A common thread underlies the disparate works on display in 24 Arguments: Early Encounters in Romanian Neo-Avant-Garde 1969-1971 at the National Museum of Art of Romania. From Paul Neagu’s relic-like sculptures to Radu Dragomirescu’s geometric drawings, the works in the exhibition are heavily influenced by newly forged global dialogues. The show emerged from research conducted by the Institute of the Present — a Romanian visual and performing art research organization — at the Demarco archives in Edinburgh. The results of this investigation revealed a series of previously unknown ties between this coterie of Romanian artists and Scottish gallerist Richard Demarco.
Between the mid-1960s and early 1970s, Demarco made a series of trips to Romania, resulting in several exhibitions at his eponymous gallery in Edinburgh and at the 1971 Edinburgh festival. Around this time, the Socialist Republic of Romania, as it was known then, began to engage in international dialogue. For these Romanian artists, this was an introduction to a variety of practices and works, many of which they had only seen previously in photographs. And, for many Western Europeans, whose notions of Romanian art were largely grounded in folk art or socialist realist works, it was an eye-opening experience.
The first half of the exhibition is a chronology of the artists’ travels abroad, paired with snippets of Romanian history between 1965 and 1971. Using parallel sketches, historical documents, and biographical information about the artists, the curators attempt to connect the artists not only by biography or location, but also to define an underlying ethos around which these artists coalesced.
For each artist’s section, the curators selected a text from the exhibited artist, which illuminates a feature of his or her practice. For Ritzi and Peter Jacobi, the text is an excerpt from an interview in Arta magazine in which the artists discuss their use of traditional methods and unusual material combinations, noting that the works they create “don’t have a foreign feeling, they possess a local spirit.” In “Ileanda” (1974), strings of goat hair and wool hang from a rough sisal textile, evoking the works of fiber artist Claire Zeisler but clearly drawn from the rugged, rural commune after which the piece was named. Uniting disparate works such as Pavel Ilie’s “Road of Lige” (1970) and Ovidiu Maitec’s “Flight” (1968–1969) is the artists’ underlying interest in engaging with an international discourse, while maintaining a sense of place.
The title of the exhibition is drawn from a 1984 poem by Paul Neagu, one of the best-known Romanian artists working during this period. Indeed, Neagu’s experiences in Edinburgh with Demarco ultimately led him to resettle in London, where his interest in sculptural tactility inspired artists such as Anish Kapoor and Antony Gormley. Despite his revered status, the artist is given an equal amount of space as the others, signaling the importance of new, collective narratives.
The exhibition 24 Arguments: Early Encounters in Romanian Neo-Avant-Garde 1969-1971 continues at the National Museum of Art of Romania (49-53 Calea Victoriei, Bucharest, Romania) through February 2. It was curated by Romanian research organization Institute of the Present.
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