“… de porc” at the Art Museum of Cluj – Napoca

February 8, 2010

“… 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.

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