Dogu Bankov





An artist's significance is usually measured by the creative product of their life time,
plus their ability to present ideas to influence their environment. To this Bankov never came close; with only three exhibitions before 1960. Furthermore, not one of the exhibitions received anticipated attention, despite Baden Baden in 1927, which made him the victim of some very harsh words and ridicule from the press.

1a,b. To leave the country
73x64, 53x39,5. Not dated. Unsigned but during the years in the Russian Museum in New York it was accompanied by an attestation by Dogu Bankovs sister, Vera Bankova. Photographs from the exhibition in Baden-Baden shows this work mounted together with the photograph of the little boy as we have chosen to do here.

However, what wasn't mentioned was that a series of works were sold from the exhibition - three of which were bought by The Baden Art Museum. This particular collection of Bankov's work is primarily due to the inexhaustible Amchiel Goldstein, Bankov's friend of many years (if anyone could indeed be called a friend of the shy, recluse Bankov). Goldstein - originally known as Vladimir Schukschin - came from Kazan in Russia. Partly due to the war in Europe, partly to his Jewish connection, but also on the grounds of pure economical interest, Goldstein lived an unsettled life until his death in New York in 1954. Since Goldstein was one of the founders of the small, but very interesting Russian museum in New York, a great deal of his collection entered the permanent collection. Even today, you can see works by the Constructivists and the 1920's Avantgarde - for example Alexandr Scheyenkow, the brothers Mikhail and Abram Weksler, and Vladislav Strzeminski (whom Bankov greatly admired and was partly influenced by).

3. Black theatre
60,5x53. Title made by Amchiel Goldstein around 1950. Unsigned. Not dated.

Probably this work has been made in the mid-1920s but as so often in Bankovs works elements are added or taken away over the years. In this work there are many loose elements -including the photo of the four officers (of which we know for certain that at least one of them was Bankovs lover. The fact that the photograph falls around in the picture for every new mounting could perhaps give the viewer some interesting ideas - which we will not mention here.

After Goldstein's death around seventy works by Bankov were removed from the
museum's permanent collection, and then in 1973, three years after Bankov's death, the works were returned to the Goldstein family. The reasoning at that time for the removal and return of Bankov's works, was that due to his Bulgarian identity, the presence of his works in the Russian Museum proved difficult. Furthermore, there were those who considered Bankov a Dadaist, which was not a profile the museum appreciated. However the advantageous result was that the works were returned to Europe by the Goldstein family, in particular Anna-Eliz Janco-Mehlik who placed a number of the works in Bulgarian museums, and also this important collection in The M.K. Ciurlionis National Museum in Kaunas, Lithuania.

7. I am beginning to understand
101x87. Unsigned. Dated 1925 on the back.

But according to some of Goldsteins letters a few formerly incorporated elements were later omitted. The title is questionable as, first of all, it is only mentioned in Goldsteins letters from the 1930s, secondly; understand what? Bankov was probably going through a personal crisis as no work from Bankovs hand dates from the years between 1917 and 1921. A photograph from Bankovs almost empty studio in 1917 shows this work - unfinished - on the wall surrounded by black cloth.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the transfer was the loss of almost all of Goldstein's notes on the works. From alternative sources and photographs found after his death in 1970, it seems that Bankov worked for his own amusement. A number of photographs on exhibitions and a few amateur snapshots taken in his studio reveal that some of the elements from his collages reappear in much later works – which largely indicates that earlier works were destroyed. Nevertheless, we can see that the elements in the collages, and especially the incorporated photography, has a strong personal connection. People who in one way or another had some form of personal connection to Bankov, pop-up continuously in the photographic content of the collage. Then later they risked being removed, as the relationship between the subject and Bankov changed.

13. Party for Stage
85x73. Unsigned. Almost invisible dated 1950 at the back.

For once we know that the title is Bankovs own. The actor portraied is Pierre St. Luchien-Aubry, well known in pre-war Paris. As he is included in a number of Bankovs works we have reason to believe that Bankov was more than a little fascinated by him. However, this came to nothing, but he is mentioned on a few occasions in letters to Vera Bankova as Miss Aubry (!) and described as a kind of party-lion, hence the title.

Much of the latter indicates that Bankov could never have been a part of the Dadaist milieu. The Dadaist's cold approach and opposition to society at large will always be far removed from Bankov's love of the narrative and sometimes almost private world of presentation. In fact, seen in the light of the general role of the artist, who supplies works for public presentation, who personally and economically builds up a career - even if it is in the Dadaist spirit of protest and opposition - one could question whether Bankov wanted to be an artist at all.

Today when the few museums and collections owning Bankov's art define the work as Dada, the definition is based mainly on the material content of the collage and the time-span of the early experimental works. We know Bankov met Tristan Tzara, a Rumanian who was one of the founders of Dadaism, at least once. However, as yet, there has been no indication that this meeting was particularly successful. The poet Tristan Tzara's statement that "The most important is solemnly bound to the unknown" is hardly compatible with Bankov's fondness for personal narrative.

20. No Title
79x60,5. Unsigned. No date.

The Bulgarian-Jewish writer Atanas Castmann was married to Bankovs sister Vera Bankova for less than a year (1931). Atanas Castmann was a great admirerer of Karl Liebknecht and this picture was presented to Castmann as a gift. Bankov rarely showed or presented his art work to anyone but Castmann remained a friend until Castmann’s death in 1945.

Perhaps Bankov would have felt more comfortable with the ideas of Hugo Ball, but after the 1st World War when Bankov visited Zurich, the Cabaret Voltaire, which Ball started as the Dadaist's first rendezvous, was already closed down. Ball had stepped down for the true leader Tzara, supported by the brothers Marcel and Georges Janco. It is difficult to speculate the consequences on Dadaism if Bankov had arrived earlier in Zurich and participated with his more personal, softer approach, but the answer lies as much in his personality.

Bankov's expression was almost naive, he was in no way a leader and took little pleasure in presenting himself as an artist, neither to the public or colleagues. However, we do know that Ball and his wife Emmy Hennings did see some of Bankov's works, because in a letter to Bankov in 1923 they write enthusiastically about his collage and wish him luck with his oncoming exhibition in Baden Baden (This exhibition was, as we know, delayed and did not take place until 1927, when Ball was long dead. None of the Dadaists were present or mention the exhibition at all).

25. The Housekeeper
82,5x62,5. Unsigned. No date. Purchased by Ciurlionis Museum in1999.

Bankov himself could never afford a housekeeper but this lady was from a family living close to Bankov in his Sofia years. The photo Bankov took on her wedding day.

Bankov's income came almost entirely from portraiture; unsigned watercolours
executed on commission for very little money. Or it was photography, also made to order and without exception unsigned by the photographer. We don't know how he began with photography, but it can perhaps be linked to his friendship with the
Bulgarian Princess Evdokia who was a keen amateur photographer. It is worth
mentioning that this friendship made difficulties for Bankov when the princess was shot in 1944 and new rulers took over. Even in 1961, when Bankov was awarded The Kyrill and Metodius Medal for Culture, his friendship with the princess surfaced and he prepared to leave Bulgaria for good.

A couple of years later he settled in Budapest, but the past few years had disappointed him, he failed to learn the language, had little contact with his homeland and little sympathy with Hungarian culture. Bankov felt lonely and uninspired. Today, there are very few works from this period, and those which did emerge after his death display a strong influence from American and British Pop-art. Such art, even in relatively liberal Hungary, could create great problems for the artist.

14. Bashful Men and Ship
36x46. Unsigned. No date but completed in Budapest as late as 1964.

The relatively few works from his Budapest-years are almost all influenced by British Pop-art which could indicate that it may date from just after WWII - when Bankov tried to do works that could reach a greater public. As so often before Bankov gives small hints of his view on military life and society in general.

What is Bankov's significance for us today? Art-historically, he is interesting due to his connection with Dadaism and the Russian Constructivists. Bankov's art creates curiosity concerning concurrent events in greater Europe. Even in his earlier work from Paris one can see a unique and individual style. Could this have come from the academy in Sofia and, if so, what became of his fellow students? Was he alone? Not likely, but this could be the beginning of a new and exciting journey through 20th century art history.

Dr. Bernhard Hölchner
Baden Art Museum