Romanian Debacle is comprised of eight large-scale portraits and 60 small paintings. it draws heavily on two historical documents: an exhibition catalogue called 8 Contemporary Romanian Painters and a magazine article, “Imperilled: Romanian Paintings on Tour,” from the Spring 1980 edition of Arts Atlantic. The article chronicles the misfortune that befell a touring exhibition of Romanian painting that came to Nova Scotia in 1979. The catalogue, produced to accompany the exhibition of the same name, was published by the Office for Exhibitions of the Council of Culture and Socialist Education in the Socialist Republic of Romania. The exhibition was comprised of work by Virgil Almasanu, Sabin Balasa, Horia Bernea, Sever Frentiu, Ion Gheorghiu, Gerogeta Naparus Grigorescu, Ion Pacea and Constantin Piliuta. Under the direction of Leighton Davis, the show traveled to Halifax for exhibition at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery.
The paintings arrived at the Halifax International Airport where Air Canada employees proceeded to deplane the crates containing the work leaving them outside on the tarmac, for 6 days. The crates were not insulated to withstand the elements, so when it rained the paintings inside were quickly soaked. As they arrived at the gallery, so much water was still running out of the crates that the hallway they were left in flooded. Many of the paintings had water damage and mould had begun to establish itself on the damp canvases. Restorers from the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa were sent to Halifax and worked to salvage the paintings from the water damage. Over the course of a month the paintings were restored. They were briefly exhibited at Saint Mary’s art gallery before returning to Romania. Air Canada eventually agreed to pay for the conservation of the paintings.
The work in 8 Contemporary Romanian Painters drew on a wide range of painting styles and concerns, all displaying a direct and sometimes derivative relationship to better known modernist painting, both abstract and figurative. Taking a queue from this range of styles, I am striving for a varied and experimental approach to the images I am painting for this series, at the same time noticing how this variety affects the provisional narrative I am developing.
The catalogue for 8 Contemporary Romanian Painters is unbound and each artist is given the front and back of a single page. On one side of the page is a reproduction of their work. The scale of the small paintings I am making comes from the size of the reproductions in the catalogue. On the other side there is abbreviated biographical and professional information and a black and white photograph of the artist. These photographs are the sources for the large-scale portraits I am making of each artist who participated in the exhibition.
The photographic portraits in the catalogue are intriguing because of the implicit stereotypes they posit in their representation of the artists. Depicted mainly in their studios, seated on torn or battered looking furniture, intense, lost in thought, they pause just long enough to allow a picture to be snapped before continuing their work, or pose in front of their art with a mildly confrontational acknowledgement of our presence.
The story of the Romanian Debacle, though mundane and anti-climactic, contains elements that amplify some of the broad questions that interest me related to painting specifically and to art in general. These questions have to do with exploring the possibility for material to carry metaphorical value alongside imagery; with defining the parameters of visual narrative and with an examination of the dynamics involved with the institutional presentation of art.