Nedko Solakov

Above a desk stained by black and white ink, a pair of hands is glimpsed in a moment of intimacy, in the act of writing on a sheet of immaculate white paper. It is immediately apparent that this photograph, used by Nedko Solakov for the announcement of his latest solo exhibition in Italy, represents a peek into his studio and thus into his mind: He feels, we read on the card as well as in a longer text handwritten on a wall of the gallery, like a “container-creature” able to assume multiple artistic identities. Solakov trained in mural painting, and his practice can be perceived as responding to spatial or institutional contexts, but the downside of this chameleonlike adaptability, according to the artist, is the frustration of having his works sometimes mistaken for those of other artists. This exhibition thus underlined, beyond Solakov’s enthusiasm for experimentation, his resistance to establishing a signature style. Paradoxically titled “A Group Show,” the exhibition brought together photos, drawings, paintings, and videos that prove the Bulgarian artist’s hyperbolic versatility in various media, materials, and scale; despite their heterogeneity, though, all the works reveal a humanist approach to conceptualism. Solakov’s modus operandi involves telling invented yet personal and even secret stories. Despite their clear autobiographical content, the various works were attributed to “artist A,” “artist B,” and so on, as though each had been realized by someone else. Progressing from A to L along the gallery’s perimeter, the works represent what Solakov calls his “storyteller-employing-too-diverse-visual-means career” over the past twelve years. For instance, L’s is the earliest piece that was on display—the video Some of My Capabilities, 1995, in which we see Solakov showing off his physical flexibility, by touching his nose with the tip of his tongue, for example—presented next to the recent What I always wanted to do on a Ferrari, but never dared to (and the colour kind of died), 2007, said to be by artist K, an aluminum panel painted glossy Ferrari red onto which he has scratched long marks.

This exhibition highlighted Solakov’s propensity to “unify and separate different personalities,” as the wall text put it. Vitiligo People #7, 2001, uses drawing on top of a photograph of the artist’s hands affected by a dermatologic condition that causes white spots on his skin. Another form of storytelling emerges in the ongoing series “Doodles,” begun in 1987, which comments on past events traced through marks on the walls and corners of the gallery, so that a hole in the wall left from the previous exhibition, plastered but not painted, was marked as “a covered-up political scandal” while another, only partly filled with plaster, was labeled “a semi-covered up political scandal.” The drawings in Magic Stories, 2007, illustrate scenes of various miracles and wishes, a theme revisited in the sculpture A Little Thing (for preventing from premature good luck), 1998, which is a portable talisman designed to protect one from an onslaught of too much good fortune. In arranging these diverse works, Solakov wittily simulated the curatorial protocols used in group shows to establish historical and stylistic correlations. His disrespect for formal boundaries and his spontaneous creative play subvert such conventions with an idiosyncratic sense of humor and memorable moments of cynicism.

Diana Baldon