Two new spaces for contemporary art were recently opened in Bucharest and some others are rumoured to be soon established, which is certainly an encouraging thing for the local and also for the Romanian art scene in general, especially as this evolution follows a rather difficult period –2009 and the first half of 2010– when several contemporary art spaces, especially commercial galleries, were closed de facto or kind of went idle. Both new venues I am referring to here are the result of private initiatives, yet none of them is assuming the role of commercial gallery. Thus, they both use the term “platform” to define their envisaged role in the art world, a term which is both praisable given the democratic openness it presupposes and dangerously imprecise in an art milieu such as the Romanian one, where confusion regarding the roles of the institutions are still quite common and impeach on its coherent development.
Victoria Art Center for Contemporary Cultural Production is a space managed by Petru Lucaci, esteemed artist and professor and started its program with the exhibition Corpul supravegheat / Body under Surveillance, which is the result of a research project pursued by a team of teachers of the Bucharest National University of Arts, coordinated by Lucaci. Disturbingly uneven as far as the quality of the displayed works is concerned, yet including relevant works of some of the most prominent contemporary Romanian artists (such as Perjovschi, Acostioaei, Aurel Vlad etc.), the exhibition is accompanied by a coherent catalogue and a volume of texts on its (rather loose) topic, truly remarkable being the contributions of Alexandra Titu and Cristian Nae. The LC Foundation, also placed on Calea Victoriei, opened with a show titled Figure In / Figure Out, based on an exhibition concept and on a statement that are imprecise and theoretically dubious to say the least, and then hosted Fresh Drawings / Intalniri cu desene, a coherent show featuring the Bucharest based artists Alexandru Radvan, David Sandor, Lea Rasovszky, Maria Be and Alexandra Baciu.
The Fresh Drawing project actually began in 2006, when David Sandor and Radvan started meeting on regular basis to show each other their latest drawings and to discuss about them. Lea Rasovszky soon joined them, then other artists did the same, getting involved in the project for longer or shorter periods of time, Maria Be being particularly constant in her participation. Completing the group exhibiting at LC Foundation, Alexandra Baciu is the invited artist in the show.
The basic presuppositions or questions that the project and the show are based upon are far from being groundbreaking novelty. As they are summed up by the exhibition’s curator, Simona Vilau, the main questions underlying the project are: “What does drawing mean for an artist entangled in the blinding carousel of the contemporary world? Is it a working method, a research instrument, a transgressive procedure? Is it an information retriever, a way to fight the conventional systems”? These questions and also the conceptual assumption that drawing is a better suited medium for direct artistic expression and for conceptual inquiries, more open to spontaneity, that it is a medium lesser governed by rules and historically acquired expectations than, for example, painting or sculpture, date back at least as far as the sixties. This manner of understanding or approaching drawing was also significantly present in the Romanian art of the late sixties and the seventies. However, the coherence of the project is beyond doubt and its longevity, vivacity and straightforwardness are definitely praiseworthy, as is the overall consistency of the show at LC Foundation.
Alexandru Radvan has produced, during the last decade or so, an art that is somewhat hard to assimilate or to resonate with, based on a “heavy” imagery that looks eerily outmoded in the context of (very) contemporary painterly practices, topics and stylistic approaches, especially those deployed in the Romanian (young) painting – painting being for him a medium of choice. Both in painting and in drawing, his references are placed mostly in the realm of the antique world and the classical culture, of religious rites and devotional forms; the historical age of the late and “decadent” Roman Empire and the dusk of Antiquity seem closer to Radvan than the realities of the consumerist, communist or post – communist societies, although one might at times suspect that the ancient is, for him, a metaphor for the unsettling present times.
However, his art is highly personal and there is no way it can be denied the attribute of real originality, whether one speaks of his paintings, of his drawings or of his sculptures. The drawings are, in my view, the best part of his artistic production, and the show at LC Foundation confirmed their remarkable quality. Radvan possesses a very good mastery of the “technicalities” of the medium and this ensures that his endeavours in this realm are visually poignant, while his effervescent, history haunted, ritual oriented imagination guarantees both their fresh look and their straightforward, assumed seriousness. It seems that for the dynamic Alexandru Radvan art is always about serious things: the monumental, solemn, archetypal sexuality embedded in the women’s outlines – the Fara titlu (Untitled) series, the vibrant and subtle relationship between the human, the animal and the vegetal – the Iulie (July) series and so on. When mythology is not near, history is there with all its might and with all the pressure it puts on people, as in his Atentat (Terrorist Act) series.
Radvan’s drawings plainly and compellingly reveal what he is, first and foremost: the producer of an art that’s maybe difficult to like and to resonate with for those approaching it with a contemporary (social) state of mind, yet an art that’s impossible to overlook when one approaches the Romanian contemporary art world of the 21st century’s first decade.
Lea Rasovszky is a graduate of the National University of Arts and has lately been one of the most active young artists in Bucharest. Her approach to drawing has something of the rebelliousness of a teenager, but the series presented within Fresh Drawings, namely Tot (Everything) and Anormal de bine (Abnormally well) also reveal an artist that is starting, with good reason, to feel confident about her artistic instruments and results.
Abnormally well consists in drawings of human faces, quite sketchy rendered and almost hysterically colourful. The faces are all smiling at the viewer, in an artificial manner; after watching them for a while, their smiles seem to turn into grimaces, and they appear to be rather grinding their teeth than acting happy and optimistic. Thus, the characters cease to be friendly in any way and begin looking strangely menacing. The works reveal the falseness behind what one might designate as the social conventions of happiness, behind the compulsory display of a well state of being that we practice in order not to bother the peace of mind of the others, to disturb the social conventional comfort or to appear weak. When asked “How are you?”, we feel almost all the time obliged to smile and answer that we are good, ok, fine; we are abnormally well.
However, besides irony, trauma is also present in these formally bold and convincing drawings, as it is in those constituting the Everything series. Here, too, a forceful line and a nonchalant use of colour can be easily noticed. A rather non – violent, yet defying revolt spirit can be detected in the works: it is the revolt by disguise, by childish stubbornness, by refuse to look like the “others”. All these rather futile, one might suspect, strategies of resisting social pressure seem to be deployed by the joyfully strange characters depicted by Rasovszky.
David Sandor is drawing frantically, obsessively, compulsively; he draws a lot, with unmasked joy and adamant confidence in the relevance and the meaningfulness of the medium. More than it is the case with any of the other artists featured in the show, he is using drawing as a diary and simultaneously as a way to comment on his own entrances in that diary. His works come in various formats and take the viewer along a variety of stylistic approaches. From the simple, slim black line that remains the epitome of the medium to the vibrating surfaces of colour that end up shaping forms, throughout all the possibilities in between, the artist is deploying all these manners of drawing in order to approach his almost naïvely designated and “monumental” topic: the human being. From the lively colourful portraits of adults to the compelling sketch – like renderings of children faces, a combination of tenderness and dramatic pathos pervades his images. And although one would hardly find one single work that could be coined as impressively compelling, the ensemble is surely worthy of admiration.
The works exhibited by Alexandra Baciu are really good, honest and expressive portraits. Unfortunately, that’s all they are. Several images of people with mostly Latin American facial features are accompanied by captions that reveal their presumed names, country of origin and social status, defined by the word “illegal”. There is nothing more here, in terms of message, than in Manu Chao’s Clandestino. That is not to say that Manu Chao’s song is a bad one; it’s just that the literalness of Baciu’s drawings really doesn’t increase the conceptual strength of her works and it actually downplays the visual quality of what could have been charming and somewhat mysterious little portraits.
I find the drawings of Maria Be to be a body of works that are rather difficult to critically grasp. Technically solid, the displayed drawings allow one to get just a glimpse at the inner world of what appears to be an (overly?) sensitive artist. The figure of the child is obviously recurrent in her works, being present both in the black and white drawings in the Inner Child series and in the coloured pieces of the Nameless series. Her visual metaphors are at times literal to the point of becoming demonstrative and somewhat didactic. That is the case with the figures of children literally embedded in representations of the body in Inner Child, with the voluptuous small drawing titled Inainte si dupa pacat (Before and After the Sin), representing the beautiful head of a snake or with the simple outline of an eye in an artwork titled Me. The simple elegance is probably the most prominent feature of her artistic production, as demonstrated also by the expressive and somewhat alienated looking children portrayed in the Nameless series. Then again, simple elegance is hardly enough to make an artwork truly complex and impressive.
Finally, a word must be said about the animation pieces in the show. These works don’t actually add anything to the overall value of the exhibition, as they look more like sequences of stills than as actually meaningful animations. There is nothing in David Sandor’s film that can say more than (or expressively surpass) the exquisite elegance of the preparatory drawing depicting a dolphin in the water, displayed in the same room where the animations are screened. As for Radvan’s contribution in the mentioned medium, I think, knowing him as I do, that he can speak on the topic approached by his animation (a recreation of Christ’s passions preceding the bearing of the cross) more thrillingly, sarcastically and rhetorically dramatic than the actual work can ever be.

For photos of the show, go to http://www.facebook.com/pages/LC-Foundation-Contemporary-Art-Centre

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