I strongly believe that the Art Museum Cluj has undertaken some significant changes for the better during the last few years. They took place under the essentially smart, although not without its downsides, directorship of Calin Stegerean, an art professional who is definitely to be esteemed for both his honest and undeterred will to improve the institution and for the sturdiness he demonstrated more than once in pursuing this goal. The institution has thus become more attentive to its relationship with the local, but also national and even international contemporary art milieu is concerned. Although its relation to the wider Cluj community still needs considerable improving and further work, although reflection upon its collection is as necessary as an intelligent facelift of its permanent display, the museum has managed to present the public, during the last three years or so, with some challenging exhibitions. Just at one brief retrospective glance, one could easily remember, in this respect, shows like Perjovschi’s solo project, Ioachim Nica’s necessary retrospective, Donata Wenders’s problematic and challenging, situational and partial featuring with Robert Bosisio, the fresh and poignant look upon the locally praised Baia Mare School, the sharp Cel ce se pedepseste singur show, curated by Erwin Kessler and even the somewhat controversial presentation of a part of Mircea Pinte’s collection. On the whole, if I was to briefly describe the museum’s development over the envisioned period of time, I would say that, although it has not, perhaps, become popular enough, in the most positive meaning of this term, it has at least become more functional and definitely sexier.

The most recent international show opened at the Art Museum Cluj inscribes itself perfectly in the line of the aforementioned development. Modern Talking is, so to speak, a spin-off of Nicola Trezzi’s project for the Prague Biennale in 2011, called Overall Painting, previously restaged also in Warsaw. As a result of the collaboration between the initial curators and Daria D. Pervain, the Cluj episode of the project included three Cluj – based artists, namely Florin Maxa, Radu Comsa and Dan Maciuca. Also, one is to remark the fruitful collaboration undertaken, in order to organize the show, by the public museum and the private, increasingly credible institution that is Sabot Gallery. Sabot was a main institutional partner which made the exhibition at the Art Museum Cluj possible and, I am inclined to believe, a partner whose contribution was crucial in rendering the exhibition solid and relevant. This is all the more commendable as the gallery also managed to open, shortly before the debut Modern Talking show, a truly impressing exhibition in its own venue (namely the solo project of Radu Comsa, titled, rather ambitiously, Things as They Are, one of the best achievements to date of both the gallery and its versatile and stimulative artist), as well as another remarkable one, Collector, shortly after the mentioned debut. Sabot thus imposes itself as the most active and poignant private artistic institution in Cluj, at the beginning of 2012.

The exhibition is not necessarily conceptually groundbreaking, nor is it visually exhilarating and it does not, I presume, intend to be a superlative and exhaustive response to otherwise exciting and very actual artistic questions, quests and doubts. Nevertheless, it is a very solid show, truly coherent and meaningful, excellently enforcing the general curatorial framework. It is pleasant to see and offers “food for thought” about some important aspects of the contemporary artistic practices, of the various deployments of painting in the contemporary context in particular. In a city whose artistic life and especially fame is revolving so much around the medium of painting, the exhibition aptly hosted by the Art Museum Cluj is even more relevant. The main purpose, fully attained, of the curatorial endeavour is to bring forward various oblique approaches to painting, undertaken by a significant number of contemporary artists, more or less definable as “some of the most visible emerging artists on the international artistic scene” (as they are coined in the host institution’s description of the show).

Their endeavours fall into the field of what was called expanded painting, a formula that acknowledges a move of many artists away from the traditional and even modernist understanding of the painted artwork as a flat and geometrically regular coloured surface. The notion stems actually, on one hand, from Rosalind Krauss’ approach of the developments in the field of three-dimensional art in the late fifties and the sixties (see her famous essay Sculpture in the Expanded Field) and, on the other hand, from the very observation of the ways in which some artists repositioned themselves in relation to painting during the recent decades. Nevertheless, for the rather widespread recognition and use of the syntagm, the importance of Politi’s and Kontova’s chosen title for their contribution to the Prague Biennale in 2005, namely Expanded Painting, is difficult to overrate.

Coming back to the show at the Art Museum Cluj, one must notice the presence of a compelling majority of conceptually interesting and visually rewarding artworks. The three above mentioned new entries in the show definitely prove that there is more than a passion for or a fetishization of painting in the Cluj art world. Thus, there has been within this art world a reflection upon its condition, largely influenced by a sort of metaphysical stance and by a mathematics – based understanding of the idea of form, as early as the late sixties, as proven by the works of Florin Maxa. There is a strive for questioning its contemporary meaning, via revisiting historical or neo – vanguard, in the recent, deadly serious and yet uncannily humorous works of Radu Comsa. And there is a kind of natural tendency of moving from the flatness of painting to the elegantly coloured object in the endeavours of Dan Maciuca, brilliant (abstract) painter, for whom painting was almost always, anyway, anything but flat.

Patricia Treib’s three small paintings are charming, yet, as in a few other cases of artists in the show, one could hardly understand what they actually have to do with the concept of expanded painting. What she exhibits seems painting in its own right, nevertheless, it is good, refined and presumably heartfelt painting, though the chromatics remind maybe just a bit too much Tuymans and the their overall lyricism somewhat recalls Raoul de Keyser’s painterly shapes. Very solid and sort of tongue – in – cheek, bravely graceful and non – emphatically refined are also the works of Malgorzata Szymankiewicz, here and then evoking a certain section of Martin Kippenberger’s production.

Expanding what could, after all, be called painting into the third dimension, Daniel Turner’s relief, made out of materials such as tar, is elegant to the point of becoming arrogantly decorative. Still, its almost basic and sexually alluding sensuousness denies this impression, while the obvious fact that it is produced with symmetry and formal relations in mind makes it one the most adequate works in the show to relate to one of the subsequent questions that the curatorial project aimed at asking: what is left of the modern (artistic) world? The same difficult question of the relationship between the post-modern (or post – Buren) painting and its modernist, ambitiously and staunchly geometrical vanguard predecessors is being tackled by the work of Ana Cardoso. A half orange, half black rectangular surface is presented to the viewer, actually an “object” resulted by the sewing together of two pieces of fabric, respectively made out of cotton and wool. The most important merit of the work, intentionally attained or not, is actually –no irony intended– the fact that it actually resembles a classically modernist painting, at least from a distance, thus drawing upon, not without sensuality, the topic of the intentionality and uniqueness of the painterly object.

Another truly remarkable contribution at the show is that of Ida Ekblad, the installation titled Danceable Moist Flaking Dyslasia. For Modern Talking, the artist abandons her expressionistic approach to painting she’d earlier often deployed, in order to compose an arrangements of rather bizarrely formalist iron sculptures, found, commonplace objects and several “pillows”, covered in printed fabric. These later pieces of the installation are truly arresting, as they tantalizingly seem to hover in an eerie space between what could be an art object and a sofa to be found in the house of a young and probably intellectual middle class family’s, between disposed items and softly fancy design objects; in other words, they seem to be placed in Rauschenberg’s famous gap between art and life.

All in all, the exhibition proves its curators’ case and it does so in an eye arresting manner. There is, as the curators claim, a variety of contemporary artistic proposals stemming from the problem of going beyond the realm of painting, of stretching its borders or obliquely redeploying it for various goals. Also, the above curatorial thesis is backed by interesting, challenging artists, spectacularly emerging or less so. As an issue causing some reserve, just in passing, I’d notice here that one cannot help but ask oneself if five co – curators isn’t a bit too much, even in the case of an endeavour which charm consists in good part in the rhizomic collaboration between various people and institutions; I mean, still, it’s not the Moscow Biennale or something.

But, anyway, I think the show also brings to attention another, more important thing, with or without the curators intending it. Most of the solutions proposed by the artists in it relate, more or less closely, to previously existing approaches, namely of artists in the seventies or the first half of the eighties. Many of the endeavours brought forward by Modern Talking are rehearsals of or variations on topics, artistic questions and responses already formulated during that time. It is difficult not to remember, in this context, Jery Saltz’s harsh diagnose of the last year’s Venice Biennale, where he was noticing more or less the same developments revealed by the grand show in the lagoon, which finally led him to label a supposedly existing contingent of “biennale artists” as being a “lost generation”.

Is this really the case? It is probably difficult, if not impossible to give an answer now, also because of the lack of a minimum historical distance between the phenomenon and the attempt of assessing it. But questions arise nevertheless and they are important working hypothesis. Is painting now in a crisis characterised by the circularity, by the tautology and repetition of the very attempts to overpass its historically burdened condition? Is this a crisis created or at least facilitated by the last decade’s or so triumph of painting, proclaimed not only by the largely presumed guilty, so to speak, Charles Saatchi and for which the art market is a strong witness? Are there more functional and relevant responses to the question of the actual condition of the medium of painting than the somewhat evasive ones, with which also Modern Talking seems to confront us? Is the nowadays strongly self-asserted painter somehow culturally predisposed to move to or at least tease the possibilities of materialized or imaginary installation (names like Ghenie, Meese or Borremans come to mind when asking this particular question)?

What is certain is that the reason Modern Talking is a good show is that it is able to raise such questions in the mind of the attentive, reflective and, why not?, a bit good willing spectator, beyond the inherent and variable quality of the featured works as such. I don’t know if the curator’s of the show stumbled upon or struck at something important; but maybe the previous phrase can constitute an indirect answer also to the question posed by Nicola Trezzi at the end of his introductory text: “Why shouldn’t we consider organizing exhibitions and painting two faces of the same coin?”.

For photos of the show, go to http://artavizuala21.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/transgresarea-in-%E2%80%9Eciudat/ and http://flipflop.ro/home/2012/02/17/%E2%80%9Emodern-talking%E2%80%9D-sau-talking-about-what-is-left-to-the-modern-world/

Radu Comsa is an artist who evolved in a somehow steady, albeit seemingly rather slow pace during the last decade. Essentially, he moved from being an exceptionally skilful painter, fascinated by what he could actually do with painterly matter on a surface to being an artist increasingly aware of the conundrums generated or catalyzed by the contemporary use of the historically overcharged medium of painting. Still, his development is far from being a passage from, to use Duchamp inspired terms, the realm of the retinal to that of deployment of artistic means towards more or less pure conceptual ends. Thus, his art is constantly starkly visual and the oblique approaches to painting he has been displaying over the last three years or so still appear to be rather pleads in favour of the meaningfulness of painting today, even if they are, nevertheless, critical or inquisitive with regard to various aspects related to the perception of and the social expectations from this traditional medium, which are currently developed by the contemporary art milieu.

I remember encountering Comsa’s art works for the first time some eight years ago. Back then, I was somewhat baffled by the seemingly unabashed way in which he appropriated, one could even say replicated, the painterly manners of star artists of the day (or of the decade) such as Gerhard Richter or Takashi Murakami. The appropriation of such stylistic traits was so plainly visible in some of his paintings at that time that I was, in a way, taken aback and bewildered by the possibility that his trendy epigone – like endeavours might be either so bold or so blissfully unreflective that it would actually be impossible to assess his work solely from the perspective of the (modernist) issue of the originality criterion, as well as from the singular perspective of the postmodernist narrative of appropriation. Anyway, looking back now at that whole situation, I think that my difficulties in interacting with Comsa’s art then were mainly caused by the fact that both me and him (although it may sound paradoxical) were at that moment still overrating both originality and sheer skilfulness.

However, it was clear from quite early in his career that, if his excursions in the medium of painting were going to be truly meaningful, they would have to be underlined by serious reflection upon issues such as style, brand, hype and success, all of them forged or attained via the practice of painting within the context of the contemporary institutional artistic environment. From an adjacent perspective, I tend to believe that Radu Comsa –smart and gentle, insightful, yet sometimes naive– was somehow caught by surprise by the rather rapid and somewhat spectacular rise of the so called (painting) school of Cluj, more precisely by the rise to more or less prominent international visibility of some of his Cluj – based colleagues. However, out of this sort of surprise, conjugated with his previous painting adventures, with the very fruitful and useful to his artistic coming out of age collaboration with Sabot Gallery and with his instrumental role in the functioning of the Paintbrushes Factory in Cluj (the artist being strongly involved in the development of both aforementioned institutions) came his splendid solo show in 2010, Being Radu Comsa. In preparation of the show, he secretly produced paintings matching the style and imagery used by some of his more famous, at the moment and maybe even now, Cluj – based fellow artists, such as Man, Ghenie, Savu, Bercea or Suciu, only to exhibit them as a sort of installation at Sabot Gallery.

The show was, in my opinion, a blast: Comsa, the good old chap watching or even assisting his colleagues’ real or inflated success, didn’t go bitter or grumpy over it. instead, he replied by this splendid construction, which was equally a sharp reflection about the “school of Cluj” and a half – amusing, half – acid comment about the nowadays international art system. Unable to meaningfully forge a style, Comsa scavenged his peer’s approaches; having no style, he could possess them all. He finally found a way to put his craftsmanship at work in a way that was truly poignant and deeply (self)ironic. Reviewing his excellent show, back in 2010, I was remarking that Comsa put himself in a risky and open – ended situation and expressed an implicit curiosity regarding what would follow from this situation.

I got my answer with his latest show at Sabot, titled Things as They Are and briefly, yet poignantly described by the organizers as being “the kind of show made by squeezing modern thoughts into a tight space”. The first thing convincingly proven by the exhibition is that Comsa is indeed the artist able to build up Sabot’s best shows to this date. The second and certainly more important thing is that the Cluj based artist has reached a remarkable level of reflexive understanding of the crucial problems facing painting today, as well as the ability to frame them into the broader context of contemporary art at large. The third and also poignant thing highlighted by the show at the Paintbrushes Factory is that Comsa is expanding not just beyond painting as such, but also beyond the current situation of art, trying to glimpse at the complicated and problematic heritage of modernism for a nowadays artist. The result of the combination of the last two mentioned traits is an exhibition that mixes, at conceptual and visual level, values and looks of painting and design, historical references and contemporary dilemmas, juicy colour and minimalist form, hubris and self-irony.

He mainly exhibited objects, of which I don’t think one can speak of as being simply paintings made with more or less unusual materials and techniques. Colourful fabrics were put at work, their choices and juxtapositions reminding one equally of an artist in front of its immaculate canvas and of someone decorating his or her own home environment, more or less stylishly. The largest work in the show consisted precisely in such juxtapositions of fabric patches, together forming a “canvas” almost the size of the gallery’s biggest wall, with almost arbitrarily composed geometric arrangements. Fabric again, dyed in pleasurable, yet subtle tones, that render it mildly sensuous, was used to produce more modest looking objects, somewhat resembling, when suspended between two thin poles, with the gates on a sky slope (Transmuted Painting) or, when actually used to “clad” such a pole, to Cadere’s nomad, painted wood sticks (Squeezed Abstractions). Rectangular pieces of plywood, tied up with thread as if they were packed for transport lay on the gallery’s floor, implausibly replicating a Mondrian (Large Composition with Red …). Abstract wooden objects, their shape evoking snowflakes or vegetable structures were pinned onto the wall on which the words “tender buttons” would be written in concentric circles (Framework). A piece of thin curtain becomes a white on white, bizarrely elegant painting, as it is placed on the gallery’s wall and juxtaposed to a white piece of wood board leaning against it (Circulation of  form).

Finally, the particularly spectacular work included in the show was the video titled Modernist Study for Bust. It depicts the artist himself carefully shaving, then stretching a piece of white fabric / clothing onto the wall of, presumably, his studio, painting it in a tongue – in – cheek,  faux gestural manner, only to wear it as a shirt in front of the camera at the end, while the lower part of his body would be covered by a cardboard box. It is art about art, produced in a truly witty and deeply ironic manner, as it sketches poignantly one of the several possible typological portraits of the contemporary artist. Thus, it is at the same time alluding to and describing the kind of contemporary artist who is caught between his or her inescapable post – modern, alter – modern  or hyper – modern condition (terms are not fully interchangeable, yet the specific differences are not necessarily relevant here) and the nostalgia felt for the modernist hubris, over-sized hope and overrated freedom.

After all, perhaps the exhibition as a whole refers to a certain type of artist, one who has to grapple both with his affectionate approach to traditional media and to painting in particular and with his acute understanding of the paradoxes this later medium is currently riddled with, with the dream of being a star and the self-irony that prevents one from seriously indulging in the reveries of an inflated artistic ego. Things as They Are is finally a show about elegantly (maybe just a bit too elegantly and too predictable, too biennial or common international style – like) mediating between contrasts, fortunately without destroying the essential tensions the artist deals with. Radu Comsa has, in the end, constructed a solid, impressive and even a bit cocky exhibition out of his doubts, hesitations and more or less secret hopes.

 

For photos of Radu Comsa’s works, go to http://www.galeria-sabot.ro/index.php?/project/galeria-1/.

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/

Mihuț Boșcu is yet another young graduate of the University of Art and Design in Cluj-Napoca who is coming of age as an artist on the city’s scene via the galleries at the Paintbrushes Factory. What is striking about this artist in particular is that even though his major during University was ceramics his work is a journey throughout a plethora of different techniques and media. He has experimented with ceramics, sculpture, (be it glasswork, steelwork and so on), installations, he created the shoes for Lucian Broscǎțean’s Sky Mirror collection (absurdly high, sculpted wooden platforms), and his previous show in Cluj was a replica of the capsule that flew the famous Laika into space in 1957. The work was shown in an exhibition called How It’s Made at the Laika art space, also based at the Paintbrushes Factory in February 2010, making for quite an elegant show . All of this points out to a uniquely talented fellow with enough imagination, talent, but also curiosity and force to try out and master a wide number of techniques in order to make his point. He is a highly active artist, always searching for new or appropriate means of expression, and in my opinion he is worthy of admiration if only for this courage and unrest alone.
His most recent show, titled A Prologue to Vanity and Self-Adoration, which was on display between February 2nd and March 12th 2011 at Sabot Gallery in the Paintbrushes Factory, revolved around the idea of human vanity and of the immersion in pleasure despite the passing of time and despite all the things that are obviously wrong with the world.
The show is made up from all sorts of different works, ranging from sculpture, to drawings, installation and paintings, which brings me to a downside of the exhibition as the whole: joining together all of these different works that were quite obviously not created with the intention to support one another (or one very strong concept for that matter) makes it hard for them to function in the same space. Thus some of them seem not to belong there and this reflects badly on the ones that do work together since they don’t showcase them in a proper light. To me here the only problem seems to be the over-zealousness of the artist to exhibit works that he liked or enjoyed creating and thus unnecessarily stretched their meaning in the hope that they will play nicely with each other and support a concept.
The central piece, from which the show originated, called This is Eating All Our Time is a life-sized sculpture of standing nude man smelling / eating(?) his own intestines in a very cherishing and self-absorbed manner. The materials used are resin and fiberglass, which was afterwards covered in a multitude of lively colours and the texture was altered by pouring wax on top of it. All of the different paints and materials used to cover up the sculpture are arranged on the board at the feet of the figure.
The main idea behind this work comes from the presence of a substance called serotonin in the human body, and its effects on people’s mood. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for blocking out discomforting feelings, leaving the body in a state of well-being; its actions make it a key ingredient in several classes of antidepressants. Even though serotonin can reach the organism in a multitude of relevant ways, in humans the levels of this substance are highly affected by diet and approximately 80% of the total serotonin is located in cells that are found in the intestines. Thus we have the narcissistic figure, overly enjoying his state of pleasure, and seeking it in complete and slightly grotesque self-absorption. The statue is placed on a large wooden board that has the sketch of a burning zeppelin painted on it – the figure has its back turned to the scene, in total oblivion of the disaster, his time and attention consumed by something completely different.
The same burning zeppelin can be seen in the work entitled Drinking Tea, which is a rather large paper-relief, the pure white downplays the horror of the disaster, intention which becomes even more obvious once you also notice the title, choosing to remain in a comfortable ritual, ignoring the pain that concerns others… The calm of the tea ceremony, the quiet, hushed atmosphere cannot be further away from the roar and the chaos of the consuming flames. The craftsmanship of this piece is impressive, and the resulting work is one of disturbing elegance.
At the far end of the gallery there is a space that was dedicated to creating the aspect of an artist’s workplace, random objects, visual experiments, a table with a couple or so paintings, and more remarkably, a skull made out of thistles. It is a vanitas symbol, and also a reply to the famous work of Damien Hirst – For the Love of God, recreating the emblem of our mortality and human frailty, out of “immortal”, natural materials. This “artist’s corner” type of space is a nice inclusion in the show, despite it being a bit overly staged.
Nearby this space there is a painting that also somehow connects to the tea ceremony, this time not by title, but by subject, showing butlers with serving trays. Other works in the exhibition are a series of pencil drawings, a comet carved in a polystyrene plate, and another vanitas guards the entrance – a clock with a mechanism that makes the pointers move in a frantic manner, underlining the passage of time while we idle along.
All in all, even though for me the show seems to lack the (overly) wished consistency, by including less necessary pieces, it still makes for an interesting experience due to the talent displayed once more by the artist. Mihuț Boșcu’s prolific personality and eagerness to experiment will, for me, always make for a must-see show, and I know for a fact that I am not the only one who looks forward, both curious, and with high expectations to his future creations.

Text by Voica Puscasiu

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

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/