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–momentul-0/

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–momentul-0/

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it was “much ado about nothing”, to quote Shakespeare, but it was certainly less than I expected: the exhibitions that were opened at the Paintbrushes Factory on the evening of the 8th of October, marking the start of a new season of events hosted by the Cluj art centre, were, on the whole, far less poignant than many of those organized between October 2009 and June 2010.
It is also true that not all the exhibition spaces at the Paintbrushes Factory in Cluj restarted their program of events on the evening in question (and though I’m not one to believe that strength lies in quantity, I still think that the Factory functions best, as a whole, when all the art spaces within are proposing shows concomitantly). Thus, the Zmart Gallery was to wait until the following days to organize their first event of this autumn, while Clujest hasn’t yet done that. However, the most prominent art galleries residing in the venue had shows on display, and there was also a bit of a novelty, for me at least, consisting in presenting an exhibition in the Bosisio – Sabot Residency Space, which is mainly meant to be an art studio.
Laika art space hosted new works of Vlad Olariu, one of the artists who have also been managing the space since its launching some two years ago. There is no doubt in my mind for a moment that Olariu is one of the most intelligent, talented and savviest young Romanian artists. The force of his imagination is remarkably paired by his understanding of the mechanisms and practices that shape the realm of contemporary visual art. It was thus all the more surprising to see that his show at Laika art space, titled Memory of a Memory somewhat lacks coherence, as differences between the exhibited works, as far as the conceptual quality and the ability of being visually compelling are concerned, were quite obvious.
The most spectacular work in the show was undoubtedly Untitled (Black Unicorn), an impressive, somewhat monumental, without being of big size, piece of sculpture that stood in the middle of the exhibition space and truly mesmerized viewers’ gazes. A convincing, realistically rendered shape of an impossible being, the work really epitomized the concept underlining the show (albeit rather broad and fuzzy), as it was proposed by its organizers. Thus, lonely and elegant, beautiful and useless, not necessarily very original, but certainly visually compelling, touchingly naive, yet strangely menacing, Olariu’s Black Unicorn is “about simulation and consumerism, about affection, remembering, reality, about communication and the lack of communication, about shape and substance, about repetition, redundancy and illusion, about esthetics and tragic history, about monuments and commemoration, about presence and solidarity, about truth and forgery, about structure, about value and non value, about now and then, about borders and non reality, about essence and volume, about the symbolic dimension of the object and its performance, about the primitivism of the artistic gesture and its actuality”. Another highlight of the show was The Tree Makes the Forrest, a pine tree trunk with just a few remnants of its branches on one side of it, painted in black and dipped into a small block of cement. My first reaction when I saw it was to think of the bizarre consequences of the bizarre Tunguska episode. However, the sculpture has far more evocative power than that, vividly bringing to someone’s mind the idea of devastation, functioning like a telling, yet not humourless metaphor for disaster. These two works, together with Black Sun, a stool’s round upper part painted black and hung on the wall as an abstract piece of sculpture that approaches modernism in a classical, if one may say so, post-modern way, would have been enough to make a solid and quite coherent exhibition.

However, the bidimensional art works exhibited were less impressive and certainly hardly cohesive with the items mentioned above. I did like Skydivers, for example, some sketchy silhouettes made out of golden leaf and pasted onto drywall, however their reference to 9/11 (namely to the images of people who died jumping off the windows of the twin towers) was perhaps too obvious to let any other meaning unfold around them and this somehow places them in the realm of the anecdotic. Atomic Projection uses again the golden leaf on drywall, but offers a visually richer image, though a more abstract one. Yet, the work gave me too much the impression that it should be part of a bigger project in order to become meaningful: it seemed seminal, yet not convincing on its own, although it possessed a dose of decadent, sort of toxic refinement. Finally, The Palace of People, a black and white painting representing a monumental architectural structure with a huge, heroic – type statue on its top looks again so much like an experiment. Now, exhibiting the results of experiments is perfectly legit and can be absolutely impressive, as has happened so many times before. Still, there are two crucial requirements to be fulfilled, which I believe Olariu’s work didn’t: the result of the experiment should be coherent and it should make plain the purpose(s) that motivated the experimental endeavour.
Vlad Nanca was the artist presented by the Sabot Galley, which organized its solo show titled Works. It featured several of his sculptures (though it is perhaps more accurately to describe them as “objects”), made out of materials as commonplace as wood, plastic, textiles and cement, while also integrating some ready made objects. Nanca is a young artist, yet already widely acknowledged by the Romanian contemporary art world and with a significant presence also on the international art scene. His art is definitely conceptual and mostly political in its content and intentions. Nanca has remarkably succeeded, as he was still in his twenties, in producing art works which have gained a kind of an iconic status during the last decade. Thus, the Terrorist Balloon, I do not know what union I belong to anymore or maybe even Dacia – 30 Years of Social History are probably some of the best examples in that respect.
He works with political symbols (from national anthems to “the national car” and to various other visual items connoting socio – political identity and mythology), displacing their initially intended meaning, mixing contradictory symbolic elements into implausible objects and deploying irony as a main instrument for producing his art. Finding a funny way to express serious political ideas is an art procedure with a venerable tradition, however there is something genuinely fresh in Nanca’s endeavours in that direction. Still, way too many of his works of that type lack serious reflection, that allowing redundancy to make its way into his art. Often, the impression left by his works is that the one thing the artist has been the least critical about are the very ideas on which his art has been built upon. Also, his street interventions, the stencils as well as his various objects placed in the public space, certainly represent one of the most compelling sections of his art, but then again there is almost always a difficulty with them: they do have something facile about them, yet at the same time they are way too arty and obviously not simple and poignant enough to truly represent a protest street art. Not that he is necessarily one of them, still I can’t refrain here from remarking in passing that there are probably too many artists in Romania that could bring to someone’s mind the memorable lyrics of one of Edwyn Collins’ songs: “Too many protest singers / Not enough protest songs”.
Vlad Nanca’s show at Sabot was coherent, yet hardly challenging and maybe even a bit boring. The best pieces in the show were by far the Mattress and the Concrete Bag on Wheels. The first work consists, as its title makes plain, in a mattress, but one of unusual sizes: if its width is rather normal, its length exceeds by far the usual dimensions of such a utilitarian object. The unusual sizes and the blue and white stripes that ran along its surface gave the object a kind of hypnotic quality and, I believe, stirred in many of its viewers an urge to sit, to lye or to tumble on it. In the most focused and to the point essays in the journal – type brochure accompanying the show, Erden Kosova wrote that the mattress “evokes nitty – gritty of sharing house with at least a dozen others”. Though I may agree with that, I would however argue that the work’s ludic and even savoury childish appearance interferes with the intended social meaning. The Concrete Bag … draws its visual and conceptual energy from the tension between opposites: stillness and weight (the concrete) are juxtaposed to mobility (the wheels). Eye catching and intellectually exciting, the work is having less problems than the Matrress, in my view, in fulfilling its presumably intended task, namely that of connoting “the promotion of private ownership of automobiles, which –in times of urban congestion– comes to represent urban annoyance and temporal inefficiency, rather than personal liberties and speed” (quoting Erden Kosova again). Then again, I am not at all convinced that this is really the way our society really perceives “private ownership of automobiles”, which, I think, still is, in terms of mentality, linked to speed, freedom, comfort and superior social status, rather than “urban annoyance”.
The other works in the show are far less convincing and sometimes boring in their quoting of minimalism. For example, the Portals, abstract sculptural structures, made out of wooded slats, with shapes reminding vividly of Robert Morris, would have probably look paradoxical and act irritatingly (which is a form of posing a challenge, after all) if they had been laid on a busy sidewalk. In the gallery space though, they are at least as dull as they are elegant. As for the Funnels, colourful juxtaposition of small plastic ready-mades in a corner of the exhibition space, they might allude to the politics of exchange that inform a certain kind of solidarity between the poor in times of crisis and distress, but I have a hard time understanding why several such objects (or how many, for that matter) would be more conceptually compelling than one. This sort of inconsistencies, this insufficient reflection and a certain lack of serious critical thinking are the factors that downplay the overall value and diminish the impact of the exhibition.

Definitely, of all the exhibitions opened on the 8th of October at the Paintbrushes Factory, Cristiana Palandri’s Sleeping Time, hosted by Bosisio – Sabot Residency Space, deserves most credit. The show is the conclusion of the art residency awarded by the Sabot Gallery and its collaborator, the painter Roberto Bosisio, to the Florence born artist. The initiative of such a residency is itself to be praised, being almost unprecedented, to my knowledge at least, in the Romanian contemporary art world. When the beneficiary of the residency is an artist from outside Cluj, I believe that Sabot Gallery is doing more than trying to gain some commercial advantage: it is aptly contributing both to the enrichment of the local artistic life and to making the local scene more adequately acknowledged by non-local art professionals. Palandri took full advantage of the opportunity, and during the three months she stayed in Cluj, she was an active figure of the art milieu, and the exhibition concluding her work in Cluj was truly worth seeing.
Sleeping Time is composed of two art works, namely the photograph titled Outside and the sculpture called Stare.

Outside is almost a by-product of one of the artist’s performances, the medium of performance seeming to be one of her favourite expressive tools (Oversight is a fine piece of such artistic endeavour, which she undertook in 2008 at Museo Laboratorio di Arte Contemporanea in Rome). However, not knowing the performance, the meanings of the images remain rather fuzzy, if not hermetical altogether, with its hardly distinguishable human silhouette surrounded by pieces of debris and bizarrely accessorized with some fur “coat”. Nevertheless, Stare is a truly impressive piece of sculpture. A wood and wire staircase starts its ascendant trajectory from the floor of the space, while its upper end is seemingly going out on the high positioned window just under the ceiling of the forth floor room. The staircase seems made out of locally found debris, it is blackened as if it was churned and most of the stairs are broken. It is a device that can be perceived as being meant for escape as well as for suicide, for taking off into the blue as well as for aimlessly or hopelessly staring (there is a consciously assumed play of meanings implied by the phonetic similarity of the words stair and stare) into the dark void. Yet, with its broken stairs, the device becomes useless, unable to aptly sustain any of the above mentioned actions and turns into a visually arresting metaphor of the futility of big hopes and of the unavoidably utopian character of heroism and grand gestures.
The last event to be taken into consideration would be the show called home – studio – university – city ’90 – ’93, hosted by Plan B gallery. As Mihai Pop, the co-director of the gallery also admitted, it was more an intermezzo between shows than an actual exhibition. Though I do understand that preparing the participation at two major art fairs, separated by a few days only, namely Frieze and FIAC, requires significant efforts from a commercial gallery, I still believe that the event on the 8th of October was important enough to make the viewers expect a bit more from the leading Romanian gallery.
Some five hundred black and white photographs, result of the work of a “collective author” were projected in a (long) loop on one of the gallery’s walls. The images mainly constitute documentation of the activities, more or less artistically motivated, more or less interesting, of a group composed mainly of, by then, very young art students (some of whom are now rather known figures of the cultural life of the city, such as Mihai Pop, the artist Cristian Rusu, the respected academic and art historian Vlad Toca and so on). For many of those involved in those activities the event definitely presented an emotional component, though other spectators were also able, I believe, to tune in to the vibe of a period in the (cultural) history of Romania when it seemed that everything was young and when the youngsters were fascinated with their freedom more than both before and after. However, on the whole, what the show did was to create a nice, cosy and maybe a bit nostalgic atmosphere, but arguably little more than that.

Photos by Filip Zan

Without getting as much media attention as I expected it to get, the “Mircea Pinte Collection” exhibition at the Art Museum of Cluj – Napoca has recently ended. The show featured Marius Bercea, Mircea Cantor, Alexandra Croitoru, Adrian Ghenie, Cantemir Hauşi, István László, Victor Man, Ciprian Mureşan, Vlad Nancă, Cristi Pogăcean, Victor Răcătău, Cristian Rusu, Şerban Savu, Mircea Suciu, Supernova and Gabriela Vanga. It was the first episode – at least so did the organisers, namely the museum and the Plan B Gallery, announced – in a series of shows focusing on the already nationally famous and maybe internationally noticeable collection of the Cluj based businessman and art lover, Mircea Pinte. For everybody who is involved one way or another in the local art scene and who does not have a direct access to the collection, the exhibition represented a first hand opportunity to assess the vision it is built upon and to get a glimpse not only at the collector’s taste, but also at the quality of the advises he gets.
It is by now rather common knowledge that showing private collections of contemporary art in public institutions has become a quite frequent practice in the art world during the last decade. It is also one of the most controversial exhibiting practices. Quite heated discussions took place regarding the ethical issues involved by this kind of shows. For many in the art milieu, the main, if not sole, actual beneficiaries of these exhibitions are the collector and the galleries representing the artists involved in these shows. They have thus been many times criticized as merely market instruments, and not only by leftist critics or activists, who would “naturally” distrust and even hate the (art) market altogether. A similar recent and prominent event, which triggered significant art world booing, was the “Skin Fruits” show at the New Museum in New York, consisting in a display of works of “big names” from the collection of Dakis Joannou. Curated by Jeff Koons, the A – list exhibition prompted several high profile art professionals to accuse the institution that it has moved from presenting mostly young, often spectacular but seldom truly meaningful art to succumbing to market “hipness”.
In principle, “Mircea Pinte Collection” at the Art Museum of Cluj – Napoca is a show that can be easily suspected of all the above mentioned malice. The involvement of the commercial gallery (for, there is no way I’ll by the claim that Plan B is an artist run space, which is sometimes purported) in the action is consistent and definitely explicit. We are talking here about a gallery which officially represents nine out of sixteen artists in the show and has occasionally collaborated with almost all the others. From this point of view, the exhibition, should a few artists have been left aside, it might just as well have been titled “Plan B artists in Mircea Pinte’s Collection”. Furthermore, the curators of the exhibition were Călin Stegerean, director of the museum and Mihai Pop, co – director of the gallery. So, assessing these plain facts, the exhibition looks like an already classic example of a museum show that might be suspected of serving rather the commercial interests of a private gallery and of a private collector, by institutionally canonizing artists and artworks they are directly interested in, than the interest of its public(s).
But assessing things in principle is never enough for a fair and relevant evaluation of a cultural action. Understanding the context is at least as important in that regard. Thus, one has to remember that Romania’s situation is significantly different from that of the western art world, as far as institutional roles and relations are concerned. Cluj is obviously not New York, the Art Museum of Cluj – Napoca is far from being The New Museum, and there’s a huge difference between Mircea Pinte and Dakis Joannou. As director Călin Stegerean stated, the artists in the show have attained already a significant level of professional success and public visibility outside Romania. The commercial interests of Plan B and of the collector would certainly be better served by actions abroad than by local museum exhibitions. From this perspective, I am for example absolutely convinced that the future Ghenie solo show at S.M.A.K in Gent will have more lucrative consequences, if well realized, than the show he had in M.N.A.C. in Bucharest. Moreover, many of those Cluj based artists present in the exhibition are unfortunately not as largely known by the local or regional public as they probably should be, and therefore the show has a normalizing dimension to it, which is something to be appreciated. Finally, there is an increasing and genuine public interest for Mircea Pinte’s collection and the exhibition organised at the Art Museum of Cluj – Napoca was a coherent consequence of such an interest. All these being said, I believe the show served public interest properly, although it is hardly deniable the fact that it was also of service for Plan B and Mircea Pinte.
One of the strongest effects the exhibition had upon me was to remind me once more what a compelling artist Ciprian Mureşan can be. Leap into the Void, after Three Seconds, the witty restaging from 2004 of the Yves Klein’s famous (conceptual) photograph remains, I believe, not just a representative work for Mureşan, but also one of the rightfully iconic art works of the decade produced in Romania. It is really one of that images that can say more than a thousand words, speaking both about the Romanian contemporary art scene at the time and about artists’ historical status in contemporary society. Choose …, the video piece showing us a beautiful, shy boy pouring in the same glass Coca – Cola and Pepsi and then drinking the mix, doesn’t just enact, “from a marketing point of view … an apocalypse”, as curator Mihnea Mircan rightly states in the brochure – type catalogue of the show, but also brilliantly demonstrates Mureşan’s exceptional conceptual creativity and ability to find just the right visual shape for a simple, meaningful artistic idea.
Adrian Ghenie was present in the exhibition, besides two of his best paintings (greyish, subtle and hypnotic), with a sample of that section of his artistic production that was unfortunately absent from his show at the National Museum for Contemporary Art last winter, namely his so called studies. The piece in Mircea Pinte’s collection that was displayed, Study for Flight into Egypt I, is arguably the most impressive example in the artist’s portfolio of such insightful collages of print and paint that reveal the genuinely and painstakingly creative efforts underlying his art.
Cristi Pogăcean is the most consistently represented of the artists in the museum show, and the viewer has the opportunity to get aware of or to remember the most impressive qualities of his art: wit, poignancy, concision. The Abduction from the Seraglio, the wall carpet referring to the still unclear episode of the abduction of three Romanian journalists in Iraq, became iconic for his production, although it has a significant flaw: it requires just a bit too much contextual knowledge from the viewer, in order for its meaning to be fully grasped, than what one might coin as “the average international viewer” would normally posses. Breaking heart, the gold medallion in the shape of Romania and Moldavia’s maps, is a sharp commentary not only on the political situation of those countries as such, but also on the mythologies and utopias governing the Romanian political imaginary. Still, it is Lead his major work in the show. The hard, lead cast and silently menacing helmet finally does away with the anecdotic and constitutes an utterly compelling metaphor of the hidden dangers lying behind utopias and of the brutality as result of the lack of reflection.
Marius Bercea was present with just one work, but it was enough to display the strength of his painterly endeavours. During the last four years or so, his semantically rich painting has become increasingly daring and seductive, evolving from carefully constructed, usually small size and neat figurative compositions to a much looser and forceful approach of the painterly surface. He skilfully deploys formal traits that remind one of drawing, while at the same time retaining a melancholic and eerie atmosphere that vaguely evoke both Watteau’s uncanny morbidezza and Wyedth’s coolness.
As for Mircea Cantor and Victor Man, at least some of their displayed works were likely to persuade almost any contemporary art aficionado that for solid reasons they are considered by many to be the top under forty Romanian artists. If I’ve seen better painterly works of Man than what was displayed at the museum, it is equally true that three funerary ceramics (Untitled, 2008) reproducing consecutive scenes from Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s film, Nosferatu, form a truly extraordinary art work. It was by far the best work in Romanian’s pavilion at the Venice biennale in 2007 and continues to stand as delightful proof of Man’s ability to equally master mystery and directness and to embed ontological dimension into the realm of the narrative. Although Cantor’s video pieces were absent, his works in the show were revealing a strong artist. Diamond Corn especially, the life size corn made out of cast crystal, is a witty and eye stopping object: it is an oxymoron which functions like a meditation about the nature of contradictions; it is an implausible moulding together of the exquisite and the commonplace, of the mythological and the everyday.
All in all, “Mircea Pinte Collection” at the Art Museum of Cluj – Napoca was an invigorating show. It demonstrated that intelligent, meaningful collecting of contemporary art can be done in Romania (for example, it is absolutely remarkable how many of the works in the collection are really highlights of the featured artists’ production). It convincingly underlined the development of the art scene in Cluj and proved that the city has become quite a hot spot on the map of international contemporary art first of all thanks to the sheer quality of the artistic production of Cluj based or related artists. Also, it is absolutely praiseworthy for the exhibition that it managed, as I believe and hope, to persuade viewers that Romanian art, besides its fascinating and often tormented past, also has a risky, but certainly challenging and promising future; and the artists Pinte has been collecting so far are quite likely to be part of it.