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Romanians of the Day

Romanian artists are in the spotlight all over the world

Marius Bercea working on Truths With Multiple Masks, 2011

Daniel Popescu

NEW YORK—The contemporary art world’s intense focus on young emerging artists from Romania—many of whom were first noticed or signed by major galleries just over three years ago—has continued to gain momentum. Prices are rising along with international exposure.

In London, an exhibit of 12 paintings by Adrian Ghenie is currently on view at London’s Haunch of Venison gallery (through Oct. 8), while Blain/Southern—whose directors founded and ran Haunch of Venison for eight years—is showing eight new paintings by Marius Bercea through Oct. 1. A show of 15 landscape oil paintings of semi-rural Romania by Serban Savu continues at New York’s David Nolan Gallery through Oct. 22.

The work of Mircea Cantor, who is represented by Yvon Lambert in Paris, was displayed for much of the summer at the LaM/Lille Metropole in Villeneuve-d’Ascq, France along with three other finalists for the annual Marcel Duchamp Prize. A more extensive exhibition of the artist’s work will take place at the Salzburger Kunstverein in Austria, where Cantor’s photographs, videos and installations will be on display from Oct. 6-Nov. 27.

LARMgalleri, Copenhagen, is planning an exhibit of 30 small oil on wood and five oil on canvas paintings by Oana Farcas from Oct. 7-Nov. 12. This will be the gallery’s second solo exhibition of the artist’s work, although LARMgalleri already featured Farcas in its booths at the Volta New York art fair this past March and Volta Basel this past June with a series of figurative paintings and portraits of humans and animals.

The reach of this wave of contemporary Romanian art extends to Los Angeles, where Blum & Poe exhibits the work of Victor Man and where Mihai Nicodim has shown the art of Ghenie, Savu and Ciprian Muresan at his eponymous gallery since 2006 (formerly the Kontainer Gallery). Man also had a show in New York at the Gladstone Gallery in 2009.

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.

Matthew Carey-Williams, international director of Haunch of Venison, London said interest in these artists originally came from key collectors in Europe but that the work soon caught the attention of U.S. collectors, who now account for a significant number of sales.

Only six of the twelve paintings in the Ghenie exhibition are for sale (the remainder were loaned to the gallery for this show), priced between €35,000/100,000 ($48,000/137,100), and all have been sold, according to Carey-Williams. Five of the six buyers were European collectors, he said, while the last sale was to an American buyer who plans to donate the painting to a U.S. museum.

“Romania is not a place where there’s an art market,” said Mihaela Lutea, director of Galeria Plan B, which predominantly exhibits the work of Romanian artists. The gallery’s main location is in Berlin with its Romanian branch in Cluj.

“There are not really a lot of art collections in Romania, maybe two or three,” Lutea said, “but we find a lot more interest for our artists in Italy, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA.”

Prices for work by Cluj artists are wide-ranging. For instance, Cristi Pogacean, whose videos and installations were featured in the Romanian pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale, is on the less expensive side, with works priced $4,100/6,800, while the art of Victor Man, who has been the subject of solo gallery exhibitions in England, France, Germany, Italy and the United States, is priced from about $34,200/137,100, according to Lutea.

At the Savu exhibition at David Nolan, three-quarters of the paintings, which were priced based on size from $10,000 to $35,000, have been sold to private U.S. collectors. Nolan’s commitment to Romanian artists extends beyond Savu, to Ghenie and Muresan. An exhibition of drawings, videos and sculptures by Muresan took place at the gallery over the summer (July 7-Sept. 2), with drawings selling for $1,500 apiece and other works priced between $10,000 and $40,000.

“We sold a little less than half” of the 14 works on display, Nolan said.

The Manhattan-based Slag Gallery, which was founded in 2008 primarily to exhibit and sell the work of Eastern European artists, is currently showing ten paintings evoking childhood memories and rituals by Sergiu Toma through Oct. 8, and “almost everything has sold,” gallery owner Irina Protopopescu told ARTnewsletter. Toma’s prices are relatively modest, ranging from $1,400 to $12,000.

The gallery’s two most prominent artists, whom Protopopescu calls her “front runners”—Dumitru Gorzo and Mircea Suciu—have larger audiences and prices range from $2,500 for drawings to $30,000 for large-scale paintings. “These are somewhat older artists with a more established, larger audience, first in Europe and more and more in the United States,” she said. Over the past eight years, Suciu’s work has been exhibited in galleries in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France and Italy.

In many cases, these artists draw upon their specific experiences of Romania, which broke from the dictatorial rule of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, when many of these artists were in their teens. Their work, however, moves beyond the specific to images that others outside of that country have found compelling.

Ghenie’s work has been purchased by the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). Los Angeles collector Dean Valentine is also a fan, having acquired several of Ghenie’s paintings (ANL, 11/17/09).

Ghenie’s work will be the subject of a retrospective at MCA Denver June 1-Oct. 1, 2012, while the trio of Ghenie, Man and Muresan will be included in an exhibition titled “Six Lines of Flight”—focusing on six cities around the world (including Cluj, Romania) which have become important centers of artistic creativity— at SFMOMA next September.

The works of the new crop of Romanian artists in most cases have not yet turned up on the secondary market in any quantity, although there have been a few public sales, such as Cantor’s cast-crystal sculpture of an ear of corn, Diamond Corn, 2005, which sold at Phillips, de Pury & Company, London in 2008 for $17,447 (estimate: $16,000/24,000), while Ghenie’s oil Swimming Pool, 2006, sold at Phillips in March of this year for $22,500 (estimate: $10,000/15,000) in New York.

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