Breaktrough of Eastern Realism

—Cosmin Nasui

Breakthrough of Eastern Realism

Cosmin Nasui

In SLAG’s group exhibition of 11 Romanian artists, Against All Odds, the viewer encounters an important face of new figurative art from the New Europe of the east. The artists are from different cities and art schools in Romania and belong to two age groups, but they share a context: they are of the generations after the Romanian Revolution, a series of increasingly violent riots and fighting in late December 1989 that abruptly overthrew the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceau┼čescu.

With respect to the styles of the featured artists, for the past four decades, social realism has been the reigning school of visual art in Romania. As formulated in official art theory, the goal of social realism was to approach the representation of a subject without using an imposed style of expression; observing a subject at various levels would lead to an appropriate expression. The artists in Against All Odds have transformed this esthetic, zeroing in on one state of reality or portraying its disparate fragments. In certain works, the details of that reality, dimly remembered and separated from its original context, evoke a radical change of perception. In other pieces, by simply presenting something as it is, the artists create harsh and provocative observations.

Social Pop Art

A self-styled “people’s artist,” George Anghelescu bridges the gaps between urban social art and social pop art. His works combine classical techniques of painting, engraving, and drawing with collage, stencils, and graffiti in an ironic way. Anghelescu’s experiments in realism create a form of protest used as a critical tool in viewing a consumer society.

Unconscious Projection of Feeling

Irina Broboana paints a universe of battered dolls. They assume a double symbolism: the substitute for the traumatized child, and for the intimate object the child uses to share her thoughts or project her frustrations. Thus, the doll becomes for the observer the link between the personal universe of the child and the external world.

Reality Show

The character of Simona Sensual is a Romanian consumer mass-media creation who has a scandalous tabloid life on the covers of the morning newspapers. Her vain, superficial existence is conveniently wrapped for public consumption. In the paintings of Suzana Dan, Simona Sensual is lives her second, eternal life above the fluffy clouds in a sky framed with pinkish roses.

Luxury Animal Beauty

A mélange of fragments of reality set in a grand ballroom adorned with crystal chandeliers, lush curtains, and silk brocade, is the focus in the paintings of Gheorghe Fikl. The baroque atmosphere creates symbolic and dream images of luxe. A sense of political surrealism arises through Fikl’s dark tones and powerful but out-of-place animals.

Fashion Victims

Mihai Florea , in his project Buckle-up, paints portraits of his subjects from the waist down, emphasizing the buckle design of each of their belts. Wryly, Florea makes each buckle an extension of their personalities, starting a dialogue between the buckle and its possessor. Besides being a fundamental sartorial accessory, in the process the buckle gains a new dimension and becomes part of the individuality of the wearer through the contextual message that it carries.

Poetry of Urban Reality

Artificial urban landscapes are an aspect of development that utterly altered the face of nature. In her paintings, Ioana Gorzo isolates elements of the urban commonplace with a poetic simplicity that rises above casual observation. Her paintings—of pedestrian views of telephone poles and their webs of cables—craft an image of the Romanian post-revolution landscape. An intricate lattice of communication wires forms an oppressive mesh that blocks the sky. Viewed as metaphor, these subjects parallel the chaos that in other aspects of Romanian life create so many daily struggles and sagas.

Appetite for Reality

Dumitru Gorzo always finds a biting way to tackle issues. His work, always exciting and uncompromising, makes him one of the most interesting artists from Eastern Europe today. Truth May Lie leads the viewer enticingly toward the feeling of belonging to a specific milieu, yet implicitly propels us into the universal; an intentional ambiguity offers the viewer the opportunity to participate in the making of the story. On the Road filters memories through a mesh of pastels, exuding that singular afternoon-light that illuminates our journey through the days; sheer poetry, the painting invites us to hop in and continue “on the road” of life’s discoveries.

Shapes of Fear

Aneli Munteanu draws perceptions of a different kind of fear. The bed is the land where there is a connection between the waking world and that of dreams; bed sheets take the shape of psychic crises and agonizing states of mind. The body awakens, but parts of the spirit remain to inhabit the shapes of the sheets. The graphite drawings become portraits, drained of blood, devoid of flesh.

Replicas of Reality

Genetics is the latest series of sculptures by Bogdan Rata. Based in a “forgotten future”, his work reproduces “replicas of reality” reminiscent of the virtual world in the film Blade Runner. Rata multiplies human parts (fingers, ears, and so on) and combines them into new life forms. The newborn creatures seem to result from strange experiments with the human body in an esthetics lab; his sculpture is a remarkable interpretation of the culture of the fragment, evoking studies of the arts of antiquity. Rata’s works forge a contextual change of the anatomic detail through its obsessive multiplication. The materials used, and the resulting industrial look, question the assault on individual personality in a climate of commercial branding uniformity. The concept of “hand-foot” and the “unsuccessful blessing” symbol strengthens the idea behind the work, delicately propelling it into the realm of grotesque; the torso also evokes a twist of reality, the socially provocative themes of sexual identity and the hermaphrodite. The sculpture frustrates casual observation through the exaggeration in size of the genitals and through the ambiguous body outlines.

Hidden Reality

The paintings of Mircea Suciu present a special species of evocative reality, atmospherically transforming simple images against empty backgrounds. His compositions are unusual witty and cleverly surprising, using images from U.S. advertising of the 1940s and 1950s. At a formal level, his technique uses both realism and abstraction: realism informs the layer where the characters’ shapes and shadows are simply dropped onto emptiness; Suciu redefines abstraction as an almost oriental design, which is more meaningful in this context. At first look, the emptiness of the background suggests the anxiety and uneasy fear at the edge of a perceptual eternity: there, where reality echoes. Sleep of Reason is conceived like a painting installation: the two paintings produce a dialogue, involving and transforming the space between them. Mircea leaves the background empty, inviting the viewer’s eye to embark into a journey of imagination. Suciu calls this mechanism “the boomerang effect”: sharing art that comes back charged with a myriad of new senses.

Freedom: The Ultimate Reality of the Poor

Prince and pauper, both together in the same character is the inspirational project Kings by Roman Tolici. Using realism as an inverted binocular, Tolici makes a symbolic change that is drastic in scale: l ike a dispossessed royal family, these elegantly painted portraits have an immediate humor to them, as well as a certain poignancy to the subjects destitution. Tolici’s painted discourse is about an absurd facet of human condition. The participants, placed at two opposite poles of the social scale, find their common denominator in a bejeweled crown whose importance is solely contextual. Crowning the head of the destitute is as futile and ridiculous as crowning the head of the despot.

Cosmin Nasui is an art critic and contributing editor of Romania Libera & Observator Cultural magazine. He lives and works in Bucharest and is currently involved in a project studying the role of the erotic in modern and contemporary Romanian art.

The exhibition catalogue design and curator’s essay have been supported by the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York