Sofia City Gallery - Jules Pascin / Bulgarian artists in Vienna

Olivier Boissiere

Additional Info

  • news dates: 21 October 2013

Sofia City Gallery

Jules Pascin / Bulgarian artists in Vienna. Contemporary practices
at the beginning of the 21st century
The art of exile

Ovide on the Black sea, Hugo at Guernesey, Joyce in Trieste, Picasso, Chagall or Beckett in Paris, Duchamp in New York, not a few of the heroes of our times (Geroi nashevo vremeni) have been exiles. Although he spent very little time in his native country, Pascin is definitely the Bulgarian artist of the 20th century. Pascin was a famous figure of the Montparnasse of the “annees folles” and the French Cultural Institute is supporting a panorama of his works, curated by expert Maria Vassileva.

Pascin could draw. And water-color as well. Both are best represented in the show and they do justice to his virtuosity of interlaced lines. The famed scenes of brothels’ nightlife feature some tribad scenes which suggest that prostitutes might have loved each other rather than their clients: think of it. There are only a few paintings in the show. Pascin was obviously not part of the avant-garde of the times, neither constructivist, nor cubist, less even dada or surrealist. He must have felt closer to a Odilon Redon tradition (see the portrait of Lucie Krogh). One painting stands out: entitled Fat Lady, it is somber, slightly blurred, beautiful and, yes, very disturbing. After all, Pascin might well have been a painter. This single work makes the visit worth it. After years of heavy drinking, partying, night-clubbing and more, Jules Pascin hanged himself aged 45. Paris, a moveable feast?

As for the generation of Bulgarian artists in their young 30s living in Vienna, curator Maria Vassileva makes it clear in her introduction that a lively scene and a constant support of both public and private institutions makes this city extremely attractive to artists deprived of (almost) any of it in their own country. The exhibition is supported by the Austrian Embassy.

It would be irrelevant to ask whether foreign artists living in Vienna would be contaminated by some Viennese atmosphere. In the global village, art is global. Anything goes, worldwide, and revisiting the past century is a must. Artists are welcome to quote, take off, suck in or borrow their inspirations, topics, techniques, medias and build combinations of them all. Thus in the show, an avalanche of quotations, take offs and appropriations which are supposed to be the mark of the Zeitgeist: an early Twombly (referred explicitly) here, then Nam June Paik, Kossuth, Ben et al…Installations would come with a video of their making of. Déjà vu seems to be the rule. The whole punctuated by a series of boardwalk TV interviews of home-boys and girls: the voices of Bulgaria.

Amid this dense, slightly capharnaum-esque space and a show-off of the latest trends, a few works stand out. It is very refreshing to see an artist being able to and having the guts to draw with a pencil. The large grisailles by Sevda Chtoukova are serene and highly seductive. She is not shy about revisiting the Renaissance and the Baroque, Botticelli and Rubens. True, we will be eternal devotees of Helene Fourment’s… 

The art of to-day has drawn inspiration from cinema, the 7th art,: see Douglas Gordon, Christian Marclay and others. A very fine video work by Kosta Tonev follows in the same path. Mysterious, subtle and dramatic as it should be, “Death of a Cyclist” oughts its title to a film by Juan Antonio Bardem from the mid-50s. It is slightly frustrating though as the artist seems to have missed a crucial point: as much as Vertigo was a movie about Kim Novak, Death of a Cyclist was the film about Lucia Bosé. Here we are left alone with our own memories of her.

The highlight of the exhibition is obviously the video piece by Iv Tochain entitled Opposition. Tochain is known for her works and installations featuring sophisticated kaleidoscopic light games encaged, corseted in metal structures. Here she has shifted to a new medium, video and a new topic, gender. Parading in perfect order, Female and male troops (note the big F and the small m and wonder: which side are you on?) march against (?) each other drawing exquisite colorful patterns. The sound track of the marching makes the piece rapidly addictive, “hypnotic” as the artist writes, thrilling, then frightening. Fortunatly the piece is a loop and the question remains open whether these Penthesileas and achilles (note the big P and the small a, please) will ever meet on a battle field and in case they do, whether they would make love or war.

PS: Please note that that the Viennese exhibition has two curators:
Maria Vassileva and HR Stamenov.

Exhibition catalog cover
Mihail Mihailov, ICH FERGEBE DIR, (I forgife you), 2010

Additional Info

  • news dates: 21 October 2013