Nedko Solakov

Over the past several years, Nedko Solakov has been working to dispel the aura that still seems to linger around fine art. Using irony as his dominant rhetorical mode, the Bulgarian’s interventionist installations expose many of art’s historical myths and undermine accepted conventions of its display, often to witty and poignant effect. For example, in 1999, Solakov put large black velvet quotation marks around several prominent paintings at the Museum for Foreign Art in Sofia, raising questions of authorship and originality in a single, elegant gesture. More recently, in 2001, he replaced a public sculpture in front of a police headquarters with a violently defaced replica, creating tension through the location of this supposed act of iconoclasm more than through the gesture itself. And at last year’s Venice Biennale, Solakov hired two workers to simultaneously paint a gallery space white and black, displaying the reification of artistic labor in a Sisyphean loop. Each of these works functioned to deflect the viewer’s attention away from the art object and focus it instead on the ideologies contained by the context of the artistic gesture.

For this exhibition, Solakov turned his critical eye on the movement that arguably spawned “auratic” subjectivity: Romanticism. The primary element of “Romantic Landscapes with Missing Parts” was a suite of large-scale landscapes set in conspicuous gold frames. When painting these tongue-in-cheek quotations of Caspar David Friedrich, Solakov deliberately left out the quintessentially Romantic highlights: the moon, the sailor’s boat, the flock of birds, and so on. A large handwritten wall text explained that such elements were omitted in the hope that “all these missing parts” would “have a better and more interesting life when left outside the paintings.” Though this hope is as faux Romantic as the works themselves, Solakov did disrupt the paintings’ illusionist transparency and critique the notion of a seamlessly completed work of art. Undermining the Romantic idea that art transmits the sensibility of an individual genius, Solakov’s unfinished landscapes rather demonstrate the contingency of creation upon interpretation. These works are finished only in the act of viewing.

By disenchanting the work of art and dissolving the privileged space of the aesthetic, Solakov reaffirms the primacy of that which lies outside the frame, and the second element in the installation underscored this point. Little bits of writing, hardly noticeable at first glance, were sprinkled throughout the exhibition. Posing as the musings of prior visitors, these graffiti—scrawled on the wall with black ballpoint or felt-tip pens—humorously commented on the paintings and the exhibition space, drawing our attention to things like unspackled holes from previous shows, thereby distracting us from the “art” and critiquing the conventions of the white cube. Ultimately, Solakov directs our attention even farther afield. In the back corner of the last gallery, next to a large picture window overlooking the Chaussestrasse, a final text read: LOOK AT YOUR RIGHT: EVERY EVENING AT 6:45 A HALF-NAKED LADY (MAN) APPEARS ON THE SECOND WINDOW (THIRD FLOOR) AT #7. Appealing to our (gender-specific) desires, Solakov has completed our deflection away from the aesthetic and directed our gaze out of the gallery entirely—back again into the “real” world. Surely the irony that Solakov has used art to accomplish this is not lost on him, and, as we leave the gallery, perhaps glancing up at no. 7, it is not lost on us either.

Jordan Kantor