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RUF Award Logo

(the final exhibition of the Ruf-Award)

Structura Gallery, Sofia

After thirteen years of active presence on the Bulgarian art scene, Mr. Gaudenz B. Ruf has announced his last major project here - the Finale exhibition.

The participating artists were selected after an open call and a competition. Bulgarian born authors or those living in Bulgaria up to the age of 40 were eligible to participate via presenting their current portfolio.

Of the 68 portfolios that were submitted, 10 were selected by a jury composed of Gaudenz B. Ruf, Adelina Popnedeleva (artist), Vessela Nozharova (curator), Zoran Eric (curator, Belgrade), Kalin Serapionov (artist), Kiril Vassilev (critic) and Maria Vassileva (curator).

The Finale project is about some of the guiding principles of Gaudenz B. Ruf’s work in Bulgaria as well as about the dynamics of the art scene today. Competitions, support offered to the artists for the realization of new art works, creation of a professional team realizing the exhibitions – these are all parts of the model that he established over the years.

To this list, we will add the opening up of the competitions to Bulgarians living abroad as well as to foreigners residing in Bulgaria. Mr. Ruf is among the first initiators (along with the BASA Award) to remove restrictions in this area. This decision enriched and expanded seriously the field of potential participants to include many new names. It is through the Gaudenz B. Ruf-Award events and initiatives that the motivation for participants from different countries and profiles, that are part of the art scene in Bulgaria, has changed so dramatically in recent years.

The current exhibition does not betray the tradition. In fact, it is building up on it as it presents some relatively unknown artists. On the other hand, Gaudenz B. Ruf’s goal has always been to support artists who have stayed in Bulgaria. We should also mention his desire to be consistent by systematically supporting a number of artists over the years without depriving others of opportunities. Another priority is the equality of genres in art – an aspect he has always insisted upon over the years. The exhibition includes paintings, drawings, video, objects, installations, photography and more.

We cannot say that the Finale exhibition is representative of the developments in Bulgarian art during the recent years. However, it does reveal its state at present - highly professional and diverse. None of it could not have happened without the participation of many people, and especially without the consistent and generous efforts of Gaudenz B. Ruf.

Maria Vassileva



The heading of the exhibition newspaper.
Image courtesy Structura Gallery

Gaudenz B. Ruf

Looking Back


13 years of Gaudenz B. Ruf-Award – 13 years of adventure! When I started thinking in 2006, after my retirement from the Swiss Foreign Affairs, of creating an art award in Bulgaria, where I had been assigned as ambassador from 1995 till 2000, my Swiss friends thought it crazy to take up such a commitment in a far away and somehow strange country. And quite a few of my Bulgarian friends doubted that this experiment would last more than one year given the animosities in the local art scene and other complications.

I tried it all the same. The response for the first competition 2007 was overwhelming. The jury had to cope with more than 200 applications! Of course, when the Bulgarian art community realized what kind of art would find the jury’s favour the numbers dropped. But in the following four years there were always more than one hundred participants.

After the 5th edition I realized that the classical type of competition – with catalogue and exhibition for the shortlisted artists, as well as an established and a junior artist prize with diploma – was somehow exhausted. There were those who participated each time and those who always stayed away, probably because they thought they were too good to compete with anybody else…. So, I opted for a new formula according to which the jury would not select the most accomplished art works but support promising projects across the field of contemporary art thus opening up the circle of participants to organizers, curators and authors. The change was well received and in the following seven years up to 130 projects profited from a grant.

But time has no mercy. Approaching the age of 80 I found it wise to bring my commitment to a close as long as I can fully master the job. Instead of quietly bowing out I wished for an event with visibility and opted for a last competition for artists belonging to the younger generation. I am immensely grateful to Maria Vassileva who offered to host and curate the exhibition. She has done a lot for me also in the past. To my great pleasure a large number of the most talented Bulgarian artists participated and the resulting show is just beautiful.

I am happy to see that many goals I wanted to achieve with my project were realized. Namely to reach not only some closed artistic circles but the art community of this country as a whole, next to senior and well known personalities also many young artists just emerging from the academy. I made it a point that not only Bulgaria’s capital should benefit and luckily, the participants also came from Plovdiv, Varna, Veliko Tarnovo and the other regions. The news of the Ruf-Award also quickly spread abroad. Bulgarian talents living in Vienna, Berlin, Paris, London and New York and many other places participated in great numbers, bringing back their experience and achievements to their home country thus reversing the often-lamented brain drain.

Knowing about the mistrust and the animosities often prevailing in the society and also the artistic circles I tried my best to respect the rules of openness and transparency. The members of the jury changed every few years, they included Bulgarians and foreigners. The lists of the beneficiaries were published as well as the amounts they received. So, in the course of the years a large number of people came to know how the Ruf-Award functioned.

I come from a country where people with some fortune often think it appropriate to share it with the community that has enabled them to lead a satisfactory life. Many commit themselves in the social, academic or artistic spheres and patronage in form of scholarships, awards and donations are a regular feature. I wished this tradition would also gain strength in Bulgaria and my modest example would find followers. Of course, you need some money to do so but even with smaller sums you can achieve a lot.

These 13 years of the Ruf-Award have given me great satisfaction. But what I consider a success story would not have been possible without the support of my Bulgarian friends. I will never forget their enthusiasm when I announced my project in 2006 and their great personal commitment right from the start. All along these years they have given me advice and accepted to take over many tasks. I wish to thank them from the bottom of my heart. I also felt the gratitude of the art circles and enjoyed official recognition. Both encouraged me to continue.

Finally, my compliments go to the participating artists and beneficiaries. Most of them correctly followed the procedures and rules and did not let me down. It was a pleasure to work with them and to see their skills improve in the course of the years. I don’t mean their artistic talents that were convincing all the time but their capability to present themselves with perfect portfolios and to adapt to international standards.

All this points to a bright future. Bulgaria is catching up with the world and is part of the main stream. I’ll still be around and follow this process with great pleasure. I’ll stay in contact.


Zurich / Vienna, October 2019