Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Museum of Socialist Art

As I mentioned earlier, one of my favorite things to do here is meet new people and discover more about the city. Of course, there are a lot of things that I haven't seen here yet, one of which was the new Museum of Socialist Art. I first read about it this summer on a (new) friend's blog and have been longing to go since then. I finally got my wish on Sunday when I visited the museum with another Fulbright friend, and although it was small compared to similar ones I've been to, such as the Statue Park in Budapest, I thought it was very well presented and interesting. 

For those unfamiliar with the legacy of these objects, socialist realist art, whether in sculpture, painting or another form, were the only kind of artistic expression permitted under communism throughout the former socialist bloc. The style is characterized by larger-than-life forms portraying the values of hard work and sacrifice, or memorializing a particular leader or event. Big names at the museum include Vladimir Lenin, Che Guevara, Georgi Dimitrov and Todor Zhivkov. The red star you see here used to sit atop the so-called "Party House," or communist party headquarters in Sofia. Its current location at the museum is a major improvement from its previous one, sitting behind a chain link fence in an abandoned corner of the now-closed Sofia Bath House. Unfortunately, many of these historical artifacts were lost or destroyed during the early transition period (most people can recall scenes of joyous protesters toppling gargantuan statues of former dictators in 1989) and efforts to preserve them have been more concentrated in some places than in others. 

Of course, this park isn't the only place you'll find these statues in Bulgaria. Just walk down the main street in any town and you'll see plenty of examples which have been left to defacement and decay (which is not necessarily a bad thing, according to some). What I like about the museum is that it clearly recognizes the need to include this part of history in the overall narrative of the past. Because art in many ways speaks for itself, these statues are a quiet reminder of the symbols of that bygone era.

Another section of the museum is a "multimedia gallery" which features film footage of young pioneer parades, propaganda films, May Day celebrations and the like. It didn't have any explanations or English subtitles, for that matter, but maybe it's still a work-in-progress. The third and final gallery displays works on loan from the National Gallery, some of which were shockingly grotesque, dark and bloody. Others showed the brighter side of things, such as women carrying bouquets of flowers and cheerful soldiers returning home. There was a cafe overlooking the park which hadn't opened yet, so I plan to go back for a coffee and enjoy the unique view.

The Museum of Socialist Art (Muzei na Sotsialisticheskoto Izkustvo) is located at number 7 "Lachezar Stanchev" street, near the G.M. Dimitrov metro station.


  1. Cool, I definitely want to check this museum out! Great post.

  2. You should, and I would love to go back! Maybe when the whole gang is here again for the teaching workshop? Thanks for reading :)