MODEM - Modern and Contemporary Art Center Debrecen, 07.13. - 05.29.2008.
Under Natural Circumstances-Contemporary Art from Transylvania
Artists: Marius BERCEA, ZsoltBERSZAN, GORZO, KUDOR DUKA Istvan, Dan MACIUCA, Cristian OPRIS, Ioan SBARCIU,
Curator: Bogdan IACOB

”Under Natural Circumstances” gathers ten of the most interesting and convincing Romanian contemporary artists, who are, with one exception, living, working or being in other ways strongly linked with the cultural phenomena, institutions and developments within the Transylvanian area and especially with Cluj as prominent centre for the production of contemporary art. The show is focusing on artists who manifest a clear preference for traditional media, mostly painting and graphics. Belonging to various generations, they all are also in various manners showing a propensity towards the realm of the natural (be it epitomized by landscape, organic structures, desire or the social uses and abuses of natural items), towards its potential for being transformed in cultural fact and for conceptually rooting expressions of personal creativity.
Nonetheless, the exhibition at MODEM Debrecen makes available to the Hungarian public a significant selection from the work of some of the most prominent and interesting artists who relevantly contributed to the rise of the Transylvanian artistic life, and of the Romanian visual artistic production as a whole, to the level of an internationally acknowledged - and not seldom welcome and appreciated both by the critical discourse and by the agents of commercial recognition - “hotspot” of the European artistic scene of the recent years.
One of the pivotal endeavours that made this evolution possible was the emerging of the quite frequently discussed and disputed, during the last few years, “painting school of Cluj”. Constituted as an effect of an intention with a flexible programmatic character and having in Ioan Sbârciu an essential conceptual initiator, it probably should be understood today more as the manifestation of a spirit than a formalistic display of a painterly style, a spirit mainly characterized by the strong belief both in the viability of the traditional artistic media in the contemporary art world and for the contemporary art viewer, and in the evocative power of the visual expressivity, which can be used for both social criticism and psychological introspection.
Ioan Sbârciu's works are equally expressing a nostalgia caused by the evanescence of the miraculous and of mystery in the contemporary world and a strong belief in the artist's indisputable power to at least fragmentary rebuild them. The result is an art that possesses a spontaneously established yet sophisticatedly tuned balance between force and grace. He is an artist fascinated by and struggling for beauty, one of those who believe in the power of the aesthetic to influence consciences and to induce strong sensations and feelings to the viewer. Gestural yet carefully composed, fresh and exuberant yet possessing an almost mathematical harmony, his paintings often approach such classical themes as the natural landscape or the bodily beauty, the artist remarkably managing to inform them with contemporary meanings while uncompromisingly and ambitiously aiming at unhistorical expressive relevance.
In Radu Solovastru's graphic works, sexuality is somewhat brutally proposed as main theme. Snapshots of sexual intercourse are recurrent subjects of his drawings, male or female genitalia are explicitly displayed in the pictures he creates, and a whole arsenal of sexually alluding visual symbols is often deployed in his drawings. But it is precisely the overcharging of the explicit, doubled by a masterfully technical rendering of the images, which almost dries the sensuality out of them. And after watching them for a while, his pictures begin to feel as they are less about sex than about lust and loss. And their status remains undecided: they could be either careless, strangely cold odes to the flesh or feverish vanitas scenes.
Clearly preferring engraving as artistic means, Cristian Opris is constantly striving for exquisite technical quality. He is never afraid of craftsmanship; on the contrary, he transforms it into a powerful tool for attaining artistic subtlety. Most of his works encompass a melancholic atmosphere and sometimes they play, in a vividly intelligent manner, with the scale of the objects. His engravings draw on issues of identity and allude to the organic as an essential element and / or symbol of identities; to be more specific of archived identities. Thus, the living cell is seen as through the cold, scrutinizing, augmenting lens of the microscope, the hand is reduced to the simultaneously unique and impersonal fingerprint and the vegetal elements lay before the viewer as though they were files of a herbarium or a botanical treatise.
Kudor Duka Istvan is equally interested in the human figure and in the possibility of technical innovation within the realm of painting and drawing. His portraits, significantly larger than the natural size are the result of a painstakingly process of applying and removing pigment from the painting's surface, the technical procedure that he employs resulting in an uncanny old, even deteriorated appearance of the canvases. Physiognomies attain a strangely abstract look; faces get blurred, becoming ghostly silhouettes. A kind of fake minimalism characterizes the chromatic of the works: its richness and subtlety requires the close scrutiny of the viewer, being very likely to escape a hurried gaze.
Marius Bercea is a complex artist in terms of conceptual approach of painting and a versatile user of both socio political and deeply personal, psychological symbolism of the images. Thus, his paintings can be about the destruction of wildlife (by savage hunting of whales, for instance) and its conversion into socialized, tamed and artificial beauty, as well as they can circumscribe adolescent, uncanny reveries and desires or the subtle sensuality, emotional and sexual charge of everyday life's episodes. And although the artist is often seemingly assuming a neutral stance regarding his subjects, the images he proposes are never cold. Kinds of a low profile lyricism, a bit of nostalgia or a hardly repressed fascination for the sensuousness of textures constantly make his pictures vibrate.
Mircea Suciu is a particularly inventive and challenging artist. Constantly willing to experiment, he is able to embed metaphor and discourse in various kinds of artistic media, permanently careful though not to “betray” the specific expressivity of any of them. Thus, though basically trained as a painter, he has recently approached installation and engraving. The same versatility and mobility characterize his choice of subjects: he can tackle political issues just as well as psychological dramas, the vain beauty of the flesh (in the most straightforward meaning of the word) or ambiguous narrative of a banal scene. Yet, guilt and violence seem to somehow lurk in all of his works, and one main obsession seems to pervade them: the frailty of human (ontological and social) condition.
The same type of technical and conceptual mobility can be found in the work of Berszan Zsolt. By working with mixed, more or less unconventional materials, also incorporating elements like ready made objects or video fragments in his works, the artist often places them at the intersection of drawing, painting and installation. Visual references to an originally assimilated “tradition” of expressionism are likely to be found in his works, though the richness of his visual language exceeds the sphere of such influence. Thus, he is an artist equally able to colourfully disrupt anatomical forms or to construct elegant, sophisticated black monochromes, in which the visceral and the aesthetic merge in an unsettlingly imprecise metaphor.
Probably the most adequate word which can be used to describe Dan Maciuca's work would be “pigmentary”. He seems totally fascinated by the technical and expressive potential of painterly materials, plainly joyful in manipulating them to create rich images, which hover in the ambiguous area placed in between the figurative and the abstract realm. Gestural and passionate, the artist acts as if he is more interested in destructing a possible image, than in building one up. The final picture acquires an almost sculptural appearance, with its numerous layers of colour seductively narrating its own making of.
Veres Szabolcs is the youngest artist in the “Under Natural Circumstances” exhibition, but his works from the recent years recommend him as an artist perfectly capable of employing complex technical and conceptual effort. Generally preferring the rather large sizes for his works, he proposes a gestural yet mostly figurative painting, with subjects which allow him to merge landscape, human and animal presence, nonetheless often alluding to neo-expressionist renderings and sometimes to classical themes, such as the hunt. Carefully avoiding narration or any illustrative visual discourse, the artist is instead convincingly exploiting his potential of impressive colourist.
Finally, Gorzo is definitely a spectacular artist. The fact that his art approached without hesitations or false embarrassments sensitive political subjects or sexually explicit imagery and every now and then even merged them got him both media and critical attention and misperception. Gorzo is a way more complex artist than a simple scandal generated star. Most of his work draws on the mythological and the collective subconscious, with sometimes quite explicit references to the folklore of his native region in northern Transylvania, his endeavour often having as result the surfacing of awkward figures which brutally or discreetly disrupt the normal course of life or challenge us to face our own taboos.

Bogdan IACOB, curator and art critic, University of Art and Design Cluj Napoca