01/05/2020 | Silvia Anna Barrilà

Nedko Solakov's art collection

An exhibition at Galleria Continua shows the artist's ideal collection in dialogue with his own works

The internationally acclaimed artist Nedko Solakov is also an art collector. He started his collection in 1986, when he and his wife Slava bought a drawing by one of the Bulgarian classic masters from his relatives. Since that time their collection has kept growing. Today it includes many works by international artists, but they are rather small works. On the occasion of his new exhibition at Galleria Continua in San Gimignano, Solakov has asked the artists whose works are included in his collection to lend a large dimension artwork in order to realize his art collector dream.

The core of the show (up until September 6, 2020) is an installation by Solakov himself, entitled "Some Nice Things to Enjoy While You Are Not Making a Living", a project that the artist started conceiving in 2006 and realized in 2008, on the occasion of his travelling exhibition "Emotions" at the Kunstmuseum Bonn, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen and Mathildenhöhe in Darmstadt. The installation was shown for the last time in 2012 at S.M.A.K. in Gent. For this iteration, the artist has added to the large narrative of his installation his passion for colleting art.

Nedko Solakov, The Sofa, 2008, 74 x 210 x 100 cm, Courtesy the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA, Photo by Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio

Inside this show, connected to the main installation, are works by 16 of the artists from whom Solakov has small pieces and three artists he still doesn't have pieces from (and most probably never will, he says). They are Chen Zhen, Anish Kapoor, and Carol Rama. For each of the artists, Solakov tells a story on the walls of the gallery. With his usual irony, he tells about each encounter and remembers every acquisition or, sometimes, exchange of artwork.

For example, Solakov remembers the exchange of works with Indian artist Shilpa Gupta, which happened on a reiny day at Art Basel. "She gave me this beautiful book with cut-out content (plus two big Indian nails to install it on a wall), and she got one of my drawings with stories. Very rarely nowadays is an artist capable of visualizing in such a vivid way a concept which usually gets visualized in an as- boring-as-conceptual-art-can-be way. She does this quite powerfully for such a delicate lady."

Speaking of Monica Bonvicini Solakov uses the word parola “tenderness”, which might seem inappropriate to describe the artist's works. "And yet, no matter how tough her “Bad Girl” oeuvre might look, I always feel this tenderness when looking at her pieces or directly participating in them. I still treasure the extraordinary memory of when I took a leak in her "Don't Miss a Sec" fully functioning toilet at very center of the busy Messeplatz in Basel, pissing and staring in broad daylight at all the people passing by me only a meter away, but who were looking at themselves from the outside, as the walls were one-way glass mirrors; a perfect artistic border separating private from public without interfering with your natural bodily needs. We exchanged works some years ago - I received a beautiful (and very tender) collage."

Nedko Solakov remembers how happy he was when French artist Daniel Buren agreed to exchange drawings. "He sent me his from Paris and then one of the two major courier services lost the package somewhere in Croatia. And then he, one of the most important artists of our times, sent me another one, which arrived safely."

One of the fellow artists Solakov most recently swapped drawings with is Artur Zmiewski. " For a long time I had admired his work but I never really had a chance to get to know him personally. And then, in the autumn of 2019, we were in another show together and we finally talked a lot and, surprisingly, mainly about painting and drawing. I still remember his retrospective at Kunsthalle Basel some years ago. His films are about humans put in not-so-human circumstances, who nevertheless remain human. It sounds like a horrible cliché but it is true."

Nedko Solakov, Afterlife Options, 2008, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 cm each, Courtesy the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA, Photo by Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio

In his collection, Nedko Solakov has a beautiful pencil drawing by Sol LeWitt, "an exchange with Massimo M. (along with photographs by Dan Graham, Francesca Woodman and Luigi Ghirri, and another pencil drawing by Robert Barry). He belongs to the artists who entered the history of contemporary art in their twenties. For some of them, this was an enormous burden to carry through the rest of their professional lives. Not for him, though."

Solakov remembers when he met Geta Bratescu. "It was such a remarkable experience when her Romanian gallerist brought my wife and me to her apartment, in a regular block of flats, so typical of our post-socialist cities. And the room where she was working was totally packed with works, which the elderly woman kept drawing and cutting every day. That room was bigger than Bucharest. We bought a beautiful collage and she presented us with another drawing."

Karin Sander, Mailed Painting 137, 2013 and Anish Kapoor, Courtesy the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA, Photo by Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio

And then there was the encounter with Karin Sander on the occasion of the 1995 Istanbul Biennale, which they both participated in. "I was making little doodles over floral wallpaper," he tells, "and she was carrying an egg and kept polishing it. It was such a wonderful experience - the extremely fragile, natural (and live) object which before my eyes was becoming as monumental as an Egyptian pyramid. Over the years we became friends, and we exchanged works at some point - I received a beautiful “Mailed Painting” and a short while later two 3D scans of me and my wife, while I gave her a drawing and little stories in her apartment/studio in Berlin. And whenever I see an artwork in public space, I always compare it to her masterpiece: The Center of Gravity / Center Point of the City Muenster."

By Anish Kapoor, instead, Solakov doesn't own any drawing, unfortunately, but he has known his work since the early 1990s and has always admired it. "I still remember his "Descent into Limbo" at Documenta 9 and that marvelous sense of not knowing how deep that hole was. Could one touch the bottom of it or does it go deeper than Walter De Maria's Vertical Kilometer on the same square?"

Nedko Solakov, Some Nice Things to Enjoy While You Are Not Making a Living, 2008, Courtesy the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA, Photo by Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio

Nedko Solakov and Dan Perjovschi have known each other for many years. "We have been in more than 50 exhibitions together and are good friends. And we have done at least two two-person projects, one in New York, one in Vienna. But even though we both scribble/doodle on walls and other public surfaces, our approaches are quite different. Dan very rarely invents a new story while working on the wall. All of his brilliant, witty and human fables come from his notebooks (I have the pleasure of owning one of them), where he collects his ideas. While I, the lazy Bulgarian, never think in advance of what I am going to do in a given space, I just enter and start doodling. But we do have something in common - we both respect the audience and the space it is in."

Speaking of Hans-Peter Feldmann, Solakov says: "What an amazing sense of absurdity in his works! Some light and a bit of heavy humor, mixed with a couple of sad tears, and all of it peppered with healthy and quite common wisdom, and voila: an artwork that may not look at all like a regular artwork, but which makes your day. An exchange with M.M."

A missed purchase was Carol Rama. "There were some talks with a New York gallery years ago but the price was completely out of reach, although a couple of years later I bought a less-important artist for more money (artist-collectors are a bit stupid sometimes). I love her early erotic drawings, their poetic dirtiness is sublime."

Nedko Solakov, The Calming Sounds, 2008, seven audio pieces, compiled by Johnny Penkov, Sofia; wall drawing with (disturbing) contrasting colors, Courtesy the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA Photo di Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio

Like Solakov, various artists in the collection come from the previous Sovietic bloc, among theme are the Kabakovs. "For a while some people called me "the Bulgarian Kabakov," and I didn't know exactly whether I should be proud or a bit offended by this. But for sure I am proud that I know Emilia and Ilya personally, and I love what they are doing. Slava and I have two drawings - the first one I exchanged with a Belgian gallery and the second one I swapped with the Kabakovs. Story-telling in space is not so easy and they are real champions of it. We come from post-socialist countries and that helps a bit when narrating others' lives."

Chen Zhen, Six Roots Mémoire | Memory, 2000, Fabric, metal, ink, 205 x 415 x 256 cm circa, Courtesy: the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA, Photo by Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio

Solakov remembers also Chen Zhen, but he doesn't own any of his works. "I met him years ago, after the two of us had spectacular (as some professionals said) installations at a project space in New York that was quite prominent in mid-'90s. I was really sad when I heard the news that he had passed away. No, I don't have a drawing by him, but I do have a lot of memories from his fairy tales, which are so visually diverse and so human."

Nedko Solakov's books