Thursday, December 2, 2010

"the romanian dream"= "a country as outside"

Two very different types of artistic expressions that I have seen in Romania recently have provoked my reaction to write this post. The first one is part of a broader and very interesting artistic project "Project 1990" curated by the visual artist Ioana Ciocan. The project has started by imagining different types of artistic interventions which are presented on the now empty pedestal of the former Lenin statue in Bucharest as a signal of the communist heritage and/or postcommunist problems. The latest intervention is called "the Romanian dream" (by artists Matei Arnăutu, Andrei Ciubotaru, Florin Brătescu & Iosif Oprescu) and sought to materialize, by creating an object that represents the Romanian dream, the conclusions of a discussion launched on an open forum available at: The result was the creation of a suitcase with all sorts of objects emerging from it. The idea behind this being, as I read it, that Romanians all want to leave their country.
The second example comes from popular culture and it is the latest song released by a Romanian band, Vunk. The song is called "I want a country as outside ( One must know that Romanians continue to refer to other countries as "outside" as a direct reminiscence of the communist period when this had a significance, as Romanians were not allowed to travel freely. The title of this song, as well as the conclusion of the artistic project quoted above are symptoms of what seems to have become a Romanian obsession at least as it translates in public discourse and mass-media discourse. There seems to be an omnipresent double question: when are you leaving the country? why aren't you? This seems to me to be an attitude that cannot produce any positive results on the needed reform, not only of the state and its institutions, but of the positioning of citizens in relation to the latter as well as to each other. Always looking to other spaces, political cultures and national experiences not as possible solutions providers but as escape-places is not a plausible solution.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Equipo Cronica - pop art against Franco

Guernica (1971)

preparing my class about authoritarian art, I stumbled upon this pretty interesting artistic group from the Spain of the 1960s, Equipo Cronica (active between 1964-1981, including Juan Antonio Toledo, Manolo Valdés and Rafael Solbes) which used pop art to criticize the society. Inspired explicitly by Cezanne, Velasquez and Picasso (which they quote and reinterpret extensively) they alluded to the commercialism of the period in which they were creating. Namely, la "cultura de la evasion" as the mass culture phenomenon of the mid-60s in Franco's Spain came to be known; it encompassed everything from bull fights to football, bad literature and bad cinema. I chose to show their reinterpretation of Guernica by Picasso because it strikes me how pop-art inspired this piece is and how the symbolism of the first Guernica is even more striking.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chto Delat

Chto Delat or What is to be done is an artist group from Saint Petersburg explicitly demanding for a reevaluation of left values. An exhibition of their work is on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. Here can be seen the video which was part of the exhibition: The video stems from the documentation of the art collective of the social and political actors intervening in a controversial plan to build in the center of St Petersburg "the Okhta Center with a Gazprom skyscraper". But more than this the video shows Russian society divided by fractures ironically sung about.

Monday, October 18, 2010

the database of art plundered by the nazi

Today was launched a database that collects information about works of art plundered by the Nazi from Jewish owners in France and Belgium . This project is interesting as it offers this search-able database and it continues the judicial fights already under way in Austria and Hungary (some of the most visible scandals/trials of last year). Hitler's project to create the art museum of his dreams also with the help of "loans" from other museums in the countries occupied is known but what seems still surprising to me is the way in which people like Goring would hold a discourse publicly and would thereafter try to do their best to collect some more "degenerate art" (!)
The database can be accessed at this address:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Susane Meiselas

A photographer and documentarist, Meiselas is most famous for her work on Central America both through the use of photographs and film. The most important body of work she did, from my point of view, concerns the portrait of a revolution (the Sandinist revolution in Nicaraguain the 1980s) by registering history in its making which she characterizes as follows: "what happened in Nicaragua, I wanted to register the voices of the subjects that are embedded, I hope, as objects in my photographs. By knowing and recognizing its limits, the voice of the protagonist within the picture, challenges the image as a fixed moment in time" (see more).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Alexander Kosolapov

Kosolapov is a very interesting artist which mixes symbols or icons of both the West and the East in his work (a representative of Sots art, an ironic Soviet version of the Westerners Pop art). An exiled artist in New York during the Cold War he is most famous for his Lenin+ Coca Cola works; the mixing is the most interesting part of his work as it helps bring irony to the images created (see the Lenin series on the artist website at:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

in fact he never left*

Dragos Burlacu, from the Understanding History series

This is one of the paintings by Dragos Burlacu who used the newly available photographic archive of communism to paint new, less familiar images of Ceausescu including stills of the dictator having fun, with his family, almost in intimacy. The laughing, clownish Ceausescu makes me think of the portrait of the ridicule that was transposed onto his image after 1990 when he became only the illiterate shoemaker (or alternatively the tyrant) that ruled us for so many years. The intention of the painter seems to me close to that of Ujica and Grigorescu which I was mentioning in my previous post: humanize the dictator or at least provide a more complete image of his persona. Ceausescu the clown in the gray on gray atmosphere alludes to his other history; not to be forgotten, still to be explored.

PS: the disinterment of the Ceausescu couple (July 21, 2010) has made them all so present again in the media, so I guess the title I chose was not so wrongly coined!

* allusion to the stencil showing Ceausescu and the tag: I'll be back (see below)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The new//artistic memory of Ceausescu

A new docu-film was launched yesterday at the Cannes film festival by a Romanian director, Andrei Ujica, "The autobiography of Ceausescu". The film is made of various archive images of Ceausescu. What seemed very interesting to me in this piece of news is the way the movie is announced: it humanizes the dictator. This reminded me of another filmic "re-construction", that of Ioan Grigorescu who continued in 2007 a previous work (Dialogue with Ceausescu, made in 1978) by showing a new imagined dialogue with the now defunct dictator: "Post-mortem dialogue with Ceausescu". This piece of art had the same purpose as Ujica's: present Ceausescu in a realist light, showing all sides of the character and affirming that his demonization and caricaturization have provoked the loss of the true man.
I believe this is an interesting phenomenon, part of our artistic memorialization of Ceausescu. Perhaps we'll even have next the occasion to read a novel of the dictatorship!
Ion Grigorescu, Dialogue with Ceausescu, 1978

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Art or the memory of it (1)

Artistic memory represents one of my topics of interest of the moment. I am discovering several ways in which art is used to remember the dictatorial past as well as manners in which art memorizes the past (independently of a political order). Currently I am looking at the official memory of art through the establishment of museums in South America. Chilean president Michelle Bachelet ended her term by inaugurating (as Chirac did in 2006 with Musee du Quai Branly although with a higher symbolic weight in the Chilean case) the Museum of Memory and Human rights in Santiago de Chile. Such museums exist in several parts of Argentina (Museum of Rosario), including Buenos Aires where the infamous ESMA has been (partially) transformed in a museum. A museum of memory was opened in Uruguay and another one in Asuncion, Paraguay. A plan to open a museum has been also discussed in Peru in the aftermath of the regime of Fujimori and the repression launched against the Shining Path; there already is a small museum in Ayacucho as well as a permanent exhibition (Yuyanapaq) in Lima's museum of art.

The museum in Santiago

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dictators and Dictatorships: Artistic Expressions of the Political in Romania and Chile (1970s-1989)

This is the title of my PhD thesis defended in December 2008. Before publishing it (I am working on the manuscript that needs certain modifications and updates) I decided to use the opportunity offered by and have it transformed in an E-book accessible to anyone (who pays a small price). Looking forward to any comments, remarks or critiques.
Dictators and Dictatorships: Artistic Expressions of the Political in Romania and Chile (1970s-1989)
(Yo soy autoritario he dicho by Carlos Apablaza)

Friday, January 22, 2010

the invisible artist (who is an artist, part deux)

the anonymity of the character is part (if not the most important part) of the street artist (turned film maker with the screening of his first "pseudo-documentary" at the Sundance festival) Banksy. where does the anonymity end and the branding begin (from street, fugitive art he has been transformed in a gallery sold artist) is another question. Banksy makes art with no official approval, even despite it, and he is sold, and famous for it. I wonder where would Banksy find himself in the planned - by the Romanian Union of Visual Artists - law to create an "official statute" of the artist to be confirmed by a committee or something as such.