The Cluj-Napoca Art Museum recently hosted a painting exhibition in collaboration with the University of Art and Design called T.A.N.G.O. Its title excited me ever since I first laid eyes on the poster which described an unusual curatorial proposal that includes nine young professional artists, all studying painting, who exhibited alongside their mentor: Ioan Sbârciu.
In this context, my subconscious mind unavoidably projected – in contrast – the image of the Guerilla Girls poster that showed the statistics regarding the Metropolitan Museum in New York: “Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.” You have to face sexism issues at least once when dealing with this kind of exhibition proposal and you can’t avoid questioning what a feminine approach and a masculine approach in painting can entail. It can also be seen as a statement about the master-apprentice relationship.
T.A.N.G.O. turned out to be a well put together exhibition, a silent roller-coaster in the midst of a series of works by ten artists with provocative pictorial and conceptual vision. T.A.N.G.O. (Turning Art Now Gliding Over) reunites Oana Năstăsache, Andrea Tivadar, Teodora Axente, Ioana Iacob, Ioana Olăhuț, Anca Bodea, Alexandra Ioana-Șerban, Anca Badea and Anca Brânzaș with Ioan Sbârciu in an extremely tasty and plastic formula, with a complex “deployment” and an exciting visual route. The equilibrium and, at the same time, contrast between the master’s safety and maturity and the force with which the nine young artists erupt give this project a special feature, targeting mainly technical virtuosity and color refinement.
The masculine and the feminine reinforce each other in addressing and treating painting, reflecting both strong elements and color strength that could be attributed to masculinity, and subtleties which revolve around female sensibility, so to say. What surprises me and seems remarkable about T.A.N.G.O. is that the leitmotif of the project strongly transpires the idea of a “good painting”, it subordinates and dominates all other features, the most predictable for debate being the masculine/feminine report in the artistic vision, treating and owning each piece of work. To be honest, while going through the exhibition I almost didn’t care which of the paintings belonged to men or women. In my mind, this aspect fades and remains in the background. It is painting at the highest level. Period. An art show in which the woman – numerically dominant – becomes a “statement”. But first, let’s see each step separately.
Whether they go for an abstract or figurative approach, these artists offer a spectacular universe, particularly through the atmosphere and interpretation register. We can’t question the originality of the vision because there’s nothing new to see in this exhibition, but ultimately, that’s not its purpose. Indeed, “spectacular” is the term that I would use, along with the previously mentioned – as a common denominator, defining the visual tango that is creeping along the exhibition route.
Andrea Tivadar builds an architectural network of tubular forms that stands out from the abstract area of the local painting. Her Universe, which she calls “pure painting” is very particular in how color is used, in the way the composition and volume association is made. In informal language, you could say that “you’ll know it when you see it”. Oana Nastasache also revolves around the abstract, but in a more purified and airy formula. She uses elements of visual language: the dot, line, spot in a refined, less spectacular manner than the one Tivadar does. The minimal aspect of her compositions does not place her in an area of simplified artistic approach, on the contrary, her pictorial vision is closer to ready-made/art installation.
Alexandra Șerban is subtly standing at the border between abstract and figurative. Her works are very gestural, with broad paint strokes of vibrant colors. This urban, industrial landscape that makes you think of Tarkovsky, brings up a world of preoccupations about desolation, loneliness and drama. The pictorial Universe of Ioana Olăhuț comes alive somewhere between expressionism and surrealism, with the artist tackling psychoanalysis subjects that incorporate what the artist calls “creative energy/destructive energy”. With a satirically grotesque feel, Ioana Olăhuț’s figurative interpretation talks about a preoccupation for the unconscious mind that can influence or determine inter-human relationships. Anca Brânzaș’s motto is “Art is a personal freedom” and she paints intimate everyday scenes with a figurative twist, easily placing it in the before mentioned category, “you’ll know it when you see it”. She also dabbles with installation art by using novel objects in her paintings, like a metal plate in the work “Afternoon”.
Anca Bodea’s art work focuses on an intimate figurative, spectacularly refined, in the cold color gamut. In her view, the painting “defines words and concepts and is self-sufficient, still having the power to “speak” for herself”. The subtlety of her compositions give a discreet, quiet feminine shape to the universe, both deciphering and enciphering for the viewer a similar atmosphere to the metaphysical painting. Teodora Axente is one of my favorite artists in this curatorial project, for highly subjective reasons: I have a weakness for the technical virtuosity of her works. For her, painting is a game of conferring the illusion of reality on canvas, juggling materiality and directing compositions like film frames loaded with a cold eerie atmosphere. She decontextualizes the human figure and recontextualizes it in her own setting, with a director’s detachment. Anca Badea’s artistic approach is centered around the theme of love and the particular manifestation of it in contemporary topicality, the artist focusing on showing “snapshots” of the everyday life of some couples in love. The proposed seduction is dual: visual-sensory through good pictorial execution and the chromatic sophistication of the idea: the seduction that occurs between man and woman. There is no distinguishable erotic or sexual, physical consummation feeling in these works, but rather a moment of prelude or tenderness filled with sensibility and emotions. On the other hand, in Ioana Iacob’s vision, eroticism and sex are extremely carnal and her canvases are inspired by porn movies. The voyeurism, the subtle cutouts from explicit scenes, to describe the intimate life as it is, with no filters or other visual constructs that could influence perception. Her still life paintings are big and although they appear to be unassuming, they stand out with their force of expression, especially around the areas that are part of the objective feminine universe: clothing, accessories, beauty products put adjacent to skulls and other elements that are part of the artificial world: colorful lights, wigs, etc. Using everyday objects, Ioana Iacob manages to make still life with metaphorical valiancy. The fact that the installation was exhibited alongside the painting that shows a version of this installation is not a visual pleonasm, but rather the works complete each other in a fresh, contemporary manner. For Ioana Iacob, sex, life and death become one in a powerful and expressive artistic discourse, as rich as the color palette, as nuanced as a perception of reality and its transfiguration in painting. It’s no wonder that I saved the best for last, taking into consideration that she was the most powerful female force in this curatorial selection.
The artist Ioan Sbârciu brings to T.A.N.G.O. monumental works, both in dimensions and in atmosphere and painting style, in series suck as “The kidnapping of Europe” and “Don Quijote”. The vigor, drama and intensity of his paint brushes are the means with which the painter, who is now at full statistical and conceptual maturity, operates by interpreting in a contemporary manner known themes in the history of art and literature that are still ideally relevant. The somberness of his subjects come in contrast with his gestural and chromatic, almost playful, even lyrical boldness – his route is very well contained in contrasts. The spectacular is the common denominator here as well, with the pictorial approach as well as the size of the works and the interpretation on the subject.
T.A.N.G.O. is a visceral, organic art show that talks about living life to the fullest and its visual transfiguration. I don’t see it as a discourse about male/female opposition but rather their metaphorical completion in a passionate and musical tango in a museum. You can notice the master’s influence over his students, but this in the most obvious way possible – each artist found her own pictorial formula and artistic individuality. The fact that these young women have the same training is evident in their way of painting, still in the process of becoming artistically mature. Ioan Sbârciu, as both the curator and an artist, certainly makes a “statement” when he approved a project in which female painters are numerically dominant in a visual medium that traditionally belongs to me. That statement is that art, on its own, has no gender. But when it comes to its perspective on reality and its interpretation, well that’s a whole different story. In other words, I would have a laugh if the catalogue for this art show would be sent to Georg Baselitz who was openly misogynistic towards women who paint, saying that women know how to sell themselves, but not when it comes to art.
T.A.N.G.O. is turning out to be a bold curatorial project in which artistic visions come into a natural and coherent dialogue, no matter the artistic background, the school of art, the artistic individualities, the artist’s gender or the domination/submission report between male/female.
T.A.N.G.O was between 20 May – 30 June 2015 at the Cluj-Napoca Art Museum.
Ada is a Graduate of University of Art and Design in Cluj-Napoca and has a PhD in Visual Arts (2019), conceiving a research thesis entitled "The Human Body as Image and Instrument in Contemporary Art....