In apropos of the show ‘Double Heads Matches – A selection of contemporary artworks from four Romanian private collections’ at the New Budapest Gallery Zsófia Rechnitzer asked the co-curator Diana Marincu about the aim of the show and her views on the Romanian contemporary art scene.
Diana works as a curator and critic. She is super active in and with the Romanian scene. Besides other projects she was the co-curator of the Art Encounters Biennale in Timisoara in 2017, furthermore she developed the new curatorial program of the coproduction of the Plan B Foundation and the Paint Factory in Cluj.
This current exhibition in Budapest that she co-curated with Zsuzsanna Szegedy-Maszák is her first big project, where – unlike to her previous curatorial projects – the pool of works was already given and her aim was to highlight the similarities and differences between the four collections and the art works these consist. The show is just opened and it is on view till the 27th of May, with a catalogue launch in April – date to be announced.
Zsófia Rechnitzer (Zs.R.): Who came up with the idea of the exhibition?
Diana Marincu (D.M.): The show was the initiative of the Budapest Gallery and it was Zsuzsanna Szegedy-Maszák who contacted me and then we started working together. We wanted to connect our views and our ideas about the exhibition and it worked really well from my point of view. I always liked working in teams – I had many projects with other curators, such as Ami Barak for the Art Encounters Biennale in Timișoara or Anca Verona Mihuleț for a one year long curatorial project at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest.
Zs.R.: How did you pick the collections you are showing?
D.M.: Zsuzsanna started her research from one collection, which she knew in Cluj and then we developed this whole idea and gathered other collectors to have a more diverse view on the Romanian art scene. This collection in Cluj belonging to Mircea Pinte has the most emblematic works of the 2000’s generation of artists of Cluj, many of which were already exhibited around. Mircea Pinte then came up with the idea of including other collections as well, with other perspectives, either from the point of view of the geography and the context artists are working in, or from that of the generations that they include. These other collections are Ovidiu Șandor, Răzvan Bănescu and Plan B Foundation. In the show we also have these accents on the historical figures that we considered an inspiration source, a possible strategy of bridging the young artists with their predecessors.
You can see a very diverse selection, based on the idea of expanding the already existing knowledge about the Romanian art scene.
For example, in Ovidiu Sandor’s collection you can find Romanian artists and also international ones or artists from the diaspora, that he paid attention to and observed along the recent years. Răzvan Bănescu has an equal diverse interest, always up to date concerning the new generation of artists.
Zs.R: If we are talking about contemporary art in Romania, we always mention cities. Before we started the interview you briefly mentioned that you do not like to use the terminology of the ‘Cluj School’. But still, when we were talking about the artists you were highlighting the fact that ‘this artist is from Bucharest’, and ‘that artist is from Cluj’. There must be something in these geographical locations. What do you think about that?
D.M.: It is still something I reflect on. But definitely there are not so many connections in terms of art schools, I think. There are artists, who were influenced by what they learnt in the art university and there are other artists who developed their career in a completely different direction after their education ended and were not that much influenced by it. So it differs from case to case. Of course, when you want to identify a certain generation, or you need a terminology to put them on the map more easily, you need a certain ‘code’. But on the other hand, if we don’t know exactly what these terms mean and what they refer to then it becomes a bit problematic to use, in my opinion.
Zs.R.: So that’s why you find it problematic to use the ‘Cluj School’ terminology because it is not something correctly defined and it can get blurry? Besides, it can be seen as a marketing tool… The ‘Cluj School’ is used like a stamp, a way to market ‘its’ artists. How do you feel about it, is it a difficult term or everybody finds it OK to associate with it because of how much it has helped the artists to get internationally recognised?
D.M.: I think that for most of the artists it is not a strong identification tool precisely because this representation is coming from the outside. As far as I am concerned, if you do not have this match between what is coming from the ‘outside’ and what is the general opinion on the ‘inside’, then you have a tension. This is a bit problematic. But some people use it because it is easier in a conversation, some people, like me, do not use it because I think it is too blurry.
Zs.R.: Well, you did not put the works on the show into geographical sections either! How did you select the pieces and what was the main aim of curating them?
D.M.: This was the first time I was working with an already given body of works, which was very interesting because I mostly work with projects that are developing together with the artist, sometimes when it is possible we produce new works as well. For this exhibition it was different. There were too many works and possibilities, so at one point we had to make decisions and to leave out artists that otherwise we really like. We had to consider the size of the space, the five thematic sections we decided to concentrate on, and other criteria. The first part of the show is called ‘Buy Me a Mystery’ – borrowing the name of a work by Apparatus 22 – which relates to a critique of consumerism and gathers works which play with the symbols and visual representations that you can find in the market and commercial side of visual culture. The ‘Reflecting Self’ section is related more on self-portraits and different approaches that artists develop regarding their own identity. The third one is ‘Collision Course’ where we picked works echoing the tension in collision of different worlds, such as nature vs. technology, sexuality vs. norms in society and so on. Another thematic section was ‘The Temple of Silence’ and for that section we tried to look at works where the individual is somehow alienated from its surrounding, isolated in its own solitude – even though it is sometimes placed in a community for instance. The final section, a more poetic and abstract one, is ‘The Edge of the Void’, inspired by a work by Roman Cotoșman, Dancing on the Edge of the Void. This section can be perceived as the final part of the parcour of the exhibition because it opens to the small gestures that can turn around the world, to utopia as an important “craft” of the everyday life, and to the very thin line between the ordinary and the dream of another life.
Zs.R: Do you think that these five topics represent the contemporary scene of Romanian art?
D.M.: Not necessarily, because we were not aiming to create a singular image on the Romanian contemporary art. I am personally sceptical about the geographical exhibitions, I also wrote about it in my PhD. These classifications sometimes just become marketing and tourism tools. This is why we chose thematic sections to actually show that these ‘slices’ are very subjective cutouts from a more diverse scene. You can see here bits and pieces of the scene but you cannot take it home as ‘the image’ of the Romanian contemporary art.
Zs.R: Would you highlight some works that were important discoveries for you?
D.M.: For me it was really interesting to revisit some of the works that I already knew. However, one of the works that was exciting for us to use as a metaphor for our curatorial work was the Double Heads Matches by Mircea Cantor. It is a work comprising also a very interesting video, not on show it here; here you can only see the result: the matchboxes, which have this mass produced double heads, in an edition of 20.000 pieces. We thought it would be a good symbol for this compressed timeline that we were trying to bring together in the exhibition.
It is a timeline that consumes very fast in a way when you look at how many things happened in contemporary art in Romania in the last 20 years, you can see the fast pace and how easy people tend to forget parts of this history.
ZsR: In the show we see works from the 1970s till nowadays. That is the timeline you are aiming to cover. That’s a lot. As you just said the scene is evolving more and more.
D.M.: It keeps changing. Besides what the artists are doing I am very interested in all the changes coming from artists-run spaces, independent spaces and institutions. For example at the Art Encounters Biennial in Timisoara, we had this section where we invited independent spaces from all Romania and I would hope to develop this idea in a more focused project in time. What we were trying in a way was to stress the fact that most part of the art scene is based on these independent initiatives. This is something interesting or particular about the Romanian art scene: you don’t have many institutions but you have many very personal commitments to the art scene coming from people working on the independent side.
Zs.R.: Just like the OFF-Biennále in Hungary you just had the second edition of the Art Encounters Biennale in Timisoara last autumn. You and Ami Barak curated the biennale. Which kind of biennial model did you have in mind? I know that you were using spaces, which were interesting for the neighbourhood; there were something curious about them; with that move you were trying to engage with the local community. Is the idea of the biennial to have an international visitor base? Or is it more about and for the local community?
D.M.: When a biennial is so young it is quite hard to have an overview of these ideas. In my opinion you must always keep a balance between them. Of course you do things for the city and the community but you have to have a larger view at the same time, also in terms of the impact of regional if not international level. This is why for this edition we also researched the Serbian art scene because of its proximity to Romania and also, we invited Hungarian artists, in a more programmatic way. I think in the future it can become an important point on this level, in a regional context.
Zs.R: How is the scene in Timisoara? Could it become a regional representative – at least biennale-wise?
D.M.: I went to study in Bucharest after I graduated in Timisoara. I knew the scene very well back then. However, when I went back it was a challenge for me because it was a different city than the one I left ten years ago. It changed a lot, I would say in a good way. I think the public got more and more interested in arts and in cultural events and it takes just a step more to transform it into a reference point. Perhaps with the winning of the European Cultural Capital (ECC) it will go through some changes, but I don’t have many insights on that. In the case of Sibiu, when it was ECC in 2007, you could see all the things that happened in the city, they really put it on the map. I hope it will happen with Timisoara in 2021. However, in terms of the legacy of the Art Encounters experience, for me it would be important also what happens afterwards. You have to have long-term projects to really build something.