The 27th of May marked yet another collective opening in the well accustomed manner of the Paintbrushes Factory. Plan B’s contribution was a show entitled The May Salon, curated by Mircea Cantor, that brought together the gallery’s main featured artists along with some guest artists.

The name of the show itself poses an interesting question that remains largely unanswered: is the salon reference directed towards the idea of the salon as a well established institution that has the power to make or break artists? Or is it an ironic and bittersweet reference to the salons organized in the communist era? Even though there is no definitive answer that I can provide, I must say the name is rather appropriate for a show that seems to have no particularly strong conceptual link between the presented pieces, this being doubled by the fact that it presents a large number of artists – some of which are among the best known names of the Romanian contemporary art scene.

Having artists such as Ion Grigorescu, Ciprian Muresan, Serban Savu, Cristi Pogăcean, Ioana Bătrânu, Corneliu Brudascu, Rudolf Bone, Mircea Cantor, Victor Man, Miklos Onucsan, Cristian Opris, Eugenia Pop and Gabriela Vanga in the same room is evidently a tour de force on behalf of Plan B, but I keep wondering if the inconsistent aspect of the show is not too high of a price to pay for this… The selected works are mighty different from one another in terms of topic, concept, medium, and –on lesser level– quality. However, this creates some confusion as you enter the gallery space and thus the works suddenly become less enjoyable and dare I say even annoying due to the fact that you just can’t seem to view them right.

Victor Man and Anna Bella Papp’s work is visually appealing and intriguing even though I found it quite hard to grasp. Cristian Opris’ realistic portrait engravings are highly elegant and well executed from a technical point of view, and they were also really nicely showcased. And even more than that – they are just simply very clever and ironic! The “portraits” corner of the show is then continued by Ciprian Muresan’s Family Portraits – snapshot-like photographs in color, that want to come through as sincere and informal.

Ioana Bătrânu’s Melancholic Interior is a masterful painting, reminiscing of Bonnard, in terms of color, composition, and even theme, but with an extra dose of surrealism to it. The color scheme is rich, and along with the strong brushworks it makes for a great visual treat. Corneliu Brudascu’s two paintings are gestural and highly expressive, with muted, yet sophisticated colors.

Both of Mircea Cantor’s works are interesting enough, but special attention must be paid to his video, Vertical Attempt. It shows a little boy trying to cut the stream of water running from the faucet with a pair of scissors. It is short, with a clear message, and it sure gets the message across.

The centerpiece of the show (literally) is Rudolf Bone’s installation Clouds Over Picnic, a large setup of a picnic, complete with grass all around and the scattered leftovers of a luncheon. Above this whole scene hang two large, childish clouds made out of tinfoil. At the opening, this particular artwork also had an interactive role, the artist inviting people over for the picnic, but if you happened to be there at some other time, this interactive dimension falls out of the picture. The downside to this installation, and what, in my opinion, affects the entire show is that because of it being rather large the space seems unfit for it, especially since it is surrounded by small works (the engravings and the photographs can be seen in the background), neither of which can “breathe” properly because of it.

The rest of the featured works include a painting by Serban Savu (Procession), very much in the painter’s known style; another installation, this time belonging to Eugenia Pop and called History of Europe – a wooden “frame” with bidimensional ceramics figurines representing soldiers from different eras, hanging from the frame… Also Gabriela Vanga’s Magnum opus – an ultrasound image of a fetus inside a womb, a work I honestly have mixed feelings about: is it supposed to be a sincere and feminist statement on the power of creation… or is it a bitter irony towards the condition of the woman artist?!? …or maybe I am just trying to over-think this…

As an overall conclusion, the show brings out many worthy pieces of art, and it does indeed have the appearance of a salon, and with this I mean both the good and the bad of it, by the later meaning incongruity.

 

Text by Voica Puscasiu

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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/

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/

As many would have it, imagination and creativity are more at home in the art world than in any other field of human activity. Doubtful as it might be (the often boringly self-sufficient art world so easily forgets the crucial role imagination and creativity play in domains such as physics, for example), this conception makes most of us expect from artists, more than from other professionals, to constantly display outstanding imaginative abilities and unusual creativity. And some of them manage to do this kind of naturally, rewardingly fulfilling this common and partially legitimate expectation of ours. It is precisely within this context that I want to state that I have hardly ever met a young artist who would possess such a forceful, truly resourceful and vivid imagination as Mihut Boscu. Given this, I’d say that the Romanian artist in his mid – twenties was an undoubtedly inspired choice of the Sabot Gallery in Cluj for its latest show, titled A Prologue to Vanity and Self – adoration, an exhibition that is, beyond its shortcomings, a welcomed opportunity to meet a truly inquisitive artist that deploys an exuberant creativity in his artistic endeavours.
The work that visually dominated the show at Sabot was the life – size three-dimensional figure of a man, covered in paint, hysterically colourful and surrounded by empty jars of paint and plastic bottles. His bowels are pouring out of his belly as he holds them in his hands and smells them in a quite emphatic gesture. The visually arresting sculpture is a quite direct, yet forcefully metaphorical representation not just of the (contemporary) artist, but of the contemporary human being as well. It is the contemporary man that seems not to feel compelled to hide anything anymore, who is obsessed with himself more than with anything else, or who is constantly urged by advertising and stupid movies to be like this. Boscu’s character is a Narcissus of the viscera, for whom the old Socratic advice regarding knowing oneself has been replaced by the Facebook – type urge for showing oneself, regardless of whether or not there is something interesting to show or if others would be repelled by what is being shown.
Another immediately impressive work was the wall clock made out of plywood, carelessly if not plainly ugly painted, with its two pointers moving anticlockwise, but frantically fast, as they are powered by a small motor. The work has both something of a Dadaist spirit and conceptual wit and poignancy. It reveals, perhaps better and more convincingly than any other work displayed at Sabot, Boscu’s remarkable ability to conceive simple, yet strong and meaningful visual metaphors that allude to crucial aspects of the human condition, in an ironically existentialist manner. His clock is an impressive memento mori that reminds one not just of the ineluctable finitude of human existence, but also of the absurdity of the contemporary man’s contradictory desires for “living fast” and for “turning back the time”.
Other works also stand out in the show. The skull made out of thistles belongs to the same semantic area as the wall clock and it functions like an emotionally touching, slightly funny, yet charming and compelling example of vanitas. Again, the perishable condition of the human being is being alluded to, using an approach that intelligently brings together venerable and even overused symbolic items and the freshness of an unexpected use of materials. The hanging rope made out of corny coloured, artificial flowers is an excellent example of Boscu’s mastery of paradoxes and it is also a directly engaging art work. The sculpture is visually strong, eerily haunting and also possesses a strange, kind of sadistic monumentality. A rather large size, white paper relief that seems to represent a sort of space battleship in flames, while at the same time resembling the silhouette of the burning Hindenburg is the most elegant and refined work on display. Far more semantically elliptic than the other works so far mentioned, it can be equally perceived as an allusion to the childish innocence of dreamers and explorers as well as an ironical critique of the humans’ tendency to proudly and often dangerously overestimate the power and the utility of technology.
Unfortunately, the show managed to downplay the sheer value of such works, by displaying them along others which are clearly not as powerful. Also, the widespread variety of the topics approached by the works in A Prologue to Vanity and Self – adoration did not help in making the show look coherent either (or the artist, for that matter). A wish to show an experimental, suitably undecided and charmingly restless Mihut Boscu clearly circumscribed the exhibition at Sabot Gallery, but also nearly ruined it, and there are three main reasons for this. Firstly, experimental does not compulsory mean good, does not mandatory denote profoundness. One shouldn’t forget the simple fact that some of the artists’ experiments are failures: this is one of the things that make them experiments in the first place. Displaying artistic experimentation shouldn’t be fetishized: this is praisible only if the experimentation has somehow reached or neared some coherent conclusions or if it has truly opened exciting opportunities, which is not the case with some of the works in the Sabot’s show. There was no good reason visible in the exhibition for displaying lower quality results of various artistic experimentations alongside the above described impressive art works.
Secondly, although the intention might have been to build up an “artist’s studio – type” show rather than a “museum – like” exhibition, the show didn’t quite succeed in that respect. A Prologue to Vanity and Self – adoration is rather a confusing mix of both. Too staged to be cosy and to provoke emotional response, it was at the same time not coherently enough staged to be celebratory. Some works were crammed together, for example those on the artificially looking “studio table”, while others looked pointlessly exiled (the above mentioned clock was displayed in the lobby at the entrance). Rather than being an image of the artist’s physical and / or intellectual laboratory, the display appeared as the result of someone trying to transform a storage area in a neat exhibition. Just in passing, I’d say that, in my personal experience, Mihut Boscu’s studio is really interesting when you get the chance to be in it with him, talking about his art and his projects for hours, smoking cigarettes and having funny small talk, drinking Coke and maybe ordering pizza.
Finally, the show seems to have overlooked the fact that Boscu is at his best precisely when he concludes experiments, when he reaches somewhat abrupt and often spectacular conclusions of his feverish searches. His strength lies not as much in the dozens of ideas that are forged by his imagination and in the tens of projects he sketches as it resides in his ability to create coherent and uncomfortable art works out of them, art works that make eyebrows raise, that are visually impressive and intellectually challenging. The overall impression is that the show is taming Mihut Boscu and makes him look fashionably arty, while he is as good as he is wild, rough, irreducible to trends and direct.
I am perfectly aware that one might argue that all the incongruence I’ve remarked might actually represent items of consistency if related to show’s title / concept: the exhibition is supposed to be about vanity and self – adoration (presumably the artist’s), so why not show various things the artist has produced, regardless of their visual and conceptual power? Well, the point is precisely that the show is probably actually lacking vanity than possessing it in excess. Vanity that almost would have reached the level of provocative pride would have been to show just four or five compelling works in that quite big space of the Sabot Gallery and challenge the public to worship them or to stare at them in awe. Who knows, it might have even worked.
All in all, it must be said that Boscu has spent the last 10 years or so being a terrific, complex and open – minded apprentice, in the broadest sense of the term and in relation with various contexts and personalities. He has been developing his artistic abilities and production at a remarkable pace, constructing three good solo shows in a period of roughly three years. He has been developing his short, yet truly promising career carefully, proving a maturity and an understanding of the contemporary art world uncommon for people of his age. The most important thing he needs to do as soon as possible is to gather the courage, the strength or the hubris required to for him to believe that he can be an artist, in the broadest sense of the term. The most important next valid step in Boscu’s artistic path is not simply to build up a show at a decent gallery or artist run space outside Romania, as one might think and many seem to actually think. He is too gifted to think or be thought about in these empty strategic terms. Thus, that most important next step for him would be to build up a truly coherent, conceptually poignant, spectacularly bold and – why not ?– jaw dropping exhibition that would expose a forceful creator rather than a “new kid in town” with the potential to become a young art star. I hopefully expect and heartedly wish for no less from him.

For photos of the show, go to http://www.galeria-sabot.ro/index.php?/exhibitions/mihut-boscu/