With the pandemic crisis still raging, with more and more cases every day, a legitimate question is raised: how is contemporary art going to survive these times?
By Oana Vasiliu
Galleries, museums, and artists are struggling to invite the public to consume contemporary arts, as a source of relief in this confusing period. The good news is that museums and galleries are mostly empty, so they are safe places to spend some time. The bad news is that this sector still needs help.
The decision to open museums and galleries after May 15 generated huge amounts of hate speech on social media, mostly from people who do not currently enjoy or attend Romanian arts. Yet, after two months of lockdown, there were people who did go out to enjoy this type of entertainment. The “flood” of visitors didn’t last long, but it was quite relieving to go out and enjoy some moments of escaping reality through art. The same demand for arts was observed all over the world when top museums reopened for the public.
While nobody knows yet how affected the Romanian cultural sector is, the Culture Ministry is trying to help, offering money for contemporary art acquisitions through the National Museum of Contemporary Arts (MNAC). An extra RON 2 million was approved for MNAC’s budget to acquire Romanian contemporary art, following an acquisition procedure through an art expert commission. When the pandemic happened, a series of Romanian galleries changed their focus, leading to an interesting move on social media: an attempt to have a single platform for online art talks called Exhibition Continues. Superfinite, H’art, Gaep, Mobius, Sector 1, Anca Poterasu, Plan B, Possible Gallery, Sabot, Jecza Gallery, Sandwich were all online, communicating with the public through their artists. Still, with international art fairs cancelled or moved online, Romanian contemporary art is going through hard times.
Helping hands: auction houses
Recently, the Artmark auction house launched its Art Market Report for 2020-2021 in the pandemic crisis context. According to the report, the last ten years saw the art market grow by 22 percent on average per year, until the end of 2019, through auctions from Artmark, Alis, Goldart, Lavacow, and Quadro. In 2019, two new auction houses were opened: Historic, which organized 8 book auctions, and Vikart, which states that its activity is focused on contemporary art and organised its first auction in December 2019. Although the biggest purchases were dedicated to classic Romanian painters like Nicolae Grigorescu and Stefan Luchian, the report also shows increased interest in contemporary arts, from 23.2 percent in 2018 to 29.6 percent in 2019.
With the pandemic striking in Romania at the beginning of March 2020, auctions continued to take place online. Artmark, Alis, and Quadro placed their art lots online and bidding began soon after. Impressive amounts were spent on arts despite the looming financial crisis, and the Artmark report highlights some aspects of these acquisitions: the market grows organically and people wait, bid, and buy; during the lockdown, people had more time to invest in research before bidding on art pieces they were interested in, while art collectors have learned some business lessons and wanted to have their money invested in safe assets, and art has been proven to be a safe investment.
International brand partners with Romanian auction house
There is growing interest in Romanian arts and heritage, and it’s endorsed by international partnerships, as the one announced between Artmark Historical Estate and Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliate, providing the international public with access to the luxury, historical, and artistic real estate market in Romania. Luxurious penthouses, historical and contemporary villas, design buildings, castles, palaces, and manors that qualify as landmarks in the Historical Monuments Registry are currently on sale on this online platform. Perhaps Romanian contemporary art will follow the same path, with more artists besides Adrian Ghenie being present in famous international auctions.
Open invitations for arts and more: MNAC, MNAR and MARe Museum
MNAC reopened recently with a series of outdoor live performances and indoor exhibitions, following the lifting of quarantine restrictions, with a new exhibition season under the theme “Art as a Social Binder”. “The new season at MNAC Bucharest is an unusual one. The museum’s condition is under scrutiny, as is the condition of humanity. A biological accident forces us – through its unpredictable and stingy character – to reassess what we are and what we do, including (maybe first of all) professionally. This exhibition season combines all the trends our Museum aims to cover: retrospectives of the ‘80s (Petru Lucaci), mid-generation installations in the emblematic Marble Hall (Radu Comsa), retrospective recoveries of remarkable artists from the ‘70s (Iulian Mereuta), international collaborations (Filip Markiewicz),” said Calin Dan, the director of MNAC Bucharest.
The National Museum of Romanian Art, MNAR, also opened its beautiful garden to the arts, not just its galleries: the Nottara Theatre and the Ion Dacial National Theatre of Operetta and Musicals are hosting live outdoor performances there for less than 200 attendees. MARe, The Museum of Recent Art, continues its temporary exhibitions, as well as the museum collection, also offering other types of art, such as live dancing. The lovely outdoor terrace is also a great place.
Well-established art events still on
Art Safari continues its series this September, inviting art lovers to several spaces: the Museum Pavilion invites the public to rediscover the work of Gheorghe Petrascu, one of the biggest masters of Romanian painting, the Central Pavilion (Bucharest School) brings contemporary art from the ’90s and onwards, the International Pavillion premieres the rebellious art of the anonymous feminist group Guerrilla Girls, while the Sabin Balasa exhibition celebrates a contemporary painter who is famous for his shades of blue and fairy tale-like characters. Meanwhile, Art Safari Kids and the Children’s Pavilion will host artworks made by little ones during lockdown, the Guest Country section is dedicated to Israel and represented by contemporary artist Gili Avissar, and the Night Tours visiting experience includes a guided tour of the exhibitions, live performances, and music.
Diploma Festival, the art festival for young creators and designers, has also announced its 2020 edition, to take place in October. With a focus on fine arts, architecture, and design, this festival brings together emerging talent and industry professionals for a 10-day series of events and an open exhibition, which highlights the best graduation projects around the country, showing off an eclectic selection of arts, design, and architecture projects.
While theatre, film, and live performances have managed to restructure themselves for outdoor performances based on COVID-19 restrictions and regulations, indoor contemporary arts are still waiting for visitors and a plan to save themselves, but a handful of initiatives won’t be able to cover the entire contemporary art scene.