Take painting as a medium, pop art as an ironic approach and Bucharest as a bottomless visual reservoir for the sleazy, the crammed and the apathetic, mix all these and you get Berceni, Nicolae Comanescu’s show at the Museum of National Contemporary Art. It’s a recap of roughly ten years of the artist’s work as a painter, time over which he conducted a vast study on the social landscape of a post-communist society, still stuck in the chaotic maze of its own transition.

There are a few dozen canvases which can be seen at MNAC, as the exhibition is comprised of various series produced during the past decade. Whether one takes into consideration Grand Prix Remix, Wrong Paintings or Beach culture in Bercsényi, the images are extremly violent as far as color is concerned and almost insulting with regarding to their content. The sheer amount of images done in this manner is, in all honesty, extremely confusing as far as the purpose of this very amounting is concerned, simply because at one point the endeavour actually stops being about the irony and too much about the artist indulging in the topic towards which the irony is presumably pointed at. The pile of works start to sink in a very similar mess to the one they were meant to show, as they become harder to “read “ and even harder to process, as a fair number of images repeat themselves in terms of content, therefore appearing pretty redundant.

Adhering to a sort of uncertain surrealism, most of these frantic images are a result of mixing various sights of Romania’s capital city with representations of pop culture figures or stereotypes, as well as all sorts of reflective quotations drifting around a bunch of odd characters that spring out of nowhere into the painting. As far as the visual aspect is concerned they seem to be dangling somewhere in between Daniel Richter and Jeff Koons, suggesting at times a rabid psychedelic mess and, other times, a rather obvious grin of irony aimed at behavioural clichés and resented mentalities that inhabit  this peculiar environment. The zombie-eyed cats, the crazed city traffic and the delirious settings with blinking signs and street lights, the bizarre palm leaves placed in the middle of a concrete wilderness or the portrayals of cheap summer delights are some of the topics the artist chooses to include in this hysterical circus of everyday trivialities. Of course, all this is topped by the use of an irritating abundance of colour, as he shamelessly saturates everything in highlight tones, disregarding any kind of attempt to please the viewer’s eye. His intent is pretty clear, as this fashion of painting stands in utter opposition to his “dust paintings”, a project conducted around a concept of recycling filth (literally and metaphorically) found in this same hectic environment by using actual dust as a painting medium. The result was a series of extremely pleasing monochrome images which added a very noticeable refined and tasteful factor to the same type of urban scenery that can be seen in the exhibition at MNAC.

As it is a retrospective of the artist’s work, the show sits well inside the museum’s walls, but as a visual spectacle in itself it’s rather overflowing with too much art. It’s hardly pleasurable and rather exhausting. The effect you get is more similar to experiencing an installation than a painting exhibition, simply because it’s extremely difficult to undergo each image in itself, while it’s more likely to submit to the overwhelming flood of this glitzy and quite nauseating depiction of disorder and negligence. Nicoale Comanescu is not being belligerent in these paintings. The best argument of that is the passive stance demonstrated by the obsessive use of views from inside the intimacy of the car and of reflections in the side mirror of sights already passed. All in all, it’s a junction of a lamented passenger’s disgust and his freakishly feverish imagination. But what is more unsettling, is that the endless string of these paintings doesn’t really imply at all a humorous snicker, but a sentiment of resignation and unredeemable acceptance.

 

Text by Adelina Cacio

For photos of the artist’s work, go to http://comanescu.blogspot.com/

Drawing is a very handy way of doing art, that allows the artist to work in various forms, ranging from the simplest and spontaneous approach to an extremely complex and elaborated level. More often, it’s the area which a lot of them either rely upon for attaining a fresh view on their current work, use in order to speak their minds as directly as possible or to conduct a study of a new topic. For Mircea Suciu, it’s all that and a very good pretext to “paint” with a piece of charcoal. A black and white moment added to his already established technique and general concept, the fairly large sized drawings comprised within the Full Moon show are on view at Laika Gallery in Cluj.
The generic outlook suggests an attempt to reflect Suciu’s trained eye as a painter into a greyscale converted mirror. The outcome presents itself in the form of seven works on paper, neatly kept behind Plexiglas sheets and which resemble oversized analogue photographs from the mid-twentieth century. There are several aspects that signal the painter’s choice to take hold of these images, invade their circumstantial context and alter it as he considers fit. For one thing there’s the size, result of a magnifying process that gives the artist room enough to do his trick. Next, there’s the manipulation of the image by which he crops, rearranges and zooms in on certain areas of interest – a method practiced as a kind of post-production amongst artists today. Of course, the most aesthetically pleasing part of all this is how he indulges in modelling the black, velvety charcoal powder on the luscious white surface of the paper. Strictly referring to the gesture at hand, this repetitive tampering with white space by hiding it at one point, barley unveiling it at another, constantly teasing charcoal marks by spreading them all over or clinching to the ones that are grey enough to make you drool, is part of this artist’s working process. It’s like circling your fingers around between really smooth grains of black sand. But coming back to the editing process carried out by the artist, the original images are now a highly subjective version, result of his creative sense of interpretation. The titles of the works can be seen as clues to his intentions. How big is your soul shows an illustration of two male characters, one in military uniform and another one, shirtless, wearing only pants, as his chest circumference is being measured, presumably, for the making of his own uniform. The allusion is pretty obvious, as the measuring ribbon becomes a metaphor for the reification of mankind as a consequence of war during the last hundred years. Further still, there is a subtle sense of poetry concealed in the picture, which can be noticed, firstly, from the positioning of the two men: the one already wearing the uniform and, therefore, already enrolled for the soul stripping mission, is shown from behind, as his face, the carrier of his entire identity and emotional status, is turned away, while the candidate’s face is fully visible, expressing acceptance and pride. Secondly, there would be the black strip opening up between the figures, marking the border line that is separating the two stages and also providing a slight peek into the future for the newly recruited soldier.
Give and take could just as well stand for “this is how it all begins”, being a blurred depiction of a domestic violence scene. Here there is also a play on the identifying feature of the figures, as the formally dressed man is missing his head altogether and the child on his lap, which he furiously hits, barely presents a clear facial outline, for a single powerful stroke wipes to fade into the background. This way the impression of a struggle is more explicit, being sustained also by the pain revealing grip of the man’s leg by the hand of the child. The hitting arm is frozen in an upright position, with the fingers widely spread and the hand itself being reduced to an isolated black shape, connoting extreme threat and feared authority. Displayed at the entrance of the gallery, on the left wall, it is the first piece of the exhibited series and because of its chosen subject and placement, it functions as a threshold for the other ones like Soap opera, with the deceiving tyrant standing on a pile of skulls or the two chatting officers in Thieves will steal.
On the other hand, Heritage is discussing the other perspective, related to the behaviour of the masses. On a perfectly white background, a group of ordinary individuals are stampeding to catch what appears to be a falling ball of smooth fabric, maybe leather, casting a black and dusty shadow underneath. The plot seems to refer to the herd mentality, as the irrational and panicked crowd is desperate for proof of authority or of a higher power up to the point they would take, basically, “whatever falls from the sky”. The flooding white haze that surrounds the scene suggests a blinding light of salvation that blurs the judgment of the confused group of people. The gradually loss of substance and subsequent emphasis on the contours of the bodies to the far left bring to mind a correlation with the idea of either past or future generations that already suffered the same fate or will surely indulge in the same action.
Finally, 1902-1968 refers, both explicitly and metaphorically to a period of tragic agony which potentially comprises all the actions depicted in the other works on display. The first group of digits point out to the original context of the picture. 1902 is the year that George Melies’ silent science fiction film Le voyage dans la lune premiered in cinemas. The charcoal drawing reveals the most recognizable scene from the movie, which is the moment when the explorers landed in a capsule, straight in the eye of the anthropomorphized face of the moon. The image is actually a cultural icon of irony towards unpredicted flaws of the exact sciences. The year 1968 relates to the time of the Apollo launch series that assumed the same mission in real life. On this note, this last work somehow embodies all the conceptual basis of all the other ones, as it works as an iconic symbol of mocking and ridicule.
Aside from these aspects, there’s also the matter of light, as a substantially important part of Mircea Suciu’s study process. Precise use of light is a key factor in achieving the quality of a visually appealing image, but it also plays an equally important role in expressing the actual concept of the work. It’s obvious that the artist relies on this element to create the general atmosphere that he finds appropriate for his paintings and drawings. Also, the bizarre element which, granted is not that present in this current series, but definitely more noticeable in the previous ones, places him somewhere in between the technical approaches of Michael Borremans and Luc Tuymans, given the eerie and curious method of handling the impact of past and present events.
Taking into account the charming view of elegant and savoury charcoal drawings, the show succeeded in pleasing both painting aficionados and graphic art enthusiasts, but regarding the conceptual proposal brought in for discussion, it kind of blends in with the approaches of all the other young stars of our contemporary art scene. It is this passive and, now, starting to get rather cliché, chosen voyeuristic attitude in perceiving things that seems a bit stale.

Text by Adelina Cacio

For photos, go to http://www.laika.ro/laika-artist-90-exhibition.html

Polish multimedia artist Łukasz Jastrubczak is Sabot Gallery’s choice for their current show, lasting, as it was announced, all the way through April, up to the 4th of May. “Miraż means mirage”, as the text available on the exhibition’s leaflets states and that is the chosen title of the show at the Paintbrushes Factory in Cluj. The word Miraz comprises, in its meaning, both the concept of “image” and that of “utopia”, considered here as primary concerns of most visual artists. Miraz is actually considered by the artist to be a project divided into three stages: one being the current show, the second – a display of sculptures in public space, in a town in Central Poland and, finally, Łukasz Jastrubczak’s residency in San Francisco, an experience which would be stitched together later on in the form of a road film. The artworks presented in this first phase of the project are mostly videos and installations which populate a perimeter governed by illusion and constant recurrent symbols in which the artist managed to put together a sort of research site for the cryptic mythical concepts which appear to intrigue him immensely.
The most revealing and clarifying clue for the whole purpose of the show is the Untitled video, which is adequately placed just outside the main room of the gallery, at the entrance, as a type of intro, presumably to point out the possible links between the scattered objects which can be seen through the doorway. The video is a kind of documented journal or, one might say, a “traveller’s log” in which are presented experiences, findings and analytical thoughts in the manner of a visual sequence, accompanied, in the background, by the sound of narrating, explanatory voice. The bits and pieces gathered for this projection are quick shots from the East Coast of the States, namely from San Francisco, clips from El Dorado movies and other Paramount Picture flicks, a synthetic commentary regarding Cezanne’s innovation on perceiving perspective and, of course, the Cubists’ take on the same matter that evolved from the postimpressionist painter’s studies.
As we move along, we can see the same type of concerns present in Jastrubczak’s own work. It’s the installation called Cubist Composition with a Jug, which embodies a number of similar life-size jugs, cut out of cardboard and gold sprayed. These cut-outs are placed on a three-legged wooden table, its top being carved in the shape of a trapezoid. It is basically a three-dimensional illustration of a cubist painting: a visual depiction of the abstract concept that reality is seen in a two-dimensional frame, but it is perceived with all of its three dimensions. In addition, the trapezoid top contributes even more to this cubist setting, as it shows the illusion of perspective, the actual trick used in painting to create depth. While getting caught up in this cubist re-enactment, the viewer might stumble upon the piece that hangs on the wall behind it. The Golden Perspective is an extremely summarized version of the installation I just mentioned, as it is a framed abstract landscape, done by cutting a piece of cardboard in the form of rays that converge from the edge of the surface towards its centre. It is a quite simple and organic solution for capturing the essential idea of perspective as a key aspect of visual arts.
Another important issue in this direction would be the artist’s obsessive circling around the image / concept of the Paramount Mountain. First mentioned in the video at the entrance, then recognized in the installation with the blue fabric peculiarly displayed in the form of a (presumably) high peak, giving the slight impression that it might be hiding something underneath and, yet again, in the video with the man holding two large triangles with which he is playing a monotonous tune on a synthesizer, the triangular symbol seems to haunt him quite a bit, as it appears to be a motif with a rather strong presence in his displayed body of works. This video, Third Song about Triangles, comes as a declaration of unity between man and idea. It looks like the person in the video is engaging in a merger between him and his own obsession that generates this odd keyboard playing hybrid. A curious effect added by Jastrubczak to the piece is the swinging of the projection, probably meant to append the time factor to this newly concocted crossbred, as it moves from side to side like a suspended pendulum.
Walking through Łukasz Jastrubczak’s exhibition was somewhat intriguing and enjoyable, but it wasn’t necessarily an exhilarating experience as a whole. It mostly seems like a prologue to something more consistent and elaborated than a consciously assumed project. But in the lines of a visual research on certain theories, iconic images and myths it could be well received, as any international artist is more than welcomed to spice up the local art scene by expanding the variety of proposals amongst cultural events.

Text by Adelina Cacio

For video images in the show, go to http://www.galeria-sabot.ro/index.php?/exhibitions/lukasz-jastrubczak-mirage/

Victor Ciato at Plan B

April 2, 2011

February ended with the beginning of a new project pursued by Plan B Gallery, consisting of a series of exhibitions which will feature the works of Victor Ciato. Born in 1938, the artist lives and works in Cluj and was, for many years, a professor with the painting department at the Cluj Art Academy. The starting point of the upcoming program of shows is the exhibition titled Moment 0, which presents the art public with 11 watercolours on paper, done by the artist in the late 1960s. Alongside the visual gesture which the viewer can easily interact with while strolling through the exhibition space (one of several located in the Paintbrushes Factory) the context from which these paintings stemmed serves their understanding even better. Therefore, going back about fifty years into an academic environment, which implied studying painting under the circumstances of a cultural dogma highly present in the socialist regime, we find Victor Ciato eager to break away from visual stereotypes as soon as he graduated from “Ion Andreescu” Institute of Fine Arts. On this note, after completing his formation and mastering the skills of a professional painter, the artist chooses to make a radical move at the beginning of his career – he chooses to start over. Today, the viewers find themselves facing this visual tabula rasa while witnessing the very founding of the forthcoming art of Victor Ciato.
On the pristine white gallery walls this series of humble chromatic markers reveal to the visiting public, step by step, the newly established grounds of this artist’s attempt to revive the visual identity of his production. As similar as they are to one another, as far composition is concerned, the paintings individualize themselves by the sole gesture that generates this pattern of mostly vertical strokes. Judging by the recurrent nature of the way in which this process occurred, the abstract elements generating the image act like a matrix chosen to receive the unique and personal signature of the painter’s brush. The chosen medium favours the immediacy of the result expected of this repetitive exercise, as watercolour requires the boldness of a straightforward brushstroke. As the outcome shows us, these directional patches of colour are at the same time airy and smothered, clear and diluted, steady and ambivalent, but all these elements were intended to look precisely in this manner. The artist clearly relied on this tedious routine in order to experience the sheer pleasure of applying paint onto a blank surface, of letting the simple and basic elements of an image “find” their own place in the empty space. He wanted to give colour itself a chance to act.
It’s not at all uncommon for artists to feel the need to “reboot” their creative instincts. Some come to a point when even the smallest dot on a piece of paper makes them unbelievably overwhelmed, in which case the concept of “nothingness” becomes the most soothing notion for making the artist comfortable. We love to stare this echoing void in the face because it’s our last shot at figuring out what’s left of ourselves. Otherwise we get caught up in the erratic mess of our daily lives. On these grounds, complete and utter abstraction of an image is not pursued “for art’s sake”, but it aims to relocate the misplaced self. It’s something done for the artist’s sake.
This small sequence of untitled works is not meant to be seen as a statement, but as a complete lack of statement. It’s the visual equivalent of somebody learning to speak all over again, word by word – or, in this case, stroke by stroke. Kazimir Malevici, at the high peak of modernism, found his “point zero” in the form of a black square. For Victor Ciato it was a handful of repeated, uneven forms. It’s a neutral area where many artists have gone to essentialize or resuscitate what it is they consider to function as art. What is on display at Plan B Gallery is this painter’s own version of what nothing looks like.

Text by Adelina Cacio
For photos, go to http://plan-b.ro/index.php?/expo/expo-cluj-victor-ciato–momentul-0/