The exhibition Favourite City at the Bulgarian Cultural Institute is one of the final events in this year’s London Festival of Bulgarian Culture, and the first London Exhibition of contemporary Bulgarian poster and graphic design. Curated by Anna Simeonoff, co-founder of the online Sophia-based graphic arts platform PlakatKombinat and a designer specialising in posters, book covers and logotype, it’s a collection of works by twenty Bulgarian artists, depicting their favourite cities through the medium of poster art. As well as helping those at the start of their careers, the platform showcases some more established names, including Professor Ivan Gazdov, who has worked in poster art for years, and coined the expression ‘auteur poster’ for what the exhibition represents. For as with auteur cinema, the designers in this show are not bound by any commercial imperative to advertise and sell a product, rather to explore the medium of poster art for personal expression. So here we are then, at the BCI, seeing the best in Bulgarian auteur poster art.
A single room is dedicated to this show; the posters are unmounted and unframed, and hang from the wall via bulldog clips and wires, so you can get up close. Marjan Dzin’s works are immediately eye catching in their striking simplicity and bold planes of colour: Madrid is an endless blue sky broken only by the two skyscrapers of Plaza Castilla leaning into the frame, while the joyous Urban Kaleidoscope by Nikolay Mladenov evokes a giddy feeling of looking up between buildings – straining your head back until you see sky. In contrast, the posters by Maxim Mokdad require a closer look: his Beirut eschews postcard images to offer us Army checkpoints, fleets of Mercedes taxis and the daily coffee rituals of the city inhabitants.
For a show about cities, architectural icons feature surprisingly infrequently: Simeonoff says designers ‘try to escape from very famous symbols’ as these are not interesting and too easy to do. Instead of the Eiffel Tower standing for Paris, Simeonoff’s poster shows two playful pac man figures telling us, ‘Paris. Where croissants can change people.’ Meanwhile, Mokdad’s simple graphic style reveals London as a bookshelf, with classic Penguin book covers offering stories off the beaten track. The titles are quintessential London moments – ‘Night Bus to Camden’, ‘Bagels at Midnight’ , ‘Shoreditch Saturdays’ and ‘Full English Breakfast at a Greasy Spoon’ – with the shelves populated by iconic cabs, guardsmen and a mini London Eye. Mokdad has even recycled a Marmite jar, which now functions as a pen holder: surely a sign of love for Marmite, his art and his favoured city?
All the posters in the exhibition are for sale either from the BCI or on PlakatKombinat’s own website (plakatkombinat.com). Favourite Cities is only on until 23 December and you should check ahead with the BCI for their opening times: if you can make it over to Queen’s Gate in between Christmas shopping and general festivities, then do so, as you may encounter one of your favourite cities in vivid stylised colour. If you can’t get to the BCI then do go to PlakatKombinat’s site: you’ll find all the works there from the show and many more.
PlakatKombinat’s Favourite Cities is part of the 3rd London Festival of Bulgarian Culture, organized by the Bulgarian Cultural Institute London.