what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Romanian paintings

Januaries in Bucharest were bitterly cold and snowy a decade or so ago. I remember the snow covering cars in the mid-1990s. These days it was just a bit nippy as I zipped through the various bookshops – and took in the incredible (renovated) palace which now houses the Artmark auctioneers at C Rossetti 5. I have to say that such opulence (and staffing) completely turns me off. It simply shows the huge mark-up they must put on the paintings they sell. Although the prices seem a bit more reasonable than they were, there were in fact no paintings which interested me in those displayed for the 26 January auction which, this time, includes quite a bit of the Ceaucescu family possessions and memorabilia which you can see in the catalogue on the site which can be downloaded. It brought back the memory of the (private) visit I was able to make in 1990 to the richly-endowed mansion the couple had at the back of the Peles palace in Sinaii. Gold-plated bath taps no less - at a time when the population was starving! I had good connections in those days as I was working for WHO - which had been in with the old governments! I was there to show a new face - and explore new possibilities. Which I did in the gloom and in the front of an ambulance which was the means of transport for the young doctor who took me around the country.
The ArtMark auction paintings were hiding the gallery's more interesting permanent exhibition. Better to visit between auctions!

I had noticed in the Humanitas bookshop a new book (rather pricey at 25 euros) on a superb classic Romanian painter unknown to me Camil Ressu (born 1880) A good video of his portrait work is available here.
But I was persuaded to buy in Artmark a fascinating and well-crafted 300 page plus book (in English) – The Self-Punishing One; arts and Romania in the 1980s and 1990s on the works and times of 3 uncompromising Romanian artists (Stefan Bertalan; Florin Mitroi, Ion Grigorescu). How writers coped with the "communist" repression is a common theme of discussions (I mentioned the Herda Mueller exchange here in November recently) but I come across discussions about the effects on artistic endeavours much less frequently. The only thing I can find online on a similar theme is in German.

Whence to the experience of visiting the Ploesti Art GalleryThe "Ion Ionescu-Quintus" Art Museum of Prahova county's activity, with the two departments, Art Museum Ploieşti and Memorial House of painter Nicolae Grigorescu in Câmpina, in accordance with the Law 311/2003 to give it its proper title (needed if you are to find it on the internet!). It is housed in a splendiferous palace in Ploiesti’s centre - which is a large city 50 kms north of Bucharest on the main highway to the Carpathians and Europe. Its oil resources gave it strategic and economic importance at the beginning of the 20th century – evident in some of the architectural gems which can be seen if you look hard enough. Josef Isser is perhaps the city’s most famous artistic son although the country’s most famous painter (Nicolae Grigorescu) comes from the county (Prahova) and is also well represented in the gallery’s collection - as is Theodor Pallady.
However, we apparently arrived at an inopportune time – 15.50 Friday – and got no response when we rang the bell as requested. The security guard was concerned – not least because an alarm was ringing - and ran around the building a couple of times before assuring us that the gallery was open until 17.00. After 10 minutes I was depositing my business card with a message of disappointment when the huge door suddenly opened and a surprised-looking woman explained – to the security guy not us – that there was no electricity although the lights appeared a few seconds after her “explanation”. Thereafter the usual shrill altercation between Romanian custodians and citizens – with no sense from the former that any apologies were due. And a special graphic exhibition had taken over the building – with only half a dozen of the permanent exhibits being on display. The (European) graphics had been hung so low that it was very difficult to see their detail. The best feature for me was the building - with superb entrance hall, painted ceilings and old and fully-functioning tiled stoves keeping the rooms at their required temperature. We were supposed to pay 2 euros – but somehow managed to emerge without payment. Another typical Romanian experience of public services!

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