Commissioned by European ArtEast Foundation, "Painterly Affinities" was co-curated by Thierry Morel and Maria Rus Bojan with whom we had a chance to exchange on the matter that occurred.
Could you tell us when and how exactly your collaboration with the artists began? How did you discover their works?
Cornel Brudașcu is a prominent artist, maybe the most important Romanian painter alive, extremely appreciated in many artistic circles, local and international, beloved by both young and older artists, as well by the local collectors, therefore, I would rather underline how privileged I feel that he entrusted me with the mission to promote his work internationally through curatorial endeavors, such as this exhibition in London at Cromwell Place. I have known him since I was a child, but we became close friends some years ago, when I absolutely by chance rediscovered several of his paintings from the 1970’s in the storage of the Art Museum in our hometown Cluj-Napoca.
Cornel Brudașcu, Boy in Garden, 2020, Oil on canvas, 85 x 120 cm, Courtesy of the artist and European ArtEast Foundation.
Listening to my mother's stories, a former director of this institution, who acquired these works for the museum’s collection, I began to question how it could be possible that such a wonderful group of works that so beautifully express the spirit of the 1970’s are not known internationally. As that time I was part of the REAC- which was the acquisition committee at the Tate focused on Eastern Europe, and there I met Jessica Morgan, a senior curator (now the director of Dia Art Foundation) and she was in the midst of the preparation of “The World Goes Pop” exhibition at the Tate, precisely highlighting the radiation of this specific Pop Aesthetics outside the consecrated areas of the Western World. Jessica’s generosity to include in her exhibition of a solid presentation of Brudașcu’s works from the 1970’s represented a major international breakthrough for this artist, and for me a possibility to research those years and also the influences this artist had on so many generations of young artists. And this is in fact how I discovered Alin Bozbiciu’s works, as well: at the graduation exhibition of the painting department of the Art University in Cluj, I saw his works, and I thought immediately that Alin’s inspiration must be Cornel Brudașcu’s works. And I was right, and I am actually very happy to witness this moment, when, after so many years, Alin is still publicly acknowledging his gratitude to his master. Gratitude is very rare in the art world!
Alin Bozbiciu, Composition, 2022, Oil on canvas, 205 x 240cm, Courtesy of the artist and European ArtEast Foundation.
What is so special about your collaboration?
Everything is special about our collaboration as well as about my collaboration with Thierry Morel, whose work as a leading expert in Old Masters painting I respect a lot. This exhibition is as much about friendship as it is about painting!
What kind of dialogue between these two figures and their works did you try to develop through the exhibition ?
There is a special dynamic between these two artists, which we tried to underline through this exhibition. These artists are more than friends, they respect each other as painters first, and they sometimes voluntarily develop paintings around the same themes. They have the same values and they approach painting in the same way. They are both inspired by the Old Masters painting and the historical references are abundant in their works. Moreover, by including in this exhibition the portraits that they made of each other we wanted to highlight this special relationship of master-disciple which one feels when entering the show.
How long were you preparing this temporary exhibition in Great Britain? Why was London chosen as the right place for it? Did you experience any challenges ?
We met with Thierry in April at the opening of Venice Biennial, in June he paid a visit to the artists’ studios and here we are in December rounding off this exhibition! London is a great city to present art from Eastern Europe because there is a genuine curiosity both from the public and professionals on the art coming from these countries. Cornel Brudașcu’s works enjoyed a great success at the Tate in the past, and we are happy to see that his paintings are also appreciated in this new context, while Alin Bozbiciu is debuting on this occasion on the London scene. Thierry lives between London and Venice and I am the chair of the European ArtEast Foundation, which is a charity established in London. This, alongside the wish of our London foundation’s director Jonathan Tybel to contribute to the Cromwell Place program gave us enough reasons to develop this exhibition.
Talking about challenges, what should I say? Since Brexit, the customs bureaucracy regarding the import/export of the art works in the UK makes everything not only more difficult but more expensive and that is not good in any terms…
Alin Bozbiciu, Sketch, 2022, Oil on paper, 100 x 70cm, Courtesy of the artist and European ArtEast Foundation.
Could you tell us about the significance of the Cluj School and its educational methods? Could you please briefly explain to us Brudaşcu’s influence on several generations of Romanian artists?
The Cluj School is not a school in classical terms, but a name for a phenomenon that emerged in Cluj around 15 years ago, when a group of figurative painters, Victor Man, Adrian Ghenie, Serban Savu , Marius Bercea and many others made a veritable breakthrough on the international art scene. Victor Man was the first Cluj artist to enjoy a huge success in the Western world at the beginning of the years 2000’s. This has motivated his generation, while his visibility contributed as well to the re-discovery of the work of his predecessors. Nowadays, everybody is acquainted with the tremendous success of Adrian Ghenie, who became after Brancusi the best-known Romanian artist.
I am proud indeed that in 1999 I organized the first solo exhibitions of Victor Man, where several portraits of Cornel Brudașcu alongside other portraits of the real Cluj Painting School masters, all painted by Man were presented! I still remember how impressed I was then and now I really consider that exhibition a historical one! A few years later, in 2002 I got the chance to host Adrian Ghenie’s first solo exhibition in the art center’s gallery I was running at that time in Cluj. Despite that any of these mentioned artists were involved in teaching, except Marius Bercea, The Cluj School represents in the end a model of how to breakthrough on the international art scene as a group of artists supporting each other, which is rather rare.
Cornel Brudașcu, Lying figure with horse, 2020, Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard, 45 x 47.5 cm, Courtesy of the artist and European ArtEast Foundation.
All these young artists were all familiar with Cornel Brudașcu’s work, they visited his studio, and many of them were learning painting techniques from him. Therefore, it is not wrong to consider him the hidden mentor of this generation, the non-official teacher for some of these artists and for sure the most celebrated master by the youngest artists, such as Alin Bozbiciu, who has the generosity to openly acknowledge that he learned everything from this truly important figure of the Romanian art scene.
Are there more international exhibitions of the artists to come in the near future?
Yes, in fact many events are planned around these artists by their galleries and by some other art institutions. Together with Brudașcu’s gallery, Plan B we prepare his first monograph, to be published soon, as well as an entire group of events around this book launching. While Alin Bozbiciu is invited in several group exhibitions in the coming year, let’s hope the prospect of getting a museum exhibition will be confirmed soon.
Cover image: Maria Rus Bojan in the studio of Alin Bozbiciu, Courtesy of the artist and European ArtEast Foundation