The relationship with institutions in Romania
Prior to 1989 artistic practice was exclusively occurring within state led institutions whose policies were closely following the totalitarian regime’s directives. After the collapse of communism, these institutions abandoned the official discourse but continued to exist more or less with the same people, perpetuating reflexes specific to totalitarianism. These were the art schools, museums and the Romanian Artists' Union (a hybrid institution that could be defined as a syndicate, a professional association and a 'governmental NGO', divided into sections: painting, sculpture and the most recently created multimedia , which has proved to be inactive and marginalised within the Union).
With a few exceptions, it can be said that these institutions find themselves in a temporary state of inactivity, due to keeping the old format. The absence of any change is blamed on a lack of funds, obviously public funds, as none of these organizations are used to consider financial resources other than the governmental support. In addition, the few activities that take place within these establishments have no relation to contemporary art. Museums are solely focusing on “dead artists”, either in the true sense of the word or rather as far as their art is conceirned.
The most remarkable events occur outside of these museums, art schools and the Union. In fact, for the same reasons, they are hardly taken into consideration when collaboration is conceirned.
In parallel, after 1989, private foundations appeared, most of them with the support of western foundations or as a result of artistic programs financed by occidental countries. The Soros Foundation was the main institution of this kind.
The most significant sign of progress in the last few years is the emergence of an independent scene, formed mostly with the contribution of young artists, some of them with unfinished artistic studies, whose work is in total independence from the old institutions, specifically the Artists' Union.
Autumn 2004 is crucial for this scene, due to the planned opening of the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the first public institution focused on contemporary art, located in the People’s House, the former Ceausescu’s palace and current setting of the Romanian Parliament. The new museum will host four big exhibitions.
This new institution is already a subject of controversy due to its location and to the fact that its creation has political connotations. The politicians involved took the initiative without consulting the key role players of the Romanian contemporary art scene. As well, the process of appointing the senior managerial positions was done in a controversial manner. The acquisitions took place in a secret manner, violating the law that allows free access to information regarding public expenditures. All of these issues have formed the topic of fervent debates hosted by the mail listing Nettime-ro, with opinions expressed by personalities such as Dan Perjovschi, Cosmin Gradinaru, Vladimir Bulat etc.
Artists have expressed their concern with the museum’s possible tendency to absorb and eventually annihilate other initiatives as it is quite clear that maintenance costs for such an institution will swallow most of the already limited budget allotted for contemporary art. The state doesn’t provide any support for other institutions, groups or initiatives such as AAC, Version, Protokoll, Vector, IDEA, Galeria 2020 and others*.
A prime example for the manner in which this museum functions is the use of public money in order to buy artwork at a considerable price, even though no permanent exhibitions will be put in place and whose artists (some of doubtable value) haven’t been invited for the opening exhibitions (the opening being a publicity stunt for the museum’s image on the international scene but also for the current government that faces elections one month after the museum’s opening). Many of the invited artists are not having their works acquired by the museum. And their projects are self financed, with budgets tenfold smaller than the amounts used by the museum in purchasing its collections (the figures can be verified on the Nettime listing). As a result, some of the artists (including myself) withdrew their works from the opening exhibition.
Given the situation outlined above, many artists opt for emigration as a solution. Although integration in other contexts is difficult, once the first step of penetrating the system is taken, the environment feels much more comfortable. It becomes easier to pursue continuous activity in a system that already exists and is functional unlike Romania, where even the most potent artists, aside from their personal achievements, have to dedicate time and energy to building the system.
In the larger context of the Romanian society, where artists’ trust in public institutions decreases while the people’s trust in institutions such as the army or the church increases, one could almost perceive a semi medieval mentality.
*These projects are financed with the artists' personal budget or by foreign institutions such as Prohelvetia, the French Cultural Centre, the Sindan Cultural Centre etc. In general, the public institutions would manifest no interest in helping these initiatives. Also bureaucracy is another impediment for them to get involved.