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Demand on the Rise for Romanian Artists, Art Fair Exposure Sparks International Attention

Less than two years ago, when art dealer Mihai Pop, owner of Galeria Plan B in Cluj, Romania, showed the work of Romanian contemporary artists Adrian Ghenie, Ciprian Muresan, Victor Man, Cristi Pogacean and others at the 2007 edition of New York’s Armory Show, the artists were hardly known to most of the visitors and

NEW YORK—Less than two years ago, when art dealer Mihai Pop, owner of Galeria Plan B in Cluj, Romania, showed the work of Romanian contemporary artists Adrian Ghenie, Ciprian Muresan, Victor Man, Cristi Pogacean and others at the 2007 edition of New York’s Armory Show, the artists were hardly known to most of the visitors and other exhibitors.

Now, Ghenie (b. 1977), Muresan (b. 1977) and Man (b. 1974) are among a growing number of Romanian artists who have joined the rosters of high-profile galleries such as Blum & Poe, Haunch of Venison, Gladstone Gallery, Yvon Lambert, and David Nolan. Their work has also caught the attention of major collectors and such institutions as the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Hammer Museum, also in Los Angeles.

During the recent FIAC (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain), the annual contemporary-art fair in Paris, Rodica Seward, the owner and chairman of Paris-based auction house Tajan and a Romanian-born American, organized the exhibition “Romanian Art Today: History Frees Its Demons” at Espace Tajan. The show featured the work of 20 young artists, including Marius Bercea, Mircea Cantor, Oana Farcas, Serban Savu and Mircea Suciu. Seward noted “strong demand” from both U.S. and European collectors for the works that were available for sale.

Seward, who has been a major proponent of these artists, emphasizes first and foremost the “quality and sophistication” of the individual artists’ work, though she also acknowledges the common thread among them—namely, the exploration of life under Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s oppressive regime. This generation of artists—most are in their 30s—“witnessed the tumultuous transition between two worlds” with Ceausescu’s overthrow and execution in 1989, after more than two decades in power, according to a statement accompanying the exhibition.

Bucharest dealer Marian Ivan, who brought work by Farcas and painter Elian to Show Off, one of the FIAC satellite fairs, told ARTnewsletter, “This young generation of painters took inspiration from the recent past—the postcommunist history and the paradoxes that still exist in Romania.”

Before these artists gained international exposure at art fairs and U.S. and European galleries, exhibitions of their work had been limited to their respective galleries in the Romanian capital of Bucharest—such as Ivan Gallery—and in Cluj, the historical Transylvanian capital in northwestern Romania, which has a population of about 340,000.

Pop, who recently opened a branch of Plan B in Berlin, opened his first Cluj gallery, Atas, in 2000. He says running the gallery was definitely a process of trial and error (Atas closed in 2003, and Pop opened Plan B in 2005). “These artists were working for seven to ten years without any success in terms of the market or selling work,” he says.

Ghenie currently has two solo shows in Berlin. One, at the Berlin branch of Plan B (Oct. 31–Dec. 20), is of works on paper. The other, at Nolan Judin Berlin (Nov. 1–Dec. 20), is of eleven paintings, all of which were sold on opening night, according to gallery director David Nolan, at prices ranging from €8,000 to more than €40,000. A solo exhibition of Ghenie’s work was on view at Haunch of Venison’s Zurich branch from Nov. 15, 2007, through January of this year.

Other new works by the artist are featured in the Tate Biennial in Liverpool (Sept. 20–Nov. 30), and Yvon Lambert Gallery and Haunch of Venison have confirmed plans for additional upcoming shows of Ghenie’s work.

Prices for Ghenie have risen considerably in recent years, from €2,000 for a painting a few years ago to about €40,000 today, according to Pop and Nolan.

The ‘Cluj Connection’

Nolan first encountered the work of Ghenie and other Romanian artists at a 2006 exhibition, titled “Cluj Connection,” at Haunch of Venison’s Zurich gallery. He says he is planning to mount a show of new large paintings by Savu at his New York space next February.

Mihai Nicodim, owner of his eponymous gallery in Los Angeles (formerly Kontainer Gallery), told ARTnewsletter that he first exhibited work by Ghenie, Savu and Muresan—alongside the work of Man, who is represented by Blum & Poe in Los Angeles and had a solo show there last January—in a group show in 2005. In 2006, all three had solo shows at Kontainer. Gladstone Gallery, New York, has worked with Man since 2007 and is planning a solo show for May 2009.

Nicodim said prices went from $1,500/1,800 to $10,000/12,000 for small Ghenie paintings and upwards of $50,000 for larger works. Prices for Savu’s work are in the $6,000/25,000 range, and Muresan’s videos went from $2,500 to $10,000/12,000 for editions of five.

More Romanian painters and dealers are attracting notice. Earlier this year, Romanian-born dealer Irina Protopopescu opened Slag Gallery in New York’s Chelsea district with the aim of promoting work by emerging eastern European artists who have not yet had much exposure in the U.S.

In a recent show at Slag of 20 paintings by Suciu, 16 of the works were sold, at prices of $3,500/10,000. The gallery’s inaugural show, of work by Dumitru Gorzo, whose colorful folkloric scenes of peasants are painted on intricately carved wood, yielded sales of 9 works out of the 18 on view, at prices in the range of $4,500/15,000.

Protopopescu’s next exhibition, opening Nov. 20, is a group show of Romanian artists, titled “Against All Odds.”

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