The Political Background of a Failed Idea: Peter Ludwig Collection in Bulgaria

  • Abstract:

    The paper will discuss the political background of the rejection of Peter Ludwig’s donation and the Bulgarian authorities’s refusal to participate in the creation of a Peter Ludwig Collection of Contemporary Art in Bulgaria. Bulgaria was one of the famous art collector’s destinations in the 1980s, when he visited artists’ studios and established relations with the political elite. As a result, Bulgarian art from his collection was shown in numerous exhibitions through Europe. Following his engagement for Bulgarian art he expressed the wish to donate a significant collection of contemporary art to the Bulgarian state. The idea was met with a proposal for the inauguration of the first of a kind institution to promote contemporary art in Bulgaria. As it was conceived in the wake of major political changes in 1989, but relied upon structures from the communist past, it could not be realized in the years after. The reasons for the final decision not to go through with it were foremost political, but also personal – the chosen by the donator artistic director Svetlin Roussev had become widely unpopular within artistic and political circles in the late 1980s. The story sank into oblivion and was never made public or discussed afterward. In 2018 I had the chance to work with the archive owned both by Svetlin Roussev and the St. Cyril and St. Methodius International Foundation in Sofia. It allowed me to trace the history back to its main protagonists and decision-makers, and it revealed selection mechanisms, as well as other practices of cultural politics in a moment of harsh political changes.