The Romanian artist Mircea Suciu has proven during the last years to be an artist able to joggle with several artistic media, engaging them with equal interest and inquisitiveness, from painting to drawing, from installation to what one might call staged photography. However, the artist is still largely perceived, rightfully or not, mainly as painter, and it is precisely the topic of painting itself, namely of its condition as artistic medium and of its translatability, that he obliquely tackles in his show at Laika Gallery in Cluj, titled Full Moon.
The exhibition consists of seven rather large sized drawings in charcoal on paper, one of the most classical forms of graphic art. However, the surfaces of the works possess more painterly than graphic qualities: the blacks and whites and all the grays in between look fluid like paint, they induce in a remarkably realistic manner the illusion, albeit not immediately perceivable for a hurried gaze, of an unctuous surface specific to oil painting. It is as if paintings would have been kind of near-IR photographed, yet not in order to help a process of restoration, but with the ambitious and maybe even utopian purpose of revealing something deeper, acutely meaningful, about their inner existence and essential structure. The colour is expelled from these works only to come back with a vengeance, using drawing as a disguise, as a sort of subversive excuse and also as a challenge addressed to the viewer.
Thus, the substance on the paper performs a double exercise in mimesis. On one hand, the images are recognizable as figurative scenery, they are images of the world in the most immediate meaning of the syntagm. On the other hand, one medium mimics, or rather translates another and by doing this it questions and re-evaluates it. One must not understand from these that Suciu’s drawings are merely vane technical show-offs. Rather, they are the result of an acutely sincere endeavour of an artist fiercely aware of the problematic character of a traditional medium in the context of contemporary art, a medium which is nevertheless considered by the artist to remain relevant in the highest degree. From this standpoint, the whole exhibition appears as a difficult, yet successful and visually arresting attempt to confront and exorcise the inner demon of doubt that haunts a truly inquisitive and dramatically serious artist.
The images themselves are at the same time strongly metaphorical and open to the realm of the narrative, they are apparently easy legible, yet actually subtle. They equally offer the viewer the possibility of looking at them, getting the obvious metaphorical point, be pleased and move on and that of taking the time to scrutinize them and to use them as starting point for building several alternative narratives of her or his own. Thus, Suciu’s drawings possess the remarkable quality of being demanding and semantically reach, on one hand and apparently unproblematic, on the other hand. Confronted with this paradox, ultimately, the spectator has the choice: the works’ substantial and diverse potential is always within reach, but the viewer’s patience and reflexivity are required in order for that potential to be fully grasped.
The “dress code”, so to speak, is of crucial importance for understanding Suciu’s metaphors and intentions. The uniform or the standardized clothing, which are almost omnipresent in the works displayed at Laika Gallery, unavoidably make one think of discipline and of institutions. In the visual universe that Mircea Suciu has built up in Full Moon, it seems like they are viewed as the most important items circumscribing and regulating the world. The standardized characters he depicts don’t seem to feel handicapped by their regimentation and they do not act as they would feel oppressed by their somewhat rigidly fixed condition. They are acting rather naturally, fulfilling their social tasks and roles with a certain detachment and making the social order they epitomize look like it would be the natural order under which human beings function.
Indeed, although the images on which the drawings are based upon all belong to a time span of less than seventy years (from the beginning of the 20th century until the late sixties), there is something timeless about Mircea Suciu’s works. There is also a conscious refuse of, lets say, geopolitical specificity in his black, white and gray charcoal paintings. As a result of the two above mentioned features, the viewer can imagine most of the depicted scenes taking place just as plausibly in the American early forties, in the Nazi Germany, in communist Romania just after the Stalinist period or even in colonial Algeria. Thus, for an attentive eye, the works appear to boldly strive for universality. Their real, encompassing topic is human behaviour and the human tendency to perpetuate patterns of behaviour in various epochs and geopolitical circumstances. And although the images are somewhat cool and aloof, there still is something mildly, yet irritatingly and genuinely menacing about them. One of the most impressive qualities of these works is precisely that: although they strive for universality with a good chance of reaching it, they are also subtle, yet ominous reminders of the bitter truth that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it, with mostly tragic consequences.
Yet, there is hope. This is made perfectly legible by the most out of place looking work in the show, namely 1902 – 1968. The drawing appropriates the famous image of the anthropomorphic and unfriendly, kind of murky looking Moon in George Melies’ movie, A Trip to the Moon from 1902. Mircea Suciu’s drawing is the expression of its belief in the genuine and maybe salutary power of imagination to generate real change in the world and to motivate people’s actions. And indeed, if Neil Armstrong was at all right when he famously proclaimed that his first step on the Moon was a giant leap for mankind, he was right because his legendary step proved that mankind is able to pursue its most benign and even lyrical fantasies at least as stubbornly as it follows its most dark and destructive dreams.

The present text was previously published by Bogdan Iacob in the small catalogue of Mircea Suciu’s Full Moon solo exhibition at Laika Gallery in Cluj.

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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

Cluj has witnessed during the last year or so a series of exhibitions 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 early seventies to the mid – nineties, yet not really acknowledged by the Romanian contemporary art milieu, or not really known by the Cluj art public, during the last two decades. This effort of “recovering” artistic production which presumably deserved more attention than it actually got involved both public and private art institutions. The most important such endeavours can be easily recounted: Florin Mitroi’s show at the Casa Matei Gallery of the University of Art and Design, Sorin Campan’s solo exhibition at Plan B Gallery, “The One Punishing Oneself”, featuring Stefan Bertalan, Florin Mitroi and Ion Grigorescu at the Art Museum of Cluj – Napoca (it must however be pointed out that Grigorescu had already been gaining a status of widely shared professional recognition by the time of the show). Still, for the local artistic community and for its sense of identity, the most important such exhibition so far is, in my opinion, the recent solo show of Ioachim Nica’s works, also hosted by the Art Museum of Cluj – Napoca and titled “Drawing”.
Curated by Alexandra Sirbu and being by far the most important, the most complex and the most difficult curatorial task the young curator has assumed up until now, the show is, in my opinion, a more than welcomed initiative of the institution, an endeavour which truly contributes to the fulfilment of its role within the (artistic) community by bringing forward the production of one of the most challenging “father figures” in the Cluj art milieu. For many, especially for many those belonging to the young generation of art professionals, Ioachim Nica was, until this exhibition, little more than an elusive legend. For some, it was really nothing but a name. He was talked about, for sure, but his work has hardly been visible during the last decade, which was a very eventful time for the Cluj art scene, at least in the context of public appearances. He was often discussed about as being a formidable teacher, an opinion almost unanimously shared by his former students and colleagues who had spoken to me about him. Thus, even the exhibition’s catalogue, also authored by Alexandra Sirbu, begins with a text by Calin Stegerean, director of the museum, which is mostly a sentimental, yet touching tribute to Nica as charismatic professor. He was acknowledged as one of the important rectors of the art academy in Cluj, a position he held during the turbulent and confusing Romanian nineties. Those who had the chance to see his art were, in a large majority, deeply impressed by it, by their own accounts, though few of those to whom I discussed about it were actually able or willing to detail or to substantiate their admiration. Ioachim Nica’s role in the developing of the local art world seemed to have been significant, yet not very clear, while his art was revered, though paradoxically hardly visible and barely talked about, in comparison with his career in teaching and academic leadership.


Given the above described situation, the exhibition at the Art Museum of Cluj – Napoca was first of all a chance for Nica the artist to directly get in contact with a public whose attention he hasn’t got for some time now. For me and many others, it was a chance to get a glimpse at the legend and to measure the true value of his artistic production against the legend itself. In these circumstances, it was for me a bit of a surprise that the show didn’t quite create a stir: so far, debate around it is rather scarce, media reaction was modest and critical opinions expressed with regard to it were almost completely absent. The unanimous opinion of the Cluj art world seems to be that the exhibition is a good thing, something that it should have happened, yet almost nobody seems eager to truly assess it, to try to axiologically pinpoint Nica’s place in the recent history of Romanian or of local art. Clearly, the Cluj art world is more preoccupied with other –more important, more fashionable or more pressing– issues, whatever those might be, than with paying focused attention to a forerunner who seems to keep slowly slipping away from public awareness.
However, the exhibition presented the public a genuinely inquisitive artist, possessing an overwhelming passion for the expressive power of drawing and a strong belief in the value of art as such. Seeing the retrospective show made me first of all understand why talking about Ioachim Nica is more comfortable than talking about his art: that is because his art (at least the drawings present in the museum’s rooms) represent an art which is rather hermetic and kind of mysterious, difficult to semantically decode and rather resistant to hasty evaluations.


The selection was comprehensive and quite broad, consisting of fifty good, mostly intriguing pieces. Still, some of them stood out as highlights of the show. Among those were the series of works titled Witness, in which antique and fragmentary architectural vestiges are firmly drawn and are thus invested with a strong presence. The “technicality” of the represented object is geometrically emphasised by the straight lines which are clearly evoking the outlines of architectural sketches. Yet, their presence is somewhat haunting and they retain an unreal quality as the image hovers in between the realm of the figurative and that of the abstract, between the mimetic and the phantasmal. A romanticist vein is clearly visible in these works, as it is in many of his drawings which are tensely trapped between the rational and delightful tyranny of geometry and the frenzy of the liberated, vigorous and vaguely evocative lines and patches. In the case of another “family” of works, comprising drawings like The Golden Ratio, Expired Time, Torso or the breathtakingly gentle and subtle Study Theme, the pencil seems to barely touch the surface of the exquisitely elegant, tempera prepared paper. The empty spaces dominate the composition, rendering all the more charming the delicate outlines of the depicted banal objects: spikes of wheat, a bunch of quills, apples, sometimes accompanied by vigorously, yet orderly written short notes. They are beautiful works, as simple in their sheer beauty that they appear almost mystical. Still, by far the most eye – catching works in the show were Rotulus I and Rotulus II, two rolls of paper, only 21 centimetres high, yet over six meters and respectively sixteen meters long. The figurative and the abstract, text and image, patch and line concur to generate a whirlpool of visual stimuli. Graphic signs are at times feverishly scribbled, while in other places precise –one could say even disciplined– gestures modulate the paper’s surface. A truly musical, rhythmical quality unfolds from these cryptic journals, realised by the artist by successive, attentively composed and juxtaposed interventions during a period of more than ten years. More than any others work in the show, the Rotuli probably deserve the title of self-portraits, in a true and profoundly diachronic meaning of the term.
Going through the exhibition’s catalogue can make one aware that Ioachim Nica is very different, in terms of career development, from what most members of the professional field today would understand by being a contemporary artist. In the beginning, I was stunned by the realization that, during more than fifty years of artistic activity, no more than seven solo exhibitions highlighted his career, in places as bizarrely diverse as the Palffy Palace in Wien, the “Rom – Art” Gallery in Braunschweig, Accademia di Romania in Rome or the Clinical Hospital for Adults in Cluj. He was present in dozens of more or less coherent group shows, he illustrated books and realized more or less political posters, however this pace of one solo show in approximately seven years seems uncannily slow today. Much of this situation is due to the specific socio – political and cultural circumstances of the communist decades, when most and certainly the most significant of his works were produced (one can easily remark that all the drawings in the museum show date from the interval between 1972 and 1987), and to a certain understanding of art and regulation of the artistic system resulting from those circumstances. But seeing his art significantly contributes to the impression that, in his case, the scarcity of public appearances is also due to his personal convictions regarding art. One can imagine Nica as a feverish perfectionist, as an artist that takes his time in conceiving his work. One can suspect a deeply paradoxical humility here, one that strangely nears inflated pride: he is reluctant to show anything that he considers not being close enough to the status of masterpiece. He is most likely to be an artist with a religious–like approach of the field of art and with a priest-like approach of his own artistic production.
In the end, one can hardly escape the impression that Nica’s art is not intended to address art lovers, but art devotees; and these are probably fewer and fewer not only in Cluj, but worldwide. This bold and assumed, maybe utopian and vain, but definitely proud appeal to a common shared devotion is concomitantly his art’s touching strength and its unavoidable weakness. Yet, out of this tension between its strange force and its inherent fragility stems the most important quality of his art, namely its ability to generate perplexity.

Photos by dr. Feleki Istvan