Bulgaria Plans Its Own "Louvre"... and a Museum of Totalitarian Art

Bulgaria Plans Its Own "Louvre"... and a Museum of Totalitarian Art

Last month an anonymous street artist in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia transformed a Soviet-era war monument into a team of American pop culture icons, including Superman, Captain America, and the Joker. While the creative gesture received an outpouring of praise from the public, government officials did not appreciate it. The statues have apparently been a frequent target of graffiti artists, especially since many Bulgarians resent the monument as a reminder of Soviet oppression.

The army monument — which was quickly cleaned up after its colorful makeover — may soon have a new home in Bulgaria's planned Museum of Totalitarian Art, which culture minister Vezhdi Rashidov expects to inaugurate in September, according to the Sofia News Agency, which reported that "if the Soviet army monument in Sofia is dismantled and removed, it will…be placed there."

What else will fill the museum's over 80,000-square-foot space? The work of Communist-era artists such as Zlatyu Boyadzhiev, Nayden Petkov, Ilya Petrov, and Boris Gondov. "A new generation will emerge," Rashidov said, "young and pure, which must not be deprived of the history and heritage of its people." The culture ministry has allotted three million Bulgarian lev ($2.2 million) for the renovation of the building that will house the museum.

The institution's name is somewhat surprising — is the art really totalitarian, or would it actually be more apt to refer to art produced under a totalitarian regime? In any case, the people of Bulgaria seem to have embraced the cause. According to a survey conducted by Standart News,when asked what the future of Communist-era monuments should be, 58.7 percent of respondents opted for them to be housed in a museum of totalitarian art.

Bulgaria's government has been very active on the arts front recently, opening the country's first contemporary art museum last month, called the Sofia Arsenal Museum for Contemporary Art, which is housed in a former munitions depot. The project cost €1.2 million ($1.7 million) and was funded by Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein. According to AFP, no Bulgarian museum has had enough funds to buy art since the fall of communism in 1989, and Norway has pledged an additional €126.6 million ($181 million) for projects in the country. The Sofia Arsenal's first exhibition is dedicated to Norwegian applied arts, and the museum also has a small permanent collection, which includes works by Chagall, Dalí, Picasso, and Christo, who was born in Bulgaria.

Still another museum project is in the works: the so-called "Bulgarian Louvre," whose details remain shrouded in mystery. Yanko Apostolov, a Bulgarian architect based in New York, was selected last September to design the new institution, but since then no details have been released regarding its design. The Bulgarian government is said to be willing to allocate no more than 25-30 million Bulgarian lev ($18-22 million) to its construction, according to the Sofia News Agency. Sofia chief architect Petar Dikov said that the future museum's official name is the National Museum Complex and that he does not like the nickname "Bulgarian Louvre" — though he recognizes that the project has gotten more media attention since the moniker became widespread. The future institution has received an expression of support from Christo, who met with Bulgarian finance minister Simeon Djankov in the U.S. this spring, reportedly telling him that he would consider visiting his homeland for the first time in decades because of the project.