A New Generation and New Fetishisms in Romanian Contemporary Art
Although the most visible phenomenon on the Romanian contemporary art scene is the occurrence after the year 2000 of a young generation, quite homogenous in age( 20-30 ), and although this generation is currently engaged in an active process of defining itself as a group, as a “young generation”-with all the implications of this brand, one could observe some fundamental differences among the representatives of this wave.
However, if one intends to find a common feature for this generation, that feature would definitely be its fetishism towards the forms of different underground movements, and towards various global subcultures.
The 40+ generation, or the “Soros kids”,
can be defined through its obsessive relationship, again a real fetishism,
with the new media, newly discovered and often used as a weapon in their
arguments with the old establishment. The new generation assumed this
experience and thus the new media are now taken for granted and used
The theoretical approaches of this issues were critical, as imposed by the realities of the Romanian postcommunist society but also by the Soros program, however without an explicit leftist content, mainly due to the compromised reputation of socialism after the half of century of its totalitarian version..
The new generation exorcised many of these obsessions, mainly the desperate assumption of an exotic and transitional Eastern identity, again an obvious consequence of the Soros program and of the later “European” and “Balkan” Projects.
The young generation’s program is obviously one of integration and communication with the trends of the global art, eliminating any reference to a local identity. The Romanian young generation wants to be called a young generation without being explicitly Romanian. And of course, the most comfortable way of acquiring such a status was the often formal and superficial embracement of underground cultures, the club&urban culture, graffiti art, etc.
This altermondialist solution became the mark of the young generation of Romanian artists. It is now self understood that a video artist would often be a club VJ, that an artist working mainly with photography would also perform as a photographer for fashion&lifestyle magazines– and often not only out of financial needs – and that almost any Romanian artist would be a street graffiti artist, doing mainly “conceptual” stencils.
The search for institutionalized forms of communication, collaboration and exhibiting is another hot issue, any artist, beside his/her personal projects is involved in a search for these institutional formulas, often assuming the role of promoter, cultural manager, curator and PR agent. It is said that when 3 Romanian artists meet for a beer they don’t discuss about their future art works but rather about creating a new gallery, or at least a mailing list. This is a consequence of the severe lack of professional curators, art managers and theoreticians, the existing ones could all barely form a football team. But of course, the main reason for this is the institutional quasi vacuum of the Romanian art scene after the closing of the Soros pocket, and more profoundly of the personality crisis and the ambiguous profiles of the existing institutions. And if all these features expressed until here rather infirm than confirm my first assertion about the profound differences among the young generation, these differences occur here, in the relationship between the young artists and the art institutions, and more profoundly in their political program which determines these relationships.
Geographically, the Romanian art scene gravitates around three centers, Bucharest, Cluj and Iasi, other big cities like Timisoara (which used to be, at the beginning of the nineties, one of the most dynamic spaces for contemporary art in Romania, certainly the place to be for an actionist artist) or Brasov (the second Romanian city in economic importance ) may only get good grades when it comes to the authenticity of the notion of underground, the young artists in these cities being almost exclusively focused on experimental electro music, Japanese manga cartoons or on creating alternative clubs and cafes.
The young generation of artists which
emerged in these 3 cities was connected and shaped by the institutional
context of each city. It is fair to say from the beginning that this
generation appeared after the end of the large financial boom coming
from the West in the nineties, so their connection to the local institutions
and contexts was only natural to be stronger.
The whole context of Cluj was quite different from the rest of Romania. Its multicultural aspect, its superior economic situation to the rest of Romania and its privileged links with the Hungarian and Central European space left visible marks on the local art scene.
Institutions like Balkon magazine (Cluj version), later transformed in IDEA Arts+Society ( with a very clear political program, and also the most important pole of the Romanian leftist intellectual life, stretching beyond the visual arts field ), Studio Protokoll, a space of production and exhibition with a coherent critical and independent position, Tranzit House and DMedia group (an association focused on alternative and free media, open source issues and net policies), shaped an interesting, diverse and dynamic art scene made up by artists like Ciprian Muresan, Cristi Pogacean and Istvan Laszlo (forming the Supernova group, focused on projects debating economic issues and media clichés), Duo van der Mixt group (Mihai Pop and Cristian Rusu )or the Version magazine project (created and coordinated by Mircea Cantor, Gabriela Vanga- both of them based in Paris -and Ciprian Muresan). Probably one of the best known, internationally, projects created by Romanian young artists, Version magazine is a collaborative platform, an artist run magazine functioning simultaneously like a space for presenting projects, for debating issues of the contemporary art and society, but also as an actual support for projects which use Version as a medium of expression. Version was included as an art project in various international shows.
The Bucharest young art scene, more extended and more diverse is made up by different groups, trends and positions. From the representatives of the former Rostopasca group- which functioned in the late nineties- now working separately, in different media, from new media (Florin Tudor and Mona Vatamanu) to painting (Nicoale Comanescu and Dumitru Gorzo are probably the most preeminent young Romanian painters ) to the members of the former Cutter group (Cosmin Gradinaru, Ioan Godeanu-living in Germany and Dan Panaitescu) who took their name after a radical act, during their student period, of cutting the paintings of their colleagues in a gesture of protest against the privileges of the (low quality) old media in the art education system, being afterwards expelled from the Art University and than reenrolled after the official intervention of the very liberal Minister of Education of that time.
Another group which was blended together under the name of “young Romanian photographers” (Stefan Cosma, Alexandra Croitoru, Ioana Nemes, Vlad Nanca and Daniel Gontz) represent the most dynamic part of the Bucharest art scene. Their work is mainly focused on urban culture, on trends and lifestyles. Although similar in their attitudes with the young movements throughout the western world, antiwar and critical towards aspects of globalization, their works are neither explicitly political nor totally leftist, when compared to the works of most of the Cluj based artists, their attitude being understood rather as a lifestyle than as an actual critical position. Their influence on the very young art students and their media notoriety are considerable. Interestingly enough and relevant for the entire Romanian art scene is the fact that almost none of these artists had finished their art studies in the Romanian education system, demonstrating thus the bankruptcy of the art universities.
This very diverse scene underwent, in the last year, an extremely dynamic and somewhat surprising (when analysed in the entire context of the Romanian postcommunist art) process of communication and coagulation through projects like Rebranding Art in Romania, a network of home galleries - exhibitions organized in artists’ apartaments and then transported throughout the Bucharest, Cluj and Iasi network, the most dynamic homegallery of the network being Vlad Nanca’s apartament, also known as 2020 gallery, a space that was also included in an official program, Vienna Days in Bucharest.
But the most important factor of cohesion was the mailing list Incepem (“we are beginning“) which developed around this network. It must be said that a fundamental role in the self awareness of the Romanian contemporary art scene was played, in the last years, by the Romanian section of nettime mailing lists, introduced and moderated by the Timisoara based artist Alexandru Patatics. This position has now been taken over by the Incepem mailing list, initially created by the very young artists but soon transformed in a relevant space of discussion for the entire scene.
However this new situation of the Romanian young art scene wasn’t able to surpass the different positions and political attitudes, or to find a common position assumed by the majority of the young artists.
This autumn’s opening of the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest in the People’s House, Ceausescu’s megalomaniacal palace and the current site of the Parliament, marked an important change in the Romanian art scene.
It ended the period when the state support for contemporary art was rather inexistent, the whole scene being defined as a mere avant-garde experiment and thus an appendix of the national budget concentrated on the old media with their old masters. But because of the strong state control of this institution, an important part of the contemporary art scene protested against the current status of the Museum. This movement clarified positions between the independents (an attitude enthusiastically assumed by many artists even before the creation of this Museum, although without a clear basis for this position) and the politically unengaged. The young generation is somewhat split between the radical positions of those who have chosen not to participate and collaborate with the Museum and those who have. However the high level of self awareness of the young generation and the strong personal contacts can encourage the belief that this is a temporary state and that common formulas of expression could be found in the near future.
First published in Umelec Magazine, no 3/2004.