous (never installed, and now lost) 1894 paintings for the Great Hall of Vienna University are presented in the exhibition along with studies from all stages of his career. On the biographical side, the show touches on Schiele's traumatic stay in prison after being arrested for allegedly seducing a girl under the age of consent in the provincial town of Neulengbach, near Vienna, where Schiele and her lover Wally Neuzil had shocked conservative locals by living openly as an unmarried couple. The seduction charges were eventually dropped, but Schiele did produce some top-rate drawings while in prison, some of which are shown here.
Klimt and Schiele had an intimate relationship, with the older artist protecting and nourishing Schiele at the start of his career. Ironically, both men were once again united in death in the fateful year of 1918, Schiele succumbing to the influenza pandemic (the 'Spanish flu') that claimed 20 million lives in Europe in that year.
Definitely an important exhibition if you want to catch up with the creative processes of these seminal artists. For my part, even though Schiele's output is definitely eye-catching, I always have the feeling that his signature style became slightly formulaic and lacks the freshness of Klimt's observation. Worth catching this offering and making up your own mind though.
I am very excited to have the chance to exhibit alongside fellow studio holders from Turf Projects in Croydon at the SerfnTurf group exhibition which opens this Friday (11 January) at Serf artists' community and project space in Leeds. SerfnTurf is a collaboration between Serf and Turf artists by which each group will exhibit in the other one's space- Serf artists are expected to follow up shortly with their own show at Turf Projects.
The starting point for our production process was given by the definitions:
// Serf (n): an agricultural labourer bound by the feudal system who was tied to working on his lord's estate.
Turf (n): grass and the surface layer of earth held together by its roots. //
From here we had a group conversation ranging from the status of labour under capitalism to the working conditions of artists and the feasibility of setting up an alternative economy. Personally (and probably influenced by recent readings of Tolstoy and Chekhov) I was immediately taken by the symbolism of the land, agricultural work, the rhythm of the seasons and the natural world, which have all had a massive influence on artists but which, perhaps paradoxically, we modern city dwellers seem to exist in complete isolation from. Labour in the fields has long been represented by farming implements so I found myself making a large number of miniature scythes and trying out ways to combine them into a 3D piece. I'm sure Giacometti's influence was there somewhere in my subconscious.
SerfnTurf opens at Serf on 11 January 6-9pm (23-25 Wharf Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS2 7EQ, you can see a map here) and will stay open until Sun 27 January. Everybody's welcome to come to the opening but if you plan to attend drop me a line so I'm expecting you. Hope to see you there!
UPDATE: I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Leeds (my first visit to the city) and it was lovely to meet members of the Serf collective who were incredibly friendly and welcoming to us Turf visitors. Serf occupies an amazing open plan space under a beautiful gabled ceiling with one end of the space designated as the exhibition area. The opening was packed (Serf reported that many attendees were new to the space, which is great news) and a lot of fun. I was sad to come back to London after a detour to Hull in order to drop off two pieces from my Valencia series for the 2019 Ferens Gallery Open (more info in an upcoming post). A big thanks from here to the Serf collective, can’t wait to welcome them at Turf Projects.
I really enjoyed the current Mantegna and Bellini exhibition at the National Gallery (finishes 27/01/2019). The Bellini (Jacopo and his two children, Gentile and Giovanni) were the top artistic family in the Venetian Republic during the Quattrocento, Born near Padua in Northern Italy (a town under Venetian rule at the time), the talented Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) married Jacopo's daughter Nicolosia in 1453 and the two brothers-in-law, Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516), went on to enjoy extremely long careers and became key figures in the Italian Renaissance. As a painter I am always fascinated by the skill of Renaissance artists but also by their creativity and imagination and their directness (one could almost say their innocence) in dealing with their subjects.
The start of the exhibition focuses on small-format works and compares treatments of the same subject by Mantegna and Bellini. These include the biblical topics of the crucifixion, the agony in the garden (Bellini's and Mantegna's well-known versions of this are both in the National Gallery collection), the descent of Christ into Limbo, and the presentation of the infant Jesus at the Temple. Pages from Mantegna's and Bellini's sketchbooks give an idea of the pair's thinking processes regarding human anatomy and composition (these experiments on realistic foreshortening and the human figure were among the earliest in Europe since antiquity).
Moving on, a very impressive (and touching) room is devoted to the topic of the Pietà and the Lamentation over the dead Christ and includes beautiful examples by Bellini from Berlin's Gemäldegalerie and Italy, including a stunning, highly finished monochrome drawing from the Uffizi gallery in Florence. Three panels from Mantegna's impressive Triumphs of Caesar series (created during his time as court artist to the Gonzaga rulers of Mantua, presently in the Royal Collection, and shown in full at the recent Charles I: King and Collector exhibition at the Royal Academy) are displayed in the next room. The exhibition highlights Giovanni Bellini's remarkable evolution in the course of his career, with the clumsy anatomy and stiff landscape construction of his earlier work having shifted massively by the time he painted the Assassination of St Peter Martyr (c 1507), his Madonna of the Meadow (c 1505, both in the National Gallery collection and showcasing Bellini's stunning sense of light) or the arresting Drunkenness of Noah (c 1515, from the Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie at Besançon and painted when Bellini was in his eighties). Mantegna's highly symbolic Minerva expelling the Vices from the Garden of Virtue (c 1502, also painted for the Gonzaga court), from the Louvre, is also on display, as is Bellini's beautiful portrait of Venetian Doge Leonardo Loredan (c 1501), relocated here from its usual spot in the National Gallery.
Catch this stunning offering over the holidays if you can.
The National Gallery is well-known for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. A comparable collection is that of the Courtauld Institute of Art, founded in the 1930s as an academic institution devoted to research and teaching in the field of art and named after its main financial backer, industrialist and collector Samuel Courtauld (1876-1947). The Institute's collection is usually on display at the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House in central London, but, since the gallery closed for renovations and enlargement in September 2018 and won't reopen for a period of around two years, it is lucky that the National Gallery has put on this comparatively small but hugely enjoyable exhibition (ends 20/01/2019) mixing works from the Courtauld with paintings from the National Gallery's own collection.
The exhibition focuses on well-known Impressionist and Post-Impressionist figures active mainly in France, so in a way this is well-known territory, but the selection of works here is really very, very nice. From Édouard Manet's 1882 A Bar at the Folies-Bergère and Edgar Degas's miraculous 1872 Woman at a Window, the exhibition traces a course through the usual suspects including Camille Pissarro's night views of Paris, Georges Seurat's iconic 1882 Bathers at Asnières (plus other remarkable works), a few fine Van Goghs, a remarkable selection of Monets, Cézannes and Gauguins (very interesting to compare the treatment of still lives in these last two, and don't miss Cézanne's 1880/81 self-portrait from the National Gallery alongside his famous Card Players from the Courtauld), and, last but not least, a couple of intriguing examples of Pierre Bonnard's output, including his radiant 1925 The Table.
It is a very nice touch that the exit to the exhibition leads straight into the National Gallery's permanent Impressionist and Post-Impressionist rooms, so that the visitor may seamlessly continue exploring this fascinating period in art history.
Fantastic treat for the festive season. Catch it if you can.
Jusepe (or Giuseppe, or José) de Ribera was born in the town of Xàtiva, in the Valencian region of Spain (where I happen to come from) in 1590/91. From what is known, he trained as a painter in Spain and Italy before establishing himself in Naples (then a Spanish possession) in 1616 after a stint in Rome.
One in a number of excellent niche exhibitions at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London, Ribera: Art of Violence (26/09/2018 – 27/01/2019) focuses on Ribera's well-known depictions of gruesome scenes, mainly from the Christian tradition. The paintings shown here follow the style made popular by Caravaggio and his followers which combines extreme realism with strong chiaroscuro (light/dark contrast) to achieve striking effects. Highlights of the visit include Ribera's treatment of the martyrdoms of St Sebastian and St Bartholomew and the pagan (but equally gory) theme of the punishment of the satyr Marsyas by the Olympian god Apollo. In all these works Ribera shows off his well-known draughtsmanship and his remarkable knowledge of human anatomy.
Other highlights of the exhibition include arresting sketches and finished drawings from Ribera's sketchbooks, including in situ captures of violent torture meted out to prisoners in the public square (a common occurrence at the time) which may have served as raw material for Ribera's compositions.
A small but perfectly formed gem of an exhibition. Catch it if you can.
I recently had the honour of being accepted into the Croydon Art Society, one of the oldest and best established in the UK. The Society holds a number of exhibitions through the year and its major Annual Exhibition usually takes place in the Autumn. Provided that my pieces pass the selection I am happy to announce that I will be exhibiting with the Society for the first time this year.
The Croydon Art Society’s Annual Exhibition 2018 will be declared open next Tuesday 20 November at 6.30pm by the Mayor of Croydon herself at the Croydon Clocktower’s Exhibition Gallery in Katherine Street (see map here). The Private View will last until 8pm and you are very welcome to attend. The exhibition will stay open until 8 December with opening times Tue-Sat 10.30am-5pm.
All going well I will be showing two oil on paper landscape paintings which I started at my Haihatus Art Centre residency in Joutsa, Finland, in 2016 and completed in London.
Turf Projects, the multi-pronged arts organisation in Croydon where I have my studio will be celebrating its 5th birthday with a full day of activities on Saturday 20 October (full programme here). The artists’ studios at Turf’s main site at Croydon’s Whitgift Centre (map here) will be thrown open from 11am to 5pm for visitors to have a peek around. For personal reasons I won’t be there myself but my work is on display in my studio so if you have any comments or enquiries do please drop me a line!
And don’t miss the afterparty running until 11pm at Turf’s second site on Keeley Road in Croydon and featuring performances, food, drink and music!
I happened to walk by the Mosaic Rooms in Kensington, the art gallery devoted to contemporary art from Arab countries and the Greater Middle East. I really enjoyed the current exhibition, Dusted Waters (28/09 – 08/12/2018), an exploration of the work and biography of Iranian visual artist Behjat Sadr (1924-2009). Sadr studied Fine Art in Tehran and lived in Rome for some years, exhibiting at the Venice Biennale in 1956 and again in 1962. Later she divided her time between Tehran and Paris, where she settled after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Among other pieces, the exhibition displays bold abstracts executed in Sadr's signature style, with pure black paint applied with a palette knife on glass and other surfaces, as well as photography which Sadr used as a kind of visual record and which show a very strong sense of the form (Sadr also combined photographs with paint in Modernist collages which I thought were very successful). The exhibition's projection room shows Mitra Farahani's 2006 documentary Behjat Sadr: Time Suspended which includes extensive interviews with the artist.
Having visited Iran last year (including the top notch Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art) I was extremely interested to discover both the Mosaic Rooms and the work of this pioneering creator (Sadr was the first modern female painter to reach the top of her profession in Iran). The Mosaic Rooms also maintain an active programme of talks and events which you can find on the website. Very enjoyable.
Studio holders at Turf Projects in Croydon (including myself) have set up an ongoing series of life drawing sessions and are now opening them up to friends and fellow artists.
The next session is next Tuesday 9th October.
Following that the session dates are:
It is an informal session with no tutor, just the class working out poses collaboratively with the model, and a studio member keeping time.
The session details are as follows:
Location: Turf Projects - project space at Keeley Road, Croydon (entrance is at the rear of the Centrale shopping centre, through the loading bay - a useful map can be found here). PLEASE NOTE THAT THE FRONT ENTRANCE TO THE TURF STUDIOS WILL BE CLOSED AND BLACKED OUT TO PROVIDE PRIVACY FOR THE SESSION - PLEASE ARRIVE PROMPTLY BEFORE START AT 7.30. ENTRY WILL BE THROUGH THE BACK OF THE STUDIOS THROUGH THE CENTRALE SHOPPING CENTRE LOADING BAY - WALK INTO THE BAY FROM KEELEY ROAD, TURN LEFT ON THE FIRST CORNER AND KEEP GOING, THE DOOR TO THE STUDIOS WILL BE ON YOUR LEFT!
Please bring your own drawing materials!
The sessions are open to all but, If you plan to come, please email fellow Turf Projects studio holder Jhinuk Sarkar so she can track numbers- Thanks! Jhinuk’s email is Jhinuk@turf-projects.com.
If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact me or Jhinuk.
Hope to see you there!
Istanbul Modern is a public institution founded in 2004 as Turkey's first modern and contemporary art museum. In May 2018 the museum moved to temporary premises in the Galata quarter while a brand-new building is finalised nearby, on the shores of the Bosphorus (completion date for the project is currently given as 2021). The museum currently houses three medium-sized exhibitions:
Anthony Cragg: Human Nature (23/05 – 11/11/2018, by far my favourite of the three) shows sculptures by this British artist (b Liverpool 1949, now based in Germany). Experimental, playful and with a real knack for the form, Cragg presents a diverse selection of modernist sculptures and assemblages in different sizes and materials (from bronze, aluminium and steel to glass and wood). Abstraction with the occasional hint of figuration. Very enjoyable.
Points of View (23/05 – 11/11/2018) presents 25 works from the Istanbul Modern photography collection dating from the 1960s onwards, including by Soviet-born Boris Mikhailov. Very wide range of techniques and approaches.
In Pursuit of the Present is a permanent display of works from the museum collection. Check out the artspeak: ('[The Exhibition] establishes various intersecting and interrelating thematic strands, and, through the works in the exhibition, branches off into side paths such as identity, the body, gender politics, processes of construction and destruction, and the relationship between nature and humans.') The pompous rhetoric accompanies mostly shallow and derivative work. This seems to be the trend in contemporary art.
All in all, well worth a visit if you're in the area.
The time is fast approaching for the opening of my solo exhibition Sing, O Goddess, the Wrath, the culmination of a 1-month residency in Istanbul which has been a fantastic experience. You're very welcome to attend the opening next Saturday 1 September 2018 at 7pm at Tasarım Bakkalı (Rasimpaşa Mahallesi, Uzun Hafız Sokak, 101/A Yeldeğirmeni, 34716 Kadiköy, Istanbul, see the Facebook event here and a useful map here), which will probably last for a few hours. Thereafter, the exhibition will remain open Saturdays and Sundays 12-6pm (closed Monday to Friday) until 30 September.
My residency project has developed in a slightly different direction than I initially envisaged. My original intention was to work in the same spirit as in my ongoing Valencia and Dénia series, working from physical and emotional impressions of my surroundings to produce playful abstract and semi-abstract pieces. However, as I started doing research into Turkey's fascinating history I became drawn to an old obsession, the Classical past and Homer's epics The Iliad and The Odyssey. I decided to visit the ancient site of Troy (on the Aegean shore of Turkey, about 250 Km Southwest of Istanbul) as part of my research and the pull towards a project based on the human figure became irresistible. Homer's works are considered to have been inspired by an actual expedition by Mycenaean Greeks against the city of Troy (wealthy because of its strategic location overlooking the Dardanelles strait) around the year 1,200 BC. Part of the fascination of Homer's poems is that they turn abstract historical facts into human drama overflowing with feeling, describing with astonishing lyricism an often shockingly brutal reality.
As I started drawing and writing furiously in my sketchbook and producing studies, the size of these prototypical characters translated into figures of expanding scale in the studio. At that point I took a few days to travel across Western Anatolia to the city of Çanakkale on the Dardanelles and the nearby site of Troy (which was a fantastic experience), as well as to the city of Izmir (ancient Smyrna) and the awesome archaeological site of Ephesus nearby. Since coming back to the studio in Istanbul I've been extremely busy working on the final pieces for the show which have turned out to be on a slightly larger than human scale. It is the deep emotions embodied by Homer's characters that these pieces attempt to come to terms with.
It is my first visit to Turkey and this month has been absolutely brilliant. Emre and Işıl, the team behind Tasarım Bakkalı, have been running this alternative gallery in the Kadiköy quarter of Istanbul for over three years now and developed the residency programme as the next step forward. They have been amazing hosts and have been incredibly patient and helpful with every aspect of the project and my stay so a massive thanks to them from here.
It is just possible that something else might develop in Turkey as a continuation of the project but as of now it is still a suggestion. Watch this space.
UPDATE: I am happy to report that (despite last-minute nerves) the exhibition opening was incredibly fun and successful both in terms of attendance (with many new faces, according to Emre and Işıl) and positive feedback on the work. I had memorable conversations with people who had clearly found the project thought-provoking. All in all, a very enjoyable evening. Now that I am back in London I feel incredibly energised for future work.
The Pera Museum in Istanbul is a private institution created by the Suna and Inan Kıraç Foundation in 2005. The chosen venue was the former (and very stylish) Bristol Hotel in the quarter of Beyoğlu (on the European side of the city, North of the Golden Horn and close to the Galata tower). The museum houses a mixture of permanent exhibits and temporary exhibitions. The three permanent exhibits are currently Anatolian Weights and Measures, describing the history of weights and measures in Turkey from the second millennium BC (highlights include a few beautiful astronomical instruments); Osman Hamdi Bey, exploring the life and work of this Ottoman intellectual, high official, art world personality, and painter (1842-1910) who, among other achievements, founded the Istanbul Archaeology Museums and the Istanbul Academy of Fine Arts, the first of its kind in Turkey; Intersecting Worlds, featuring portraits of ambassadors and pieces commissioned by diplomatic officials, either Ottomans abroad or envoys of foreign powers in Istanbul, from the 1600s to the 1800s (lots of historical background here but few outstanding paintings); And Kütahya Tiles and Ceramics Collection, devoted to the history of ceramics production in the city of Kütahya in Western Anatolia.
The first of two current temporary exhibitions is Istanbul's Seaside Leisure (05/04 – 26/08/2018), which looks at the history of public bathing and swimming in the sea in and around Istanbul, once seen as indecent but which by the mid-1900s had become all the rage (and which, ironically, became unfeasible again as the city's population exploded in the following decades). The pioneers of this practice were Russian émigrés after the 1917 revolution, whom disbelieving locals watched parading semi-naked on the beaches, men and women together. Shaken Image (06/06 – 26/08/2018) presents work by graduates of degree and master level Fine Art courses at Hacettepe University in Ankara. I was expecting to scoot through this but, to my amazement, the work here had thought behind it, depth, style, and proper consideration for the form. Maybe (the shock!), in Turkey, Fine Art students are actually, you know, taught something. I never thought I would type these words, but this degree show actually inspired me.
Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area (and check out the cool café!).
The former Royal Palace in central Sofia is now part of Bulgaria's National Gallery of Art and is used as a venue for temporary exhibitions (The National Ethnographic Museum is also located here). The Palace currently hosts three exhibitions:
Nadar's Famous Portraits (21/06 – 26/08/2018) shows beautiful, sensitive photographic portraits of public figures from the mid-1800s taken by French caricaturist, writer and photography pioneer Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, known as Nadar (1820-1910). Nadar's subjects included top artists and intellectuals of the time such as Gustave Courbet, Eugène Delacroix, Émile Zola, Jules Verne, Ivan Turguenev and Victor Hugo, among many others. Very enjoyable.
Mario Zhekov (1898 – 1955) (27/07 – 16/09/2018) presents paintings by this well-known Bulgarian painter, mainly landscapes, cityscapes and urban scenes painted in Bulgaria, Istanbul, Paris and the Adriatic coast. On the traditional side, to me the most enjoyable paintings were those in which the use of paint was boldest, with thick impasto and strong colour contrasts. Also very nice drawings and watercolours which I generally enjoyed more than the paintings.
Portraits by Zlatyu Boyadzhiev (19/05 – 31/12/2018) is a one-room display of portraits by Boyadzhiev (1903-1976), a figurative painter well known in Bulgaria and influenced by Renaissance art who suffered a devastating brain stroke in 1951. Unable to use his right hand, he learnt to paint from scratch with his left. The Zlatyu Boyadhiev Gallery, devoted to the work of the painter, has been open to the public since 1984 in the town of Plovdiv. The intense paintings in this display span the artist's career.
From visiting Bulgaria, it is clear that the debate about the Socialist past was very intense after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and still rages today. The Museum of Socialist Art in Sofia opened its doors in 2011 and is now part of the National Gallery of Art. The museum functions partly as a venue for temporary exhibitions.
At present, the museum's permanent exhibits consist of a series of official propaganda films and news reels from the Communist era shown in the museum store/ticket office/projection room (mainly celebrating the social, economic and political achievements of the Communist regime) plus the over 70 sculptural pieces displayed in the park outside the building. Besides the several Lenins here there are portraits of prominent Communist leaders like Georgi Dimitrov, Prime Minister of the country from 1946 until his death in 1949. There are also many celebratory depictions of ordinary workers and allegorical representations of Bulgaria and the Bulgarian republic. The prevailing style is the blocky expressionism known as Socialist Realism, which (call me a dinosaur), with its severe, old-fashioned stylishness probably speaks to me more than much of contemporary sculpture.
The park is also home to the huge red star that used to top the spire of the headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party in central Sofia (the building now houses administrative offices of the Bulgarian Parliament and is crowned by the national flag).
The current temporary exhibition, The New Political Poster (18/05 – 28/10/2018) appears to be a display of student-designed posters on a handful of set themes (from the centenary of the October Revolution to the Prague Spring to populism). This is interesting work but, frustratingly, not much information is given. A contemporary sculpture piece in the park (Reconstruction as Tragedy and Farce, by Peter Sadofski and Dan Trantina from the Czech collective Pode Bal, 04/07 – 30/09/2018) looks at the death of an East German citizen as he tried to cross the border between Czechoslovakia and Austria in 1986.
The several museums in Sofia belonging to the National Gallery of Bulgaria have been reorganised in recent times. Of these, the largest by far is Kvadrat 500, resulting from the combination in 2014 of the former Gallery of Foreign Art (a beautiful Neoclassical building in central Sofia, facing the St Alexander Nevski cathedral) and the adjacent building previously belonging to the Technical University.
Kvadrat 500 is a huge museum mainly displaying Bulgarian and European painting and sculpture from the mid-1800s onwards, with a group of older European works. Each of the four levels of the building is in itself the size of a small museum. My friends in Bulgaria tell me that the Kvadrat 500 project was heavily criticised on grounds of cost, but to my mind the collection presented here is consistently of a very high quality and provides a great introduction to Bulgarian art from the last 150 years.
It is interesting to note that there are very few purely abstract works here, maybe because, as I understand it, the prevailing official line in Eastern European Communist countries discouraged abstraction. By contrast, every conceivable experiment in figurative painting up to the 1990s seems to be documented here. Besides portraiture and traditional painting genres, Bulgarian painters felt the influence of Impressionism and early Modernists like Paris-based George Papazov (1894-1972) experimented with abstraction. Nationalist painters of the 1920s and 30s like Vladimir Dimitrov 'The Master' (1882-1960) used bold figurative codes with the life of the ordinary Bulgarian people as their subject matter. From then on, in the decades before and after the start of the Communist era in 1944, figurative artists explored every possible avenue and trend.
My one criticism of the museum is that not enough guidance is provided to follow the intentions of the artists represented here. The A4-size information sheets (one per room, in Bulgarian and English) are helpful but information could be presented in a more engaging and visitor-friendly way. The visit is generally in chronological order but, often, work from different tendencies or separated by decades is found in the same room. One is left with a huge ensemble of very high-quality works which perhaps have not been made sufficiently accessible.
Separately, the museum also houses an extensive (and very interesting) collection of traditional sculpture, arts and crafts from Africa, India, Japan, SE Asia and the Americas acquired in the last decades of the 20th century.
A highly recommended visit if you're in Sofia and a great chance to get acquainted with the work of first-rate artists whom you may not encounter anywhere else.