Interview with Boris Kostadinov

Boris Kostadinov is an independent art critic and curator - lives and works in an international context between Vienna and Sofia. This year Kostadinov won the ICI open call (in partnership with for a curatorial residency in Budapest. His research in Hungary led to a international exhibition project that currently is looking for participants via another open call by ICI. We ask Kostadinov to give us some deeper insights into the his curatorial practice but also about general criteria when it comes to professional reviewing of artist portfolios.

To start please tell us about what you are working on right now?

Currently I am working on Mature and Angry - a major international exhibition for the Week of Contemporary Art in Plovdiv. This is one of the oldest annual events for contemporary art in Bulgaria and this September is its 21st edition.

The project presents 18 artists working in different cultural, social or historical defined spaces in Europe but the common between them is that they belong to the Generation X or the generation of the 1990s - artists between the ages of 35 and 45. This group is precisely the generation that has formed their beliefs and viewpoints, their personal and career plans in the period from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the global financial and economic crisis.

We often joke with them that this is a project for the midlife crisis. But in fact the exhibition has several different levels of meaning that marked the utopias of this generation - stimulated by the fall of the Iron Curtain, internet and globalization of the 90s and also the dystopian pessimism of the past 10 years - as a result of the financial crisis, the subsequent public protests in Europe and North America and the current dramatic events in Greece. The exhibition analyzes what happens in a human life that develops in a dynamically changing realities. One project about the illusions, the rebellion and the way of survival of one generation.

How did you find the artists for the just mentioned exhibition and what are you general strategies to find new artists?

Especially for this project it was not very difficult to find the right artists, because I also belong to that generation. With many of them we have a common past and we have worked on various projects before.

But also I always try to work with new people. That's why half of the artists in the exhibition are new to me. The process of communication, mutual provocation and even confrontation is very important. Thus on the one hand I provoke myself but the most important is that this process is extremely fruitful for one or another exhibition. This gives different and new perspectives. Along with the well-known to me artists, I invited those who I like and observe for a long time, but I've never had the opportunity to work with them. Moreover, in the case of Mature and Angry it comes to new and specially created works. I think the preliminary collaboration is as important as the final product. Therefore, all the artists will arrive 10 days before the opening of the exhibition - to work on the spot and to communicate. The work with new artists in every new project arises from its characteristics. I love working on different topics so I need artists with a different approach. I often rely on a network of colleagues or internet or already visited exhibitions to focus on a new name.

Do you follow general criteria when it come to evaluating an artists work? Or more specifically what aspect of  an artists work  interest you the most?

Of course there are some general standards that we want or not - directly affect the process of analysis of one or another work. Starting from its topicality, its relevance to the similar phenomena, the context that provokes its creation and get to its technical performance or the way it exists in an exhibition or urban space and how the work reformulate, rethink and change the environment around.

Meanwhile we must realize that the idea of "general criteria" itself can be extremely harmful and very misleading. We do not live in an era of homogeneous artistic ideals like the Renaissance for example.

Let me just take the example with the project Mature and Angry that I mentioned before. We'll see how dynamic the standards change - not only in art but also in the society in general over the past 20-25 years. Postmodernism and consumerism inherited from the 1980s underwent a general transformation in the era of the AIDS epidemic in the United States and the fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe. The following events such as the wars in ex-Yugoslavia, the Internet era combined with the idea of the global village created a completely different standards. And how many of these standards are valid today? After Occupy Wall Street, the Maidan in Kiev or the epic gestures of Syriza - they even seem anachronistic...

Provided that the world and the dynamically changing patterns of the society are not subject of clear standardization - can we formulate any specific standards in the art world? Paradoxically but exactly the art world during all these years tried to keep some specific conservatism. Through the art market and through major biennials and exhibitions it promoted various general concepts and guidelines that are changing in a cycle of 5-6 years. This conservatism fortunately today also rapidly changing. The fact that the next Documenta will be both in Kassel and Athens shows this process and also the beginnings of a reform within the art system.

Originally you are from Sofia now living in Vienna and you are very well connected and actively participating in the local art scene here. Can you tell us some strategies as a curator but also as an artist to get visible and to be involved in an art scene in general?

When moving from one place to another, the most important thing is if you can give yourself enough time to understand the local circumstances and the specific relationships that are valid for this location. Of what people are interested, what provokes them, how they have fun, what exhibitions they attend, what newspapers they read, etc. And then - what are the important art institutions - museums, galleries, foundations, artistic groups or independent spaces and collectives and why they are important precisely for that cultural landscape.
This is the most unproductive period (because you do not create any specific new projects) but at the same time this is the most pleasant time because you can learn and discover. The best thing is if you would make contacts and friendships with people whose work you respect and who have a real presence in this particular cultural environment.

There is no universal strategies (except if you're not a superstar). Very often I can hear the story of a relatively thriving emerging artist from New York who had moved to Berlin but there his/her career is not going particularly well. And this is normal. Berlin is not New York and New York is not Berlin. In a relatively well-connected art world, the local specificities remain and I think this is good.

You must choose to move to a place that corresponds to your plans and ambitions. Whether you want to be well placed in the market or you want to work with public institutions and museums. Whether your work is based on extensive researches or it is dynamic and involves a lot of different projects. All this is very important when choosing the place.

At the moment you doing an international Open Call for artists on in collaboration with ICI, New York. Let me ask a few question about the upcoming selection process:

When it comes to review an artist portfolio, what is the first thing you look at (artworks, artist statement, CV, project proposal, etc.)? 

Normally first I look the works and I read the texts to them. If they intrigued me, I'm even more intrigued to read the statement. If it is impressive, I carefully read the CV. It is important to know what experience has the artist in what exhibitions participated, with which institutions and curators he/she has worked before etc. It's almost as important to the understanding of his/her interests or preferences as the visual material in the portfolio.

When it comes to concrete proposal for an open call - then many factors are relevant. Firstly whether the proposed work is appropriate for the concept. How the work reflects and develops this concept. But also there are other important parameters - is it possible the practical realization, how it communicates with the other works and the exhibition space, etc.

What is your advice how a professional portfolio should look like

For example I like artist’s portfolios that are structured to facilitate their consideration and understanding. I mean, it is much better if the portfolio is divided into several important and major topics and issues that concern the artist, rather than a strict chronological order by the date of creation of the works. It is very important that the statement is not too long and to be clear and informative.

In terms of your specific open call that is now running, what kind of artists are you looking for?

This invitation implies artists working on projects meeting two basic conditions:
- To have a proactive attitude towards the world we live in - in its social, political, economic and of course intellectual or private aspects.
- Works that are oriented to the future. Trying to provide or to give artistic projections of what awaits us in the coming years.

Do you think an artist that feels his or her work does not necessarily fit your curator profile should apply anyway? In other words, do you use the reviewing of applications also beyond the open call, to get to know new artists.

Of course. For me it is very interesting to see portfolios of diverse artists who have different and sometimes conflicting interests. Probably a big part of the submissions for this open call is not reflect specifically the ideas underlying in the text of the concept, but the most important thing is the participation. This creates prerequisites for many future collaborations and participation in future projects.

Finally tell us 3 emerging artists to watch out this year! 

I could list more but lately I'm intrigued by the work of these three artists:

Luiza Margan -
Martin Sturm -
Lana Čmajčanin -