“Cluj Connection”

Haunch of Venison

Until recently, the art scene in the West has been fairly indifferent to work from Central and Eastern Europe. A few artists have made names for themselves internationally, but for many years any analysis or art-historical interpretation of work from these regions has been carried out in a very piecemeal fashion. Now cultural theorists, curators, gallerists, and the artists themselves are engaging in a more critical discourse, and the entry of several Eastern European countries into the EU has facilitated communication. For the exhibition “Cluj Connection,” the British art critic Jane Neal brought together seven young artists from Romania: Mircea Cantor, Adrian Ghenie, Victor Man, Ciprian Mureşan, Cristi Pogăcean, Şerban Savu, and Gabriela Vanga. All of the artists trained at the Institute of Art and Design in the city of Cluj in Transylvania and are part of an active art scene there. But what truly links them is a common desire to move beyond local boundaries and to enter an international discourse on art without renouncing their own regional and historical contexts.

Cantor’s film Deeparture, 2005, shows a wolf and a deer moving gracefully past each other in an enclosed empty white cube; the wolf makes no attempt to attack the deer. Close-up shots and nearly motionless frames, photographic in character, shift the viewer’s attention to the behavior of the animals and the beauty of their pulsating bodies. Both the animals’ propinquity to each other and their presence in this artificial space have a disconcerting effect and produce an atmosphere of tension. The work functions as an allegory, making visible social disparity and latent violence, but without offering any moral guidelines. It is impossible to overlook the reference to Joseph Beuys’s 1974 performance I Like America and America Likes Me, in which he locked himself into a gallery with a coyote for three days. In this calm yet extremely tense space, ontological questions can be asked.

Ghenie is a painter whose pictures are mostly of dark, mysterious interior and exterior spaces and architecture, populated by shadowy silhouettes. By incorporating unusual perspectives and gradations of mainly gray and black tones, he evokes an uncanny and suspicious atmosphere; the somber compositions recall the visual language of film noir. Ghenie’s paintings are frequently inspired by dark chapters from twentieth-century European history. This is particularly evident in an untitled work from his “Ironic Histories” series, 2006, which shows the unmistakable silhouette of Hitler teaching his dog to sit; the Führer is portrayed as a man with human qualities in a private moment. Yet it is exactly this infinite discrepancy between what is portrayed in the painting and its subject’s unimaginable crimes that renders this figure so grotesque and ridiculous.

Mureşan often interweaves references to twentieth-century art, elements of contemporary art practice, and popular culture. His video piece Un chien andalou, 2004, is a remake of the famous scene from the 1929 Surrealist film classic, but here the animated film character Shrek cuts through the eye of his wife, Fiona, with a razor blade. Just as Buñuel and Dalí’s film proposed a new way of seeing and broke with convention, this adaptation critically questions today’s cultural paradigms and strategies of appropriation and reproduction.

Valérie Knoll

Translated from German by Jane Brodie.