Critics’ Picks

  • Sandor Bartha, Dispozitive pentru o viață mai bună (Devices for a Better Life), 2015, mixed media, dimensions variable.

    Sandor Bartha

    Ivan Gallery
    Dr. Dimitrie Grecescu nr.13
    March 28–May 29

    In times of political and social instability, an exhibition titled “Variable Identities” and focused on the austerity of small objects risks appearing as an ode to banality, a eulogy to daily poetry hidden behind grandness and monumentality. Indeed, there is nothing glaring in Sandor Bartha’s sly works, which demand that viewers get, and look, closer. In shy multimedia installations, the artist prods reality through particulars: Thrown and disabled stuff once functional but always of little importance is recuperated, recomposed, and assigned a new identity—art. Bartha is nothing if not a shrewd determiner of objects’ afterlives.

    Consider a work for which Bartha arrayed motley whimsies, like a crushed pair of sunglasses sprouting five thin wires, on a plinth. In titling the piece Dispozitive pentru o viață mai bună (Devices for a Better Life), 2015–19, Bartha ironizes our era of constantly updatable gadgetry as well as contemporary life’s often visionless quest for betterment. For Fleacuri (Bagatelles), 2016, the artist hung puny black objects—a ping-pong paddle, scissors, a Lego bit—onto the wall in an installation that recalls the Russian avant-garde and its search for the spiritual. There’s a more obvious political thrust to the multimedia collage Personal Centuries, 2017, though it shares the other projects’ nonaggression: A fragment of a 1979 headline from the official newspaper of the Romanian Communist Party, Scânteia, announcing a work visit by Nicolae Ceaușescu and his greeting by “thousands of Bucharesters,” is cut out and glued to form an empty circle. Obliquely alluding to a recent series of thousands-strong antigovernment protests in Bucharest, the work draws subtle comparisons between regimes. In the search for identity, Bartha, a native of Romania now based in Hungary, remains in a state of being between nations, and keeps his beguiling stuff between simplicity and grandeur.