Trento

Nedko Solakov, Who’s More Important, 2010, metal, wood, paint, trash, permanent felt-tip pen, handwritten text, 31 1/2 x 61 3/8 x 61".

Nedko Solakov, Who’s More Important, 2010, metal, wood, paint, trash, permanent felt-tip pen, handwritten text, 31 1/2 x 61 3/8 x 61".

Nedko Solakov

Galleria Civica di Trento

Nedko Solakov, Who’s More Important, 2010, metal, wood, paint, trash, permanent felt-tip pen, handwritten text, 31 1/2 x 61 3/8 x 61".

On the program for Nedko Solakov, starting last fall, has been a retrospective exhibition at four European museums—first at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, UK, now at the Fondazione Galleria Civica in Trento, Italy, and coming up at SMAK in Ghent, Belgium, and the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves in Porto, Portugal. The show’s concept calls for each year of the artist’s activity, from 1981 to 2010, to be documented by one work or series of works chosen by the curators of each exhibition venue. Each location thus presents different work, but there are some overlaps, since the curators have in some instances coincided in their choices. Nor is the rule of one work per year followed to the letter: Indeed, the title of the overall exhibition and the monumental catalogue that accompanies it is “All in Order, with Exceptions.”

This methodological elasticity, however, does not suffice for an artist who is as profound in his reflections on art and its social relationships as he is armed with an irresistible sense of humor and self-deprecation. Accepting the invitation from Andrea Viliani, director of the Galleria Civica, Solakov decided to select pieces himself from among those that the other curators had overlooked, modifying the title of the show to “All in (My) Order, with Exceptions.” The artist uses this salon des refusés to create a sort of institutional critique from within. He does so both in the sense that he challenges the curators’ choices and in the way he accompanies the works, as usual, with comments written by hand on the wall. He has also corrected the information printed on the panels in the show, creating a kind of dialogue with Viliani, with whom he collaborated on the installation (in an ugly and difficult space, it should be noted, with which they have dealt very creditably). The artist’s cursive writing also appears in the catalogue, emphasizing how this Italian stage, the second in the European itinerary, differs from the others.

The most instructive part of the exhibition—for those of us who have known Solakov only since he attained international fame—relates to his early years, when, working as an artist under the Bulgarian Communist regime, he executed commissioned propagandistic wall paintings during his period of military service (the exhibition includes a drawing of a frieze from 1982), or, on the other hand, drawings tied to his daily life. Particularly touching is the small Before the Army (the Old Woman), 1981, an effective slice of life that shows a woman rummaging through garbage, something rarely seen during the Communist era, but which, as the artist notes on the wall, can be seen much more often under capitalism: “Nowadays, in democratic times, former university professors (with very small pensions) do this.”

The installation unfolds in a straightforward chronological fashion, year by year, with one exception: a stroke of madness that strikes a beneficent, almost comical tone toward the end of the exhibition. The work Solakov had chosen for the year 2006 was unavailable, so viewers are in this case presented with The Chase, a work from 2009, but with the 9 written upside down on the wall (though not on the official label). But this was not enough for Solakov, who also overturned the work itself: an arrangement of objects that took up an entire room, all of which are hung upside down. Straightforward, right?

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.