HOTSPOT CLUJ New Romanian Art
Generation Cluj Between Past and Future Dorthe Juul Rugaard
25 The Realism and The Realism Mihnea Mircan 38 Introduction to the artists Christina PapsĂ¸ Weber
Marius Bercea, Untitled, 2012 Courtesy of Blain Southern, London
After a couple of intense days in November 2012 visiting studios in and around the Fabrica de Pensule, there was no doubt in our minds: we absolutely should carry out our exhibition concept. The place is a former paintbrush factory in the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca that, in 2009, was converted into a centre of contemporary Romanian art. The exhibition, HOTSPOT CLUJ - New Romanian Art, introduces Danish audiences to nine Romanian artists. While very different, they all share the experience of living as individuals in a post-communist society, struggling to find their existential footing in the ideological vacuum defining Romanian life since the fall of Nicolae Ceauşescu and the destructive communist regime in 1989. The exhibition showcases a number of artists who find different expressions for their subjective and collective negotiations of identity in the crossover between East and West, local and European identities, history and the present, utopia and scepticism about utopias. Their experiences are determined by political and social conditions that are a far cry from life in the Danish welfare society. Their work, nonetheless, contains reflections that speak to everyone. Witness Ciprian Mureşan’s video of a hand puppet urging us to participate in his little one-man demonstration against himself, as he protests the fact that he no longer believes protesting changes anything. The artists embrace a wide range of practices – from performance, video art and photography to installation, sculpture and abstract and figurative painting. They are all either arriving on or have long since staked out a position on the
international art scene. The exhibition will contribute new knowledge about this relevant and current area of contemporary European art. Special thanks to all the artists who received us with such openness and later worked with us so graciously to mount the show. We are likewise deeply grateful for the generosity and helpfulness with which we were met by Adrian Sutton of Blain Southern Gallery in London, art critic and curator Jane Neal, Mihai Pop of Plan B Gallery in Cluj and Berlin, Daria Dumitrescu of Sabot Gallery in Cluj and Jürg Judin of the Nolan Judin Gallery in Zurich. Without them, this exhibition could not have been realized. Thank you to the contributors to this catalogue: ARKEN curator Dorthe Juul Rugaard, who introduces the exhibition; Mihnea Mircan, director of the Extra City Kunsthal in Antwerp, who wrote an inspiring essay about Eastern Europe between two realities; and Christina Papsø Weber, head of education at ARKEN, who wrote introductions to the artists. The artworks in the exhibition have been generously entrusted to us by artists, galleries and private collectors. We are sincerely grateful to be able to pass that generosity on to museumgoers in an exhibition offering a wealth of experiences and reflections. Finally, warm thanks to the Nordea Foundation, our partner in a three-year collaboration under the banner of Passion and Insight. Christian Gether Director of ARKEN
Fabrica de Pensule, ClujNapoca
Generation Cluj Between Past and Future Dorthe Juul Rugaard
“The peripheries have the most changing landscape because they are full of possibilities”. Şerban Savu In Romania, one of Europe’s poorest countries, a generation of young artists has been gaining a foothold on the international art scene over the last decade. A lot of these artists are affiliated with the Fabrica de Pensule, a former paintbrush factory in the city of Cluj-Napoca. Since 2009, the factory has been a local platform for contemporary art that is drawing international attention. Around 30 artists work there. They were children under the repressive regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu, which came to a brutal end during Christmas 1989, and they came of age in the post-communist aftermath. Created on a foundation of existential reflections stretched between the poles of order and chaos, utopia and dystopia, their work testifies to an acute sensibility to history and our own time. Nine artists have found their way into the exhibition HOTSPOT CLUJ - New Romanian Art. This introductory essay is based on conversations and interviews with several of the artists about the contemporary consciousness of the past and the present that is found in their work.1 I want to show how their work manifests this consciousness in a powerful presence of art history and cultural history, a kind of retrospective – in some cases even asynchronous – practice with drive and forward-looking momentum.
No Man’s Land In a parking lot on the edge of the city, the front of a van sticks out of a garage. A rudimentary car wash has been slapped up among fields and gentle hills, temporarily perhaps or with ambitions of future expansion. While you wait, you can quench your thirst in the shade of orange advertising parasols, a touch of bright, synthetic colour in a dusty, sun-drenched landscape represented with convincing naturalism. The painting, Granini (2013), is by Şerban Savu (b. 1978). His works often depict working men and women in everyday, undramatic situations. They are set in a peripheral terrain between country and city, a no man’s land that often features concrete structures as elements in the landscape. The painting is composed from a detached bird’s eye view blurring the individual features of the figures, not unlike the narrative compositions of the 16th-century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. In terms of style and subject matter, Granini is reminiscent of the mid-19th-century field landscapes of the French naturalist painter Jean-François Millet which commonly depicted peasants as hardworking, dignified individuals. The American painter Edward Hopper’s urban and rural depictions of modern life also seem to figure in Savu’s painting. Certainly, there is a similar loneliness, ennui and resignation in the figures’ interaction with the world around them and an ambiguity or absurdity in the story implied. 9
1 Unless otherwise indicated, quotes and statements are from a series of e-mail interviews with the artists that I conducted in January 2013.
Şerban Savu, Granini, 2013 Courtesy of Plan B, Cluj / Berlin
Radu Comşa, Transcription black-yellow, 2012 Courtesy of the artist and Sabot Radu Comşa, Transcription, 2012 Courtesy of the artist and Sabot
While drawing widely on older and modern painting in equal measure, Savu’s painting depicts a contemporary condition – a time and a place that are coming into being – not in spite of but by means of this retrospective practice. “I am not necessarily interested in the idea of innovating the language of painting. I try to use it as a tool to say things I find important. But of course the language of painting has its history and tradition, and one could consider it a burden. As long as my goal is not a formal one, I feel free to use the language that best suits the depicted subject matter or idea. The subject matter makes my paintings contemporary”. Finding inspiration in and quoting from all of art history, including contemporary art, is common practice today. Nothing comes out of an aesthetic or cultural vacuum. But for Savu and his fellow artists, art history – and 10
history as such – are singularly present, as frame of reference, content and subject matter. Ciprian Mureşan (b. 1977), who, like many of his fellow artists, trained at the University of Art and Design in Cluj (UAD), and today does transmedial conceptual work, backs up this observation. Romanians today are directly impacted by recent history, he says, which may be one reason why history is always on the artists’ horizon – understandably so, considering the violent events and processes of change left in the trail of the communist regime. Mureşan also notes that today, more than a decade after graduating from UAD, he considers himself more or less self-taught as an artist. Indeed, several of the artists in the exhibition describe UAD as an institution without dialogue between professors and students, where contemporary art was not
included as part of the teaching and practice of art and art history, which was restricted to classical painting, anatomy and perspective. Alongside their academic and practical education, this generation of artists actively sought out information about contemporary art in and beyond Romania, in their daily exchanges and, in several cases, through ex-
tended stays outside Romania. Radu Comşa (b. 1975) emphasizes the importance of his close ties to his fellow students: “At the time of my study, there was very little interest in contemporary art among my teachers and, overall, a lot of scepticism towards conceptual practices, plus a total lack of de11
Dan Măciucă, Abandoned Doctrine, 2010 Courtesy of the artist
bate between professors and students. I am the product of a wonderful generation, which came out of a silent fight against a system keen on developing muscles and relaxing minds. Our rebellion mainly took place in the painting studio, where we competed to do the most daring experiments, while sharing ideas and looking into the latest artistic trends”. Rewriting the Alphabet Comşa’s contribution to the exhibition, a concrete-abstract installation, is part of his ongoing investigation of methods of transcribing structures and signs from one material to another – often industrial, locally found materials. Early in his career, he worked in figurative painting, a dominant style of the most successful and widely exposed art coming out of Cluj. Today, he has put this vocabulary behind him in favour of developing a nonfigurative painting style openly drawing on 20th-century Constructivism and Abstract Modernism, but in an expanded field where painting is constantly sliding between image, sculptural form and spatial presence in a basic scepticism about the utopias of Modernism. Comşa explains his reasons why: “I could borrow Malevich’s words and tell you that ‘trying desperately to liberate art from the ballast of the representational world, I sought refuge in the form of the square’, but that would be only half the truth. I also needed to liberate myself from the Socialist Realist legacy and paddle against the Cluj tide. I don’t believe 12
anymore that figurative painting, or painting alone, can affect contemporary thought; we should all be playing around with the whole grammar of form here, rewriting the alphabets and revising the readings”. An artist like Savu articulates his contemporary experience by means of realism and the figurative painting tradition. Comşa, distances himself from figuration and actively rereads Abstract Modernism as a mean of staking out a new artistic position in his aesthetic laboratory with the aesthetic doctrine of socialism as his backdrop and burden. Dan Măciucă (b. 1979) also works in nonfigurative painting. Like Comşa’s work, his has deep roots in Modernism, though his expression is radically different. Breaking down the figurative form, Măciucă works from photos of subjects from today’s urban and industrial landscape, which he converts into gestural black and white drawings and, finally, into dense, inch-thick bas-reliefs. Their gestural, lyrical power recalls the sombre, expressive painting of the German artist Otto Dix and the British artist Frank Auerbach. In his early years at UAD, Măciucă says, he “felt attracted to Neo-Expressionism and the work of Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer, Francis Bacon, JeanMichel Basquiat and Karel Appel. I was interested in the pictorial manner of the surface and that of the pseudo-figurative”. Its modest size notwithstanding, Abandoned Doctrine (2010) is a condensed explosion of chromatic material in an expanded painterly field. While
testifying to the above influences from the history of modern and postmodern painting, the work is also part of the contemporaryart discourse on investigating the possibilities of the medium of painting. Meanwhile, Măciucă’s works are reflections on the fragile social condition of the individual in the age of consumerism. Though there is a world of difference between the painting of Savu and Măciucă, one can discern the outlines of a
parallel perception of how art history and the tradition of painting can be put in the service of articulating the present.
Marius Bercea, Electro Nymph, 2012 Courtesy of Blain Southern, London
Read more in the catalogue, which is on sale at ARKEN. 13
Ĺ&#x17E;erban Savu, Park, 2012 Courtesy of the artist
INTRODUCTION TO THE Artists
Cristi Pogăcean B. 1980 Lives and works in Tîrgu Mureș Cristi Pogăcean works with religion, culture and politics in conceptual works mimicking quotidian aesthetics. His works may take the shape of anything from bars of soap and tapestries to sculpture, photography, video and billboards in public space. Faith Carrier (2012) is a manipulated photograph realistically combining a Gothic cathedral and an aircraft carrier at sea. The Christian warship looks intimidating and colossal, heading straight towards the viewer. The work can be seen as a comment on Western invasions in the Middle East. Though the official Western argument for starting wars does not always derive from religion, Pogăcean implies that today’s ideological power games between East and West echo past crusades. Highlighting the religious dimension of warfare, Pogăcean reminds us that Western ideologies are still built on faith as heavy cultural ballast. Drawing on recent history writing, Pogăcean investigates the production of modern war monuments and orbits concepts such as incarceration, sacrifice and heroes. He gets his inspiration from everyday life and mass-mediated reality, which he twists in unexpected directions.
In the exhibition Faith Carrier, 2012 C-print, 45 x 30 cm Courtesy of Plan B, Cluj / Berlin (Pictured here) Pure Sky, 2001-12 C-print, 30 x 45 cm Courtesy of Plan B, Cluj / Berlin The Abduction from the Seraglio, 2005 Woolen carpet, 110 x 160 cm Courtesy of Plan B, Cluj / Berlin
HOTSPOT CLUJ New Romanian Art Until November 10, 2013. Buy the catalogue at ARKEN or order it at: email@example.com