The current period (namely February and March 2011) represented for the Paintbrushes Factory in Cluj one of its best moments, if not the very best moment of its short, yet significant history. At Sabot Gallery, the show of Mihut Boscu is still on view and stands as a good opportunity to meet a brilliantly promising, so to speak, young artist. The Bazis Gallery opened a venue within the Factory with a spectacular, yet somewhat elusive (as it was on view for an unusually short time) exhibition of the famous, humorous, post-Dadaist, post-pop and postmodernist Russian group Blue Noses. The opening show was soon replaced by Welcome to the Uncanny Valley, a painting exhibition curated by Adriana Oprea, featuring Berszan Zsolt (the conceptual and organizing mastermind of Bazis), Veres Szabolcs and Betuker Istvan. It is a solid, honest exhibition, however a bit unbalanced, visually, by the strong presence of Veres’ big and frantically colourful pieces, which kind of overwhelm the rest of the works on display. Zmart Gallery displays a solo show by Calina Hiriza, titled @Home, which, although being a bit boring and using symbolic items in a sentimentalist manner that borders the realm of the pathetic, fulfils the minimum requirement of coherence.
However, the most articulated recent shows at the Paintbrushes Factory, which are both conceptually strong and visually compelling, are Mircea Suciu’s Full Moon at Laika Gallery and Victor Ciato’s Moment 0 at Plan B Gallery. If the first is presenting the public with the latest endeavours of a fiercely intelligent, courageously true to himself and truly investigative artist, which seems to have reached his full creative maturity, the latest brings to attention a local “legend” in his seventies, that really deserves much more attention that has been getting during the last two decades or so.
Moment 0 continues a series of exhibitions that were organized in Cluj in the past two years, which were meant to bring to public attention or to offer the public a better, more in depth understanding of prominent Romanian artists, mostly active from the sixties until the eighties and not really known to the contemporary Romanian (or international, for that matter) audiences. Plan B Gallery has been quite active in this respect, as proven by the solo show of Sorin Campan in Cluj, but also by promoting, in its Berlin venue, the artistic production of Rudolf Bone or Gheorghe Ilea. However, the gallery’s project focused on Victor Ciato is, I believe, the most serious and the most necessary initiative of that type undertaken by the Cluj based gallery (and it has chances of becoming one of the most promising ever pursued in this direction by a Romanian institution of any sort), given both the artistic value of Ciato’s oeuvre and the announced plan of the gallery to treat his “comeback” to public awareness as a coherent project, comprising several carefully planned steps.
Ciato is definitely a sort of a local legend. Esteemed and seriously influential, especially during the seventies and the eighties, his work is though little known, by the (very) young generation of Cluj based artists, who are usually more familiar with his emphatic, exuberant and often humorous behaviour. Still, he is talked about not only with affection, but also with respect, stemming from a genuine admiration for his art, by those who know him better than by means of a talk in the pub. On the other hand, his presence in the art world gradually faded during the last couple of decades, as he seems to have never been able to truly adapt to the new realities of post – communist Romania, although he also seems to have been quite poorly adapted to the socio – political realities of the communist era, as well. His last solo show happened twenty years ago and he hardly ever got national widespread recognition, not to mention the lack of any significant international attention. Under these circumstances, Moment 0 constitutes a serious argument that there is much more to Ciato than meets the (contemporary) eye.
The exhibition focuses on one the first phases in Victor Ciato’s artistic production: the very important move away from the classicist or academic painting, performed in order to open up to a realm new to him and that one might label as lyrical abstraction. Some fifteen watercolours, dating from 1966 until 1968, were displayed at Plan B, compellingly conveying the dedication, talent and inquisitiveness the artist had deployed for reaching an entirely modernist goal: abandoning representation for the pure painterly qualities.
In that respect, it is worth mentioning that Ciato has reportedly stated, at the opening of the Moment 0 show, that the presented works are “about nothing”. He also explained his drive towards this issue of nothingness and the non – representational as being mainly the result of the dissatisfaction (would disenchantment have been a better word?) that he had felt when getting in contact with the art of the day made in Paris in the sixties, when he visited the iconic and mythologized “city of culture”. Be it so or not, what is certain about his watercolours is that they are indeed self-referential to the core, fulfilling, albeit unintentionally or without the artist being aware of it, the requirements of a greenbergian type, purist modernist art. From this perspective, comparisons with Rothko or even Hodgkin are easy to pursue, but I hold them to be rather irrelevant, since the inner mechanisms, as well as the cultural context that forged Ciato’s beautiful abstract works are significantly different from those that define the American fifties or early sixties and given the fact that the modernist debates in Romania had a totally different ideological profile.
Anyway, Victor Ciato’s watercolours possess a rather rare quality: although undoubtedly lyrical, they are at the same time cerebral and savvily composed. Thus, the viewer is compelled, in front of them, to do away with the annoying cliché of the artist’s sincere soul (whatever that might mean) being somehow expressed in the artwork. It must be noticed, thus, that in the case of these works, the savoir faire is just as impressive and as important as the delicate quality retained by the results of its deployment, that make his watercolours, at times, breath-taking in a very direct, psycho – somatic meaning of the word. The works displayed at Plan B are not (thank God!, one might be tempted to say) confession – like and sentimental. Rather, they are complex, refined and conceived with a cool deployment of intelligence and with a genuine mastery of what could be called painting as painting as painting, to paraphrase Ad Reinhardt. The attentively balanced compositions, the sheer refinement of the somewhat pretentious chromatic contrasts that Ciato used, the choice of slightly coloured, wrapping – type paper as surface on which the thin, transparent layers of colour are applied are all arguments that come to support the assertions above.
The images constructed by Victor Ciato seem to eerily hover in space and they are also capable of haunting the memory. Personally, I have seldom felt so strongly the intellectual impulse (not to be confused with hedonist wish or with sheer fascination) to revisit a show as in the case of Moment 0. The display of the exhibition was maybe a contributing factor to that, with its very “clean”, unassuming and elegantly neutral look, definitely well suited for the works on view, with the spaces between works being just right, so that the attraction exercised by each image in itself would be pleasurably, yet still tensely matched by the desire to continuously move to the next one.
And I would dare to say that even if the exhibition and the works wouldn’t present all the above mentioned qualities, it would still be a joy. The simple fact that one can see in Cluj, after so many discussions about the new vogue of the figurative painting, after the more or less pointless fussing about “the first” and “the second” wave of Romanian figurative painting, about the figurative “painting school of Cluj” and so on, an exhibition of exquisitely fine abstract painting, conceived and made here, mostly on the eve of the Summer of Love, and for which comparisons with art works one can see in serious museums for modern or contemporary art is not ridiculous, is rewarding in itself.

For photos of the works, go to http://plan-b.ro/index.php?/expo/expo-cluj-victor-ciato–momentul-0/

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