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.


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