Gorzo’s Wunderkabinett

February 24, 2010

I don’t know any prominent contemporary Romanian artist to whom the bravadoes appear so appealing and at the same time to whose artistic production and discourse the appetite for bravado causes so much harm as to Gorzo. He was so often presented and even tacitly presented himself as a scandal artist (which is not to be understood as one and the same thing as an artist with an attitude) that most people who don’t necessarily develop a particular interest in his work still label him accordingly. He has assumed the pose of enfant terrible of the national contemporary art scene at times when it would have made much more sense to present its audiences, in a determined manner, with the embedded intellectual meanings of his art. Over and over again, he thrived as (media) star, but was downplayed and at times even downplayed himself as artist. And yet, despite all this, Gorzo remains both an epitomical presence within the Romanian contemporary life and an artist possessing a genuine power to express personal and collective identities. He is able like few others to successfully take upon him the difficult task of making personal reveries and obsessions converge with the wider frame of culturally shared mythologies.
This is a topical path Gorzo has been pursuing for quite some time now. The artist almost compulsively returns to the figures he extracts from the Romanian folklore, first and foremost from the mythological constructs that shape the collective and mostly subconscious imaginary of the Maramures area, where he was born. The artworks that draw on this source are definitely his most consistent to date and far more poignant than his iconoclastic approaches to political or politically confiscated figures, such as Romanian president Basescu or the revered medieval ruler, Steven the Great.
The solo show now on view at laika art space in Bucharest, titled Wunderkabinett, presents a surprisingly fresh reworking of Gorzo’s approach to his personal bestiary. Some tens of small and medium size wood carvings, monochrome and rather flat in their appearance are displayed on the pristine white walls of the small exhibition room. They coherently embed the artist’s option for being as less intrusive as possible in the treatment the material, its natural colour and texture being plainly and sensuously exposed. The surface of the walls is turned into an invaded territory by the artworks: Gorzo’s strange and yet uncannily familiar silhouettes spread around, from floor to ceiling, refusing any sort of symmetry, any predictable or explicitly narrative trajectories. Still, this invasion possesses a smooth quality about it, as the chromatic contrast between the works themselves and their temporary background is not stark, but a rather mild one.
It seems to me that Wunderkabinett functions, among other semantic implications, as an attempt to go beyond the interplay between the painted surface and the three-dimensional object, a topic which may sometimes look a bit facile and which was employed by the artist quite frequently in the past years. Actually, he used it so frequently that the above mentioned topic verged on becoming typical of him, perhaps even threatening his art to slip into some sort of mannerism. To quote Jerry Saltz, one sign that something might just be wrong with (someone’s) art is that “the same things that were said about an artist a decade ago are still being said today”. This situation is one that Gorzo’s production is sometimes dangerously nearing, in a manner perhaps similar to that of Tara (von Neudorf) – though they’d both probably sneer at the idea of such a similarity. Thus, the move away from such a risky position which is successfully attempted by means of the Wunderkabinett show is surely welcomed.

In terms of formal appearance and technical instruments deployed, this move can be easily and simply described as a “removal” of the colour from the surface of the carved object. That does not necessarily mean that the wood carvings in the exhibition discussed here are decidedly presenting themselves as pieces of sculpture. But by refraining from his usual expressionistic, deceivingly naive and so often refined use of colour, the artist brings them closer to the simple, yet often rich and subtle language of drawing. I don’t want by any means to assert that such a formal option is in itself more meaningful and adequate than others or that what one might call the vicinity of sculpture with drawing is by itself preferable to the interlacing of sculpture and painting. The meaningfulness of this approach in the context of the show at laika art space lies in the fact that the concise, cool, somewhat unassuming look of the works that derives from it is perfectly appropriate for the inventorial endeavour which the exhibition proposes itself to be. The artist’s emphatic beasts are here both shaped and displayed with a kind of entomological detachment. It looks like they’ve become for Gorzo (or at least that they could become) object of scrutiny, not just of fascination. If the solo show at M.N.A.C. a few years ago brilliantly confronted us with a much more complex Gorzo than most of us probably imagined, the present project presents us with Gorzo as a more reflexive artist than we’d have expected him to be (or at least as one with a considerable reflexive potential).
Getting back to the issue of bravado in his art, one might say that the laika art space exhibition stands as a convincing argument that he is most coherent and meaningful as an artist when he puts it aside. His most forceful art happens when he tackles his inner, bizarre, personal / collective imaginary world straight on. Many of his most striking works are those which tend to appear most aloof. It is this kind of art which is displayed at laika. Therefore, in more than one respect, the Wunderkabinett exhibition has the merit of getting the viewer to encounter Gorzo at his best.

In November 1957, the Soviet Union managed to successfully launch a living earthly creature in to the outer space and by means of that to outrun its main rival, the U. S. A., in the race for conquering the cosmos. The unusual hero of this adventure was a female dog, which afterwards became world famous by the name of Laika. Sputnik II, the spacecraft that took Laika to orbit the Earth, was not a retrievable flying module. Thus, the later-to-become-iconic animal was, obviously without knowing or wanting it, launched simultaneously towards fame and towards death.
In the late autumn of 2008, laika art space was opened as an artist run space with two locations, one in Bucharest and one in Cluj. The space was since remarkably well managed by Marius Bercea, Vlad Olariu and Mircea Suciu (featured, for a while, also by Serban Savu). The space’s explicit aim is to promote emerging contemporary artists as well as atypical projects signed by already established artists from the international art scene. Assuming the name of the peculiar space explorer, laika art space implicitly assumes a drive towards the experimental, towards taking projects from the artists’ studios or imagination and launching them into the fascinating and risky outer space of the art world.
On February, 5th, 2010, laika art space in Cluj opened an exhibition called “How It’s Made”, featuring the young Cluj based artist Mihut Boscu. The exhibition consisted of one single piece of sculpture, namely a seemingly realistic rendering of the sealed compartment embedded in Sputnik II were Laika was placed when launched. Laika, the sacrificial victim of sciences and politics, was brought once more to the attention of a public and the art space which took inspiration in the aeronautical project briefly described above became the stage for it; it became the setting for the contemplation of the beautiful and macabre “machine” which took life literally as far as possible only to get it killed. The sculptural object was made out of materials such as metal pieces, Plexiglas, plastic, screws and so on. Neatly handcrafted and aesthetically pleasurable, presenting either pristine white or transparent surfaces, the sculpture looked eerie, strangely low-tech to a twenty-first century spectator and even weirdly domestic.

As far as I know –mostly from various discussions I’ve had with (very) young Romanian artists and art students– science fiction, spectacular scientific practices and hypothesis, applied science or space conquest represent fields of often passionate interest for more than a handful of them. In some cases, I think this manifested interest is not just a sort of teenage snobbism, a rave-type drive for being cool or a mere influence of the computer games many of them grew up or live with, but something significantly more genuine and relevant, in terms of artistic attitude, be it consciously assumed or not. In this respect, I believe the young artists I’m talking about mainly tend to approach those domains with both fascination and, more importantly, with an interest not so much for the political contexts, social consequences or ideological constructs which shape the practices involved in them. Rather, they would focus on what I’d call the existential implications of the ideas at work in the above mentioned domains of human knowledge and activity.
Thus, science and / or science fiction tend to become references which some these artists seem to consider that may enable them to artistically state something about the human existence, without feeling obliged to attain and demonstrate a serious, acute social and political awareness and to forge the respectively necessary intellectual and communicational instruments. Science and science fiction may be regarded, from such a perspective, as topical realms which could provide the opportunity of a double escape: from empty aestheticism as well as from pointless and overdone political content, to pitfalls which have made so many victims in the Romanian art of the last decades.
It is not my purpose here to analyze the theoretical correctitude or the political adequacy of such a conceptual position. I’m only saying that it is a stance that functionally underlines the production of Mihut Boscu, and that he is producing good, exciting art out of it. He is an artist with impressive imaginative abilities and is tireless “making worlds”, to quote Daniel Birnbaum’s concept. One factual proof of these is that in less than a year, this young man in his early twenties succeeded in building up two convincing solo shows, the “Long Gone Future / Ramasitele viitorului” at the Art Museum of Cluj – Napoca in May 2009 and the exhibition at laika art space.
The idea lying behind the later is one of elegant simplicity. It is one of those things that can make one think, when confronted with an art work, either “I could have done it, too” or “how come no one’s thought of this before”? To replicate Laika’s flying container on the premises of laika art space may seem to be a sort of mimetic joke. Yet it is much more than this. Boscu’s one piece show certainly fitted the goal of the artist run space which hosted, by being something different that one is used to see from young artists. If his work engages in dialogue with the concept of mimesis, it also has the merit of not being mimetic in relation with current trends that –sometimes so obviously and bluntly- pervade nowadays Romanian art; neither is it mimetic, for that matter, in respect to any immediate father figure, which happens all too often to young artists.
Among others, “How It’s Made” touches upon issues like the relation between handcraft and technology, a relation which art, as proven by the show, can, in a sapid manner, render paradoxical. The sculptural project speaks to its audience about the fantasies and ambitions of the few being transformed into reason for astonishment and for the pride of many. It is about our civilization’s need to know more, do better, reach further, as well as it is about the same civilization’s acceptance of cruelty in the name of knowledge; or in the name of power, which are maybe one and the same thing. Let’s stop here; it’s getting too political for such a plainly beautiful assemblage.
The presence of the object into the laika space had something of a hypnotic, somewhat chilling quality. It is an art project that doesn’t just remind the viewer of a dramatic episode in the history of mankind’s technological progress and topological expansion, but metonymically restages it, throws it into one’s face. No, it is not a sophisticated artistic endeavour, it is not necessarily an exquisitely refined one, but it is certainly heartfelt, while still being able to forcefully demonstrate that real artistic reflection, powerful imaginative thinking and research abilities lye at its foundation.

Intelligent and funny, skilled and sensitive, possessing what I can’t better describe than by the dull words “artistic intuition”, this is the kind of persona Mihut Boscu is challenging the art world with. If using a sports jargon, one could rightfully say: this boy’s got what it takes; let’s see him play the game!

“… de porc” (“… of pig / pork”) represents, firsts of all, one more step taken by the Art Museum of Cluj – Napoca in its institutional endeavour to build up a better relation both to contemporary art and to its public. The institution pursued this purpose, among other means, by presenting the production of some of the most significant and talked about Romanian artists of the last decades, some of whom are yet not largely known by the local, and in some cases even national, audiences. In this respect, the above mentioned show, curated by Erwin Kessler, follows at least two other significant attempts that, much to the credit of the museum’s interim director, Calin Stegerean, recently marked this institutional path, namely the solo show of Dan Perjovschi and the splendid “Cel ce se pedepseste singur” (“The One Punishing Oneself”), featuring Florin Mitroi, Ion Grigorescu and Stefan Bertalan.
“… de porc” features Ion Barladeanu, Ion Grigorescu, Iosif Kiraly, Teodor Graur, Marian Zidaru, Matei Bejenaru, Victor Man, Ovidiu Fenes, Dumitru Gorzo, Mircea Suciu, Dan Perjovschi, Vlad Nanca, Suzana Dan and Tara (von Neudorf). It plainly assumes an anthropological stake, to the extent that the well known collocation “the artist as ethnographer”, which Hal Foster, paraphrasing Walter Benjamin, proposed in order to characterise much of contemporary artistic practices, might have stood as subtitle of the show. This impression is strengthened in one’s mind by the curator’s own description of the concept underlying the exhibition, in which he states the sociological meaningfulness that Romanian artists often ascribed to the image of the pig: “The pig stands as symbol of penury in the art of the seventies and the eighties. The pig becomes the sign of plenty in the art produced after 1989. Sometimes it’s even the sign of too plenty, of the unbearable”.
The exhibition is fairly faithful to the proposed concept and not just in the sense that each displayed work presents us with images of pigs and pork (actually, there are maybe too many). Yet, as further pointed out, there are works here which do not necessarily or significantly circumscribe it. Also, the show looks a bit uneven, in terms both of the social / political / anthropological relevance of the works and of artistic relevance and poignancy. This is however understandable, especially if one keeps in mind, as the curator points out in an interview for “Foaia transilvana”, the fact that the “portfolio is much larger than what’s being shown” in the exhibition. Given these circumstances, I believe that diversity of meaning and the epitomical character, rather than richness of content or visual seductiveness, were used as criteria for selection of the works.
Even bearing this in mind, the viewer can hardly avoid a sensation of inadequacy, especially when confronted with some of the exhibited items. Suzana Dan’s furiously pink painted pigs are rather dull, for example and hardly fit the alleged conceptual frame of the show. Ion Barladeanu is an artist with much to say, even if his spectacular transition from rags to HBO star, much due to the efforts of Dan Popescu from H’art gallery, is suspiciously regarded or even loathed by many. Still, his collages seem in many respects to use the image of the pig in a much more loosely symbolic way than presumably required by the show’s conceptual intentions. It seems to me that his use of the pig’s image has to do with much more general connotations retained by it than with specifically Romanian coded ones.
Matei Bejenaru’s video piece, on the other hand, fits the curatorial concept perfectly, from the point of view of its semantics, but lacks adequacy between the intended content and its presentation. The video is based on a quite witty and insightful performance the artist realized several years ago in an impoverished and gloomy city of Iasi (and the simple documentation of it might have been much more arresting than the two part final version of the work). Anyway, in the end, the ten minutes long film offers nothing more than the text it starts with and two photos could have; this fact makes much of the filmed image superfluous. Also consistent with the rhetoric of the exhibition, Gorzo’s contribution to it is far from showing us Gorzo at his best, too.
Nevertheless, “… de porc” also offers the opportunity of really rewarding encounters with truly powerful art works. Among these, three of Mircea Suciu’s paintings from the “Meat” series, which I still hold to be one of his best painterly achievements to date, were on display, providing an impressive proof of the directness and boldness of his approach of the medium. His images are visually compelling and seem pervaded by a sort of sober lyricism. Easily readable as vanitas, they point out in an allegorical tone to the chilling paradox of freshly dead meat.
Dan Perjovschi’s drawings in the show forcefully exemplify the main qualities of his artistic production. Thus, they are simple, straightforward, meaningful without being demanding and ironical without slipping into empty sarcasm. The “mad cow” cartoonish character imperatively demanding (us?), in fable-like manner, to “kill all pigs” is one of the most convincing and metaphorically strong iconic presences in his body of work. Then again, also in this case, I’m not at all sure that the simple occurrence of the word “pig” is enough to ensure the work’s adherence to the ethnographically shaped concept of the exhibition, that its meaning really has something to do with specifically Romanian mentality traits or symbolic uses of the pig’s image.
The highlight of the show is undoubtedly represented by the contribution of Ion Grigorescu. His photographs in the exhibition are evidence once more of the alchemic quality of his art. In the works featured in “… de porc”, the artist takes the meat and turns it into lead looking, amorphous matter. This metamorphosis of flesh into (disgusting) meat is the most striking element in the four image panel displayed at the Art Museum of Cluj – Napoca. The image of viscera, as proposed by the artist, is at the same time lyrical and subversive in regard to political realities. Finally, the other two photographic works in the show focus on the image of a pig sloshing in mud: careless as a prince, oblivious as a sinner, self-content as a dictator on holiday.

Adrian Ghenie at MNAC

February 2, 2010

In 2009, the renowned German publishing house Hatje Cantz released a beautiful catalogue dedicated to Adrian Ghenie’s artistic production since 2006 to date. It was illustrated with reproductions of his works which are part of more or less major contemporary art private collections (and one, I think, that now belongs to a museum, namely the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles). Back in the sixties, trying to build up an identity for conceptual art, Sol le Witt was claiming, among other things, that an exhibition catalogue of such an art shouldn’t actually be seen as an illustration of the exhibition, but rather vice versa. Now, this seems to be much the case with Ghenie’s show at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest. But there’s nothing conceptual about it. Almost every exhibition in the art world today has a title. Even retrospectives do. The title is supposed to tell the (potential) viewer something about the content or meaning, about the look or the goal of the show, or about these things altogether. In other words, it is usually expected to circumscribe or at least offer a glimpse of the exhibition’s concept. Ghenie’s exhibition doesn’t have a title; and rightfully so … What was shown in the large space of the museum’s first floor seemed not to have been aimed at building up a real meaning or to provide an attentive insight into the artistic world of one of Romania’s most fascinating artists today, which Ghenie, actually, is. Rather, it looked like the (unconscious?) purpose was to construct a documentary display of his success story. And that’s too bad, because there is, I believe, so much more to this artist that deserves to be revealed to a Romanian public that knows yet too little about his artistic practice and its drives. Moving to an analysis of his art as such, we can easily notice that one of the most discussed aspects so far of his production has been his manner of alluding to history, which may appear and to some extent is, somehow shallow. But the main issue that concerns Adrian Ghenie’s work is not history, as the fact that he so often uses oblique references to historical events and circumstances may encourage one to think. Most of his artistic endeavour is essentially concerned with other items, such as translation and melancholia. If one was to put it Danto’s terms, the first would mostly refer to the type of embodiment and the second to the kind of aboutness specific to his art until now. Thus, the relation between the photographic image and the painted one or, more recently and more meaningful, between film and painting are explicitly thematized issues in several of the paintings exhibited in his show at the National Museum of Contemporary Art. The artist appropriates famous photos (Dada is Dead), photos of famous people (The Collector 2), photos that could have been famous had they ever existed (That Moment) or stills from early comic movies (the series of works related to the pie fights) and integrates them into new compositions. The first results of this procedure are the “studies”, as he calls them, black, white and grey collages of printed images and paint. Unfortunately, not a single one of these studies are on view at the National Museum of Contemporary Art. That, I believe, was a poor curatorial choice, since they would have significantly helped a more insightful understanding of the conceptual and visual dynamics driving Ghenie’s art. They are the most significant pieces that testify his effort of translation, a translation during which the famous turns into banal, the momentous turns into commonplace riddle, the carnivalesque turns into hideous and, true enough, History turns into Discovery Channel history. Still, these works are not merely essays in Richter or Tuymans-like veiling semantics of the source. They do present us with an artistic reflection on our contemporary cultural habits of using images; they are not so much about the loss of the heroic as about the imagistic mechanisms that are deployed to signal that loss. Ghenie’s art is a quite personal output that points at nowadays artists’ ambitions, fears and conundrums. Duchamp is not a random reference for him, as it wasn’t a random option neither for other contemporary artists using his persona in their artworks. The collective artwork / art project realized in 1965 in Paris by Eduardo Arroyo, Gilles Aillaud and Antonio Recalcati, exponents of the Figuration Narrative movement, tilted Live and Let Die or the Tragic End of Marcel Duchamp, is just one poignant example of the hypnotic power Duchamp contemporary artists. The two paintings of Ghenie referring to the inescapable predecessor that were displayed in the Bucharest show are titled Duchamp and Duchamp’s funeral II. Speaking of the later, it may be useful to remember that one of the pictures included in the above mentioned project from 1965 presented a supposed coffin of the dada hero, covered in the stars and stripes of the U.S.A.’s flag. However, those two are clearly among the most convincing works the Romanian artist has produced so far. Duchamp stands for what most of today’s artists crave to be and can be no longer. He is the epitome of the cultural, provocative flaneur turned into revered and paradoxical “master”. He, like his dada fellows, and much more than other vanguard apostles, has managed to gain legitimacy and historical recognition, by means of radical illicitness of his artistic endeavour. After him, everything is potentially legitimate; as a consequence of this, greatness via cultural radicalism is pretty much a closed path for the artists to follow. In other words, for the artist of today Dada Is Dead and he or she is forced to find other approaches to claim significance. By the same token, Ghenie’s art is a quite personal and febrile attempt that points at nowadays painters’ ambitions, fears and conundrums. He engages openly in an oedipal dialog with the masters of the baroque era while at the same time his works reveal a melancholic appropriation of visual props of the modernist painting. Thus, for example, his depictions of the famous comic actors, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, are directly linked to Velasquez’s buffoons and also to the topic of vanitas, one that was so important for the baroque paradigm. On the other hand, his quite frequent use of rectangular abstract surfaces, the geometrical volumes such as the uncanny box-like silhouettes we encounter in some of his images are distinct, yet maybe more subtle references to the classical modernism. Two incongruous and equally glorious traditions are brought together, in a quite compelling painterly rendering; two revered paths towards cultural immortality are nonchalantly blended. But that makes nothing but add to the feeling of melancholia that pervades the works, because the works make one acutely aware of the impossibility of any of this kind of glory under the conditions of our –and the artist’s– contemporary cultural and ideological environment. We –like the artist– gained consciousness and lost confidence. The apparently superficial mix that Adrian Ghenie is preparing on the canvas speaks about how we, as cultural beings, can’t even be genuinely desperate anymore in front of the loss of the cultural heroism. We –together with the artist– can only be savvily nostalgic. Ghenie is not the prodigy kind of an artist. He needs little time to produce paintings, but significantly longer time to refine his concepts, reflection and artistic tools, so maybe one should refrain for now from considering his work in an exaggerated retrospective manner. His best is certainly yet to come. Nevertheless, the honesty of his pride, of his ambition to become part of an art history and of his fear that such an art history could be either impossible or inaccessible to him might be the main advantage this artist in his early thirties has in order to become the great artist he dreams. Maybe it’s just me, but I prefer anytime an artist yearning for greatness to one aching for success.

The feverishly expected opening of the new art space(s) at the former paintbrushes factory in Cluj took place on the 23rd of October 2009. The event was clearly a success at least in terms of attendance, a crowd of artists, students, various art lovers and art professionals gathered. One could have counted the participants not in tens or hundreds, but literally in thousands, an unprecedented fact, to my knowledge, in the Romanian artistic life of the last decades. A general atmosphere of optimism and that hopeful feeling that something major is happening pervaded the evening.

The Plan B gallery relocated here and opened the new venue with a show by Ciprian Muresan, more or less officially curated by Mihnea Mircan. The show was called LUV and brought together three works by the Cluj based artist, two videos and a drawing, respectively. It has the merit of being somehow a plain and simple exhibition, without that making it a dull one; quite the opposite, one might say.

Dog Luv, recently on view also at the Romanian pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennale, is significantly one of the most complex artistic endeavours of Muresan up to date. Narrative without being boring and politically charged without lacking either wit or visual appeal, the video is adequately transposing in visual language a text by Saviana Stanescu and it consists of a rather bizarre puppet show with canine characters (realized with the help of excellent puppeteers, by the way). A consistent, though not necessarily striking in terms of originality, meditation on dictatorship and alienation, on absurdity of distorted social relations and the perversely ludicrous banality of evil is what the work has mainly to offer. Displacement of symbolic meaning is the conceptual tool Muresan uses in a very direct and sharp way, as he’d done it before: the doggy puppet is no longer implying innocence, but rather menace, the puppet show is no longer (or at least not merely) a funny story, but rather a bleak one.

The Holbein drawing alludes in a very personal way to the much celebrated and discussed painting by Hans Holbein, The Ambassadors. Muresan’s work kind of turns the historical masterpiece upside down, the anamorphosis of the famous skull in it being annihilated (via visual decoding) so that the skull becomes the main “character”, while all the rest is reduced to patches. The work is smart and poignant, and also leaves the impression of really “heartfelt” one, which is a nice thing to get from a usually cerebral artist; still, after one deciphers its immediate semantics, it seems like it hasn’t much more to offer.

Probably the strongest piece on display at Plan B is the Untitled (Tom Chamberlain) video. Eerie and irritatingly long, without any pejorative implications, the video engages in a reworking of the topic of the artist at work (the master’s studio, if one prefers a higher ground approach). The painter is filmed while seemingly tracing lines on the surface of a future work / masterpiece, but his gestures do not actually leave clearly perceivable marks on it. The whole presumably visually targeted effort gets strangely and elegantly ritualistic; repeated gestures become in themselves meaningful. Thus, the very relation between the (contradictory?) paradigms of art as object and of art as action is obliquely and gracefully introduced. This way, the larger meaning of LUV as an exhibition attempting to reveal a personal, somewhat even arbitrary view of art history is appropriately enriched.

Sabot Gallery opened its exhibition programme with a show of Alex Mirutiu, namely Manifest of Flaw. The exhibition confirmed Mirutiu’s ability of intelligently deploying a variety of artistic media in order to circumscribe a conceptual proposal: video, photography, drawing and sculpture were the means used to build up Manifest of Flaw. It also showed a sensitive and genuinely reflexive artist at work, one that can relevantly address issues such as queer status in contemporary social perception, the politics of the body or the abyss of sheer feeling and suffering.

The flaw is aptly the main concept to underline his works. Almost all of them retain an experimental quality which itself constitutes a manifest against the fixity of the standard, against society’s claim to define and impose legitimate behaviour and levelling normality. At the core of this experimentation lies the body. As in our social life precisely, in Mirutiu’s art the body, or, better said, his body as epitome of the body, is functioning at the same time as object of scrutiny, as tool of expressivity and as symbolic (with reference both to the social and the psychological realm) battlefield. What is recurrent in the works exhibited at Sabot is that this body is always under pressure, under siege, it is squeezed and somewhat victimized.

Thus, in the photograph titled Heaven knows I feel miserable right now, this (beautiful) victim is placed in a spatial surrounding equally defined by the so bourgeois look of the props and the slightly perverse baroque quality of lighting and chromatic. The piece of sculpture in the show presents a distorted, yet pristine white body lying on the floor as if it were a precious, yet paradoxically disposable item. The drawings reveal it in all its frailty, taking the form of trembling, somehow feverish lines. In regard to these, one is to acknowledge that the added lines of the textual insertions in the works do not add anything significant to the meaning of the work, but rather tend to flatten their peculiar and charming pathos by artificially overcharging it. Finally, the short video called Tears are precious presents us with a sort of a flaubertian self-portrait, with tears slowly flowing on the artist’s face, without any other physiognomic indication of feeling being detectable. The work is visually arresting and savvily approaches dialectics of inside – outside, felt – shown or expressed – repressed.

In the case of the drawings, as well as in that of the mentioned video piece, references are almost inevitably generated in the mind of the viewer. This referential slip may carry the spectator towards rather broad cultural and aesthetics paradigms such as conceptual art, queer visual politics and so on, but equally towards much more clearly determined contributions to contemporary art (the graphic works of Tracey Emin or Bas Jan Ader’s masterpiece from the early seventies, I’m to sad to tell you, for example).

Present in the opening show at the newly relocated laika art space in Cluj was the British artist Tom Chamberlain, with a show titled Clockwise from the left. Young but already gaining some noticeable international appraisal, Tom Chamberlain is an artist which aims at exquisite elegance, which is, in his view, to be attained by optically challenging the spectator.

Chamberlain’s interest is mostly placed in abstract painting. In his case, the abstract works are characterized by an almost obsessively repetitive covering of the painterly surface. The strange and appealing effect of this procedure is that one is left suspended in between perceiving it as mainly as a “surface” or a “painting”. Thus, as Flash Art contributor Jane Neal rightly puts it, his work “is mesmerizing because it’s paradoxical”.

The same subtlety and indeterminacy are deployed also in the works presented at laika art space, although they are not paintings, but a series of mono prints and a watercolour. The images, if they can be designated as such, tempt the viewer into the perceptive game of getting closer and taking a certain distance from them, in an unsuccessful but aesthetically rewarding attempt to reach a perpetually elusive adequate point of view. Thickness seems once more to be attained by frantically overlaying thin interventions, the result being an unexpected richness of the offered visual field. Thus, the overall impression is that of an art which is strangely generous to the spectator, while it keeps itself composed at all times.

Zmart gallery debuted on the very night of the Paintbrushes Factory’s opening. It proposes itself to the public as a space open mostly to bold melanges of fashion design and other artistic media. The inaugural show made plain this sort of agenda, by bringing together fashion design, fashion styling and photography and making the whole thing look like a witty and meaningful installation. The exhibition featured four artists, namely Lucian Broscatean, Ramona Gliga, Rinad Muti and Stefana Zdrenghea and was titled Who am I ? / Where do I come from ? / Where do I go ?.

The title might seem a little tedious and even naive at a first glance, but it actually circumscribed quite accurately the topic of the show. It was an exhibition about the efforts of the young Romanian people / artists to build up, reflect upon and then again reconstruct personal –intellectual or affective– identities, as they’ve come into contact with various cultural challenges while travelling abroad during the last several years.

Within this conceptual framework, Lucian Broscatean’s clothes fitted with forceful elegance. The pieces in the show were part of his Nomad collection, which takes upon issues like contemporary global mobility and operates, with rather spectacular visual results, an analysis of what can happen when the postmodern cultural concept of deconstruction is deployed in the field of fashion design. Neat and smart, the styling pursued by Rinad Muti and Stefana Zdrenghea (which are also the coordinators of the art space) managed to enhance the visual effect that the clothing pieces induce, remarkably emphasizing their potential and somehow unexpected sculptural qualities. Ramona Gliga’s photographical works helped envisioning the possible relations that might occur between the cloth and the human presence, while using a generally well balanced contrast, both in visual and in cultural terms, between the pseudo-romanticist look of the characters in the images and the minimalist appearance of architectural, urban elements.

All in all, with the above described exhibitions as most noticeable components of the event, the Paintbrushes factory’s opening proved to be a promising start for the courageous endeavour of the over thirty Cluj based artists which are loosely associated within the project. The newly de facto constituted contemporary art centre is the most significant initiative of this kind in Romania in decades and it stands a good chance of proving in the future the cultural efficiency of private, associative action, with all the inherent hardships and conflicts it supposes. Moreover, this efficiency is more than desirable in a cultural context where the public cultural policies are inert and inept and so many private initiatives have way to quickly become patronizing and blunt.