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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Anish Kapoor is a London-based sculptor with an Indian Jewish background, being born in Mumbai in 1954, but living in the U.K. since the early 1970’s, when he arrived to study Arts. He first started to exhibit as part of the New British Sculpture art scene, then he went on to win the prestigious Turner Prize, and at the moment he is one of the most prominent figures of contemporary sculpture.
His works are characterized by often massive, but always simple and elegant, also usually monochromatic shapes. Almost all materials that can be associated with sculpting have passed through his skilled hands, as he created works out of: chalk, raw pigment, polystyrene, fiberglass, stone, aluminum, stainless steel, bronze, felt, acrylic, wax… etc. More often than not the artist’s intention is to enable expression via his works, rather than to express a specific message of his own, this can be seen most clearly in his installations and in his reflective sculptures where the participation of the viewers is quintessential to the work. Even though large scale is not always in the artworks’ best interest, often shifting the accent from the idea to the pure craftsmanship, Kapoor’s works take size and work it to their advantage. Pervaded by elements of minimalism, they fill the viewer with a sense of awe that can only be experienced in front of a well-presented, monumental piece of art.

The exhibition in focus here took place at the Serpentine Gallery of the Kensington Gardens, in London. The show that was on view between September 28th of 2010 and March 13th 2011 contains 4 pieces by the artist, all of them made of highly polished stainless steel, that have never been previously shown together. This show was curated by Hans-Ulrich Obrist, one of the world’s top curators at the moment, and who has been working at the Serpentine Gallery for over 10 years, and it is unique in the way that it is the first contemporary sculpture project to take place in the Kensington Gardens in the last 25 years.


Entitled Turning the World Upside Down, the show does just that, both symbolically and literally. Watching the surfaces of Kapoor’s pieces you experience the world around you (and even your own figure) in unexpected ways. They record the nature’s movements, the changes in the weather, the foliage – take note of the period in which the exhibition takes place, one of the most interesting and rewarding periods from this point of view. When faced with his works you are forced to see things from a different perspective, and thus notice details you would’ve passed over if it wasn’t for them. The idea behind this show is for the works of art to be directly experienced by the viewers. Reflecting and distorting, they may be destabilizing at first, showing a new yet familiar sight.
The pieces, placed around the park are not integrated in the scenery; instead, they stand out, like curious, alien objects, arresting the gaze. Still, this does not distract the attention from the park itself, but rather the opposite, since this is precisely what they reflect. So, after all, are you admiring the artwork itself, the grand scenery, or your own funny self?

Probably the most popular work displayed is the C-Curve, which, as the title pretty much says, is a long curved band of stainless steel that on it’s outer (convex) side shows the reflected reality of the park grounds, but it’s not just an oversized mirror you are looking at – the curvature of the band makes the experience slightly stranger, due to the sensation that you might just catch a glimpse of what lies hidden just around the corner…
On the concave side, the entire scenery is reflected upside-down; it is in regular scale in the very center and enlarged towards the edges. This view brings on a whole new perspective over the arrangement of the park, the often overlooked elaborated design of the Kensington Gardens (conceived in the 18th century by Henry Wise and Charles Bridgeman), the rows of trees, like something out of a Hobbema painting.
Certainly the best-placed sculpture in the exhibition is the Sky Mirror – Red, the smaller of the two present in the show, it has a diameter of aproximately 280cm, and it consists of a concave disc, (resembling a satellite dish) that stands close to the shore of the Round Pond, seeming to float above the water, amongst the swans. Its tint – pinkish red, with violet gleams like the hues of a Rothko piece makes it look like a setting sun, and the angle at which it is placed makes it reflect not the swans or the visitors, but only the skies above… a permanent sunset. Its positioning with Kensington Palace as a backdrop creates what I believe is an iconic image.


The second Sky Mirror, an enormous sculpture with a diameter of 10.6 meters that originally stood in the middle of the Rockefeller Center in New York, is in this case placed farther away from the public, more precisely across the Longwater. It brings the unseen into full view, it brings down the sky, making us acutely aware of it’s constant movement, constant change, especially in a city such as London, where the weather is well known for its moody swings. Pointing out the easily recognizable, but not quite familiar, the work draws you in and keeps you focused, never offering a dull moment.
The last of the works, and also the one I, myself found the least appealing is Non Object (The Spire), a 3 meter piece, shaped like a non-Euclidean cone, with its pointy top shooting up, a tad too alien for it’s ambient, but still a clever find, as it reflects itself onto it’s own surface, making for an interesting distortion of the shape itself and also of the surrounding environment.

One of the downsides of the exhibition is that this last work and also the C-Curve have been surrounded by rope in order to protect them, thus diminishing the actual experience of the viewers, who cannot properly interact with these works anymore. It can be argued here of course that a good public sculpture or installation should be able to sustain itself and to stand apart in its environment… But other than that, I believe the show is a success, given the excellent location, the always amazing works of Kapoor and especially the chemistry that was created between these two elements. The mix of all these provides a unique way of experiencing contemporary art. This highly modernist abstract art transforms the well kept oasis that is the Kensington Gardens, but without ever giving the sense that it attempts to invade it.

As a whole, Anish Kapoor turns a walk in the park into a whimsical trip, like something out of Alice in Wonderland or a Hall of Mirrors. He is an illusionist that engages and amuses the viewer, but on a deeper level he is also a revealer: his sleek, sophisticated sculptures teach us to look at the world anew.

Text and photos by Voica Puscasiu

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/

2011 started off at Casa Matei Gallery of the University of Art and Design in Cluj with Alexandra Bodea’s exhibition, titled Desenează ca şi cum ar avea consecinţe (Draw as if It Would Have Consequences), which was on display between the 13th and 21st of January. The artist is a young graduate of the university and she is currently continuing her studies as a master student. Even though her BA was in painting, the current exhibition features only drawings with permanent marker, which are strictly black & white. There is no color experimentation whatsoever, which may seem peculiar, but can also be challenging for an artist whose supposedly main medium of expression is paint.

The drawings are simple and sketchy, having the appearance of caricatures, and all of them are accompanied by caption texts, which are actual parts of the images. The simple graphic aspect thus allows for the focus to fall on the text, or rather on the relationship between the texts and the drawings, relationship that constitutes, after all, the essence of the show. Many of the images can only be understood via their captions, which thus serve as explanations. It can rightfully be said that the drawings actually benefit from the texts, as they bring a deeper and slightly odd meaning to each  of them.

Although the entire visual outline screams of Dan Perjovschi’s influence, Bodea doesn’t seem interesting in tackling political and social aspects, instead focusing much more on personal experiences, on religious quips, on commonplace, mundane things and proving a wittiness all of her own. The downside to what seems to me a highly personal exhibition, even bordering the realm of idiosyncrasies is that too many of the displayed works tend to get slightly too hermetic. Obviously not all of them can resonate with the viewer’s own experiences and thus there is the risk of them seeming somewhat absurd, or dare I say, pointless. Now, this aspect is probably not a downside for works of art in general, but an art that wants to deliver a message needs to makes sure that the message gets through. Even so, this still leaves a handful of drawings in the exhibition which are meaningful and “legible”, while at the time being very clever and highly amusing.

Probably the best liked piece of the show (also the largest, not that it should have anything to do with size, mind you!) is 238 mici portari care strigă în cor “NU AI VOIE!” (238 little doormen who shout together “YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED!”), a funny and relatable work, underlining the widely shared feelings of frustration, angst and powerlessness in front of a rude administration, in the framework of which technically low ranking people have power and inspire a strange feeling of fear and shame. A neat aspect of the exhibition is the showcasing of the works, an installation of sorts, consisting of polls on which the drawings are attached at eye-level, thus having the general appearance of small flags. These are either lined up along the walls or gathered in clusters, with one notable exception of Ridicat dar pus în umbră (Highly positioned, yet  in the shadows), for the display of which yet another clever solution was found (the work being placed in a rather large niche in the impressive stone walls of the exhibition venue). Another quite original and efficient proposal of the artist were the rocks with drawings on them that were available at the opening. The stones featured works from the exhibition and they were given away to the viewers, making for a nice piece of memorabilia, of greater impact, than, for example, a postcard.

All in all, it is a solo show that speaks of everyday things in a clever and sarcastic voice. It comprises simple images and constructions that have the potential to stick with you after you have left the gallery space, somewhat like a catchy commercial. One disappointment though was the low public presence at the opening of the show, compared to others I’ve witnessed at Casa Matei Gallery, a factor that just might unfortunately downplay the sheer relevance of the exhibition, given the reduced number of people it has actually reached.

Text by Voica Puşcaşiu