All in Order, with Exceptions

Spread over two floors of Birmingham’s Ikon gallery, amalgamating four compilations by three different galleries (Ikon, UK; S.M.A.L, Belgium; and Serralves, Portugal) and comprising of one work per year since he emerged as an artist around 1980, ‘All in Order, with Exceptions’ is the first major UK exhibition of the work of Nedko Solakov.

That we have had to wait this long for a major exhibition is regretful. The Bulgarian seems to have such an intuitive grasp of the satirical and melancholic that his work might nominally parade as the material of a dead-pan comic. And therein lies the appeal of Solakov: his lack of pretensions. Much like the Chapman brothers’ work, Solakov, at times, invites us to ignore underlying meaning and instead opt for excessive laughter – as with ‘optimistic stories #93’, a black-ink sketch of a giant breast that took a boating holiday.

The two floors of the exhibition manifest themselves into what appears to be the defining dichotomy of Solakov’s personality – optimism and pessimism. There’s a grand piano, atop which are sheets of music; the usual notation replaced with shiny, childish stickers that correspond to ivory keys. With song titles such as ‘A drinking song, sung by couples’ and ‘Mumbled by arrested rioters in Winson green prison’ this child-like approach deflates any bombast that might be found in classical music.

The naïve relentlessness of the optimism in Solakov’s work is best epitomised in the wall-writing that tells the story of his invite to the Dvir gallery in Israel. After much worry and prevarication about travelling to Israel, we learn that he eventually contacts a representative of the Israeli state and the Palestinian Authority and asks that “the Israelis and Palestinians could have a temporary cease-fire in order for me to do my exhibition.”

The pessimistic side of Solakov’s work, though still perfused with his dry humour, is quite sobering. The nostalgic ‘I miss socialism, maybe…’ makes a stark comparison between the 18 year old Solakov and the Solakov of today. With a hand-held camera he examines his podgy, ageing body – ‘the benefits of capitalism’ – and the crude, meaningless kitsch that surrounds him.

With pieces chosen by Solakov himself, this is a melancholic, autobiographical survey of a self-deprecating, witty artist whose work fully warrants a greater appreciation within Britain.

All in Order, with Exceptions runs until the 13th of November at the Ikon.


Alexander Blanchard

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