Italian art from the 20th and 21st centuries – painting and sculpture


Main building

13.5.2023 — 10.10.2023

Aksiniya Dzhurova
Graphic designer
Georgi Sharov
Tsvetan Ignatovski
Lora Sultanova
Traci Speed
Ivan fezov
Katya Hristova
Technical assistants
Milen Alagenski
Albena Dimitrova
Tour guides
Dora Zarcheva
Zarina Ivanova
Tsvetelin Ivanov
Tsvetelina Velkova
Accounting and Human Resources
Minka Ivanova
Petya Mincheva

“Not a single artist could create his picture, no general could win his victory, nor a people, their freedom, without first desiring them, striving for them,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche in 1874 in his famous treatise “On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life.” It seems the same should be stated about the building of a collection of works of art, an act marked by emotional encounters, contacts, and numerous games of chance – which all, however, begin with an inner conscious desire. For many collectors, it is associated with an expression of individual taste and, of course, the will to power. For others, it is part of what seems to be our primordial attachment to the past, a fixation that encourages us to become antiquarians, oblivious to the Faustian covenant that “everything to this world born is already destined to perish.” There is, however, also a third type of collector, one for whom it is not the possession itself, but the pleasure of communicating with the possessed, that is the higher goal.

The collector Georgi Zabchev (who would probably not call himself one) says, “For me, the purchasing of pictures is not an pursuit, but a pleasure. Life is pain, joy, growth, and building. Living with art is interesting – not owning it, but living with it.” It is precisely this focusedness on “living with art,” and not on facts, that makes him an uncommon phenomenon in the field of collecting for our geographic latitudes. What’s more, in just a few years he amassed a collection worthy of its own museum space, one in which pleasure rules – not pleasure of the hedonistic sort, but pleasure in its creative power. The building a collection is an art in itself. And as we know, the purpose of art “from the beginning and until now has been and remains to be a mirror of nature, to show the true image of virtue, the true face of shame, and to be a faithful imprint of its time.” The small fragment from the Georgi and Vanya Zabchev collection shown in the current exhibition is the best testimony that this is really a matter of art. The art critic Aksinia Dzhurova played a major role in seeking it out – as of course did the casual play of coincidence, events, often ostensibly inexplicable encounters – and, of course, enviable connoisseurship and emotional intelligence.

The exhibition The Building Process includes works by such artists as Medardo Rosso (1858 – 1928), Mario Sironi (1885 ­– 1961), Virgilio Guzzi (1902 – 1978), Umberto Mastroianni (1910 –

1998), Renato Guttuso (1911 – 1987), Renzo Vespignani (1924 – 2001), Renzo Bandoli (1921 – 2007), Piero Guccione (1935 – 2018), Nani Tedeschi (1939 – 2017), and Nunzio Bibbo (1946 – 2014), who left vivid creative traces on Italian art of the last century. Also represented are a number of artists who today continue to be an integral part of the contemporary Italian art scene, among whom are Mario Sasso (1934), Ennio Calabria (1937), Edolo Masci (1938), Jaber Alwan (1948), Maddalena Mauri (1962), and Giuseppe Puglisi (1965). A special emphasis in the exhibition is placed on the painting mastery of Franco Ferrari (1938), who is represented with the largest number of works. A total of 17 names that give us the opportunity not only to brush up against the diverse artistic processes that marked the development of Italian art in the 20th century and contemporary trends in the fields of painting and sculpture, but that also introduce us to the experience of the act of collecting. To the building of an amazing collection, part of which is being presented to the Bulgarian public for the first time in this exhibition.

Some of these names, such as Renato Guttuso, Nunzio Bibbo, and Ennio Calabria, probably sound familiar to the Bulgarian public. These are artist who have held solo exhibitions in our country over the years. Today, significant masses of their work are returning to Bulgaria precisely through the Georgi and Vanya Zabchev collection. It is a return that provokes new insights into their artistic realizations, but also an analysis of their reception on the Bulgarian art scene during the period of our socialist past – an analysis that will become possible after the full disclosure of the collection, which is to come. Some of the other artists, I imagine, are recognizable above all among the professional public, who remember their guest works in collective exhibitions arranged in Bulgaria before and after 1989. In 2004, the Italian foundation Castello di Sartirana presented part of its graphic collection in Sofia, among which we saw prints by the brother of the famous actor Marcello Mastroianni – Umberto Mastroianni. The name Maddalena Mauri appeared on the Bulgarian scene in the Water Tower Art Fest program in 2011, when the artist was part of the “Exquisite Corpse” video project.

The exhibition Building is being held on the initiative of the team of Art Gallery – Kazanlak and is part of its newest project in development – THE SEARCHERS PROGRAM. The team of our institution expresses its gratitude to the Zabchev family and to art critic Aksinia Dzhurova for their support and trust; to the chairman of the Union of Bulgarian Collectors, Prof. Valeri Stefanov; and to all those who, with their invisible and selfless efforts, made this exhibition a reality.

Plamen V. Petrov


The Searchers program is a long-term project which will present fragments of private collections put together by the efforts of various collectors. With it, we aim for residents and guests of Kazanlak not only to encounter some valuable artefacts, without which the Bulgarian and European history of art would be incomplete, but also to ask important questions about the phenomenon of “private collection” and its exceptional significance for the existence of contemporary art, as well as its role as an important part of our cultural existence in general. A no less essential task that we set for ourselves with the present program is to provoke a meaningful conversation about the problems of the art market, the role of art historians in it, and possible initiatives and policies to promote collecting.