press release

After a series of exhibitions of works by winners of the Prix Fondation d’entreprise Ricard in Moscow (2008), Seoul (2014) and Mexico City (2016), in 2017 the foundation will present the exhibition Palais Potemkine (Potemkin Palace) at the National Gallery / The Palace in Sofia, Bulgaria. For the first time in this international series, the exhibition will also include artists nominated for this prize, which was created in 1999.

"Bulgaria's Communist leaders were eager to show the West that their country was prosperous and dynamic. So we art students were sent to tell the farmers along the Orient Express tracks where they should park their combines and pile their hay to give the misleading impression of prosperity." –Christo Javacheff, interview, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 2, 1995

A contemporary art prize often operates at the intersection of two movements: a cohesion effect (identifying and defining a national art scene) and a competition effect (singling out and rewarding one particular voice out of a multiplicity). At the end of this process, and through the practice of a dozen winners or nominees, the exhibition Potemkin Palace highlights the polysemy of this community of minds and approaches, and assembles it around a shared question: what is art’s relationship with contemporary social issues; what role does an art institution play at the heart of the city; how can an exhibition be constructed in relation to its context?

The title of the project opens this analysis through a reference to “Potemkin villages," an expression referring to deceptions that serve purposes of propaganda. The setting of the exhibition is the building housing the National Gallery / The Palace in Sofia, an old royal palace that witnessed or participated in all of the upheavals of the history of modern Bulgaria: Ottoman domination; independence and the monarchy’s political blunders; the proclamation of the republic and Soviet satellization; the rise of democracy tempered by a period of unbridled capitalism. Today, at a time when social and political reference points seem unstable, this building teeming with historical and political meaning, conceived and realized by foreign architects, artists and craftsmen, can serve as a creative tool for analyzing the state of society, the historical and contemporary role of cultural exchanges and institutions.

The very practice of these artists from the French scene enriches the notion of a “scene” and places it in perspective. The plurality of their concerns defies the compartmentalization of geographic, stylistic or thematic boundaries that might try to homogenize their approach. Though they are united by their various connections to France, they are nonetheless citizens of a global art community. Their research and collaborations lead them to former Eastern Bloc countries, to France’s overseas territories, to former colonies, and to urban or remote areas in France and around the world.

They tackle colonial history, boundary lines, political upheavals, the role of monuments and urban planning, the construction of national narratives, museum displays, the backdrop of the information society, media discourse, access to public voice and opinion, the analysis of gestures, the alterity of bodies, and the inequality between individuals.

Potemkin Palace is above all an invitation for artists and the public to take part in a process of establishing and revealing the foundations of society.

–Émile Ouroumov