The Artist and Society (18 November, University of Tblisi)

On the 18th of November 2016, the research team organized a panel titled “The Romanian State artist: an overview of the Union of Visual Artists and its role in society” at the international conference The Artist and Society, Institute of Art History and Theory, Ivane Javakishvili University of Tbilisi (18-19 November 2016), which was chaired by Caterina Preda.

This panel proposes to discuss a specific case of the relation between artists and society, that of visual artists in Romania, and to take into consideration their relation not only with society, but also with the state. The panel includes four presentations that discuss specific case studies of the Union of Visual Artists both during the communist regime (1950-1990) and after the return to democracy, and up to 2010. The Union of Visual Artists in Romania was established in 1950 as a mandatory, unique institution meant to provide financial help to artists, but also encourage their ideologized artistic creation. The Union, based on the previous, pre-war articulation of artists’ interests in the Syndicate of Fine Arts (1921-1949) added a new ideological component to the representation of artists, that of Socialist Realism which became mandatory for artists wishing to exhibit their artworks. Gradually, with the state’s help, the Union acquired an important patrimony and was well established as a privileged executant of state orders. After 1990 this privileged role was lost, but artists educated in this system failed to adapt to the market-oriented model imposed also to artistic articulations. Our panel shows the evolving nature of the relations visual artists established with the state and society in Romania, both during communism and after its demise by discussing the relations with the East and West established by the Union, by presenting the transformation of the state artist after 1989, by examining the case of the caricaturists included in the UAP, as well as the relation with the Securitate of one of the presidents of the Union, Ion Irimescu. Finally, our panel is part of the Research project “From the ”state artist” to the artist dependent on the state: The Union of Visual Artists (of Romania) (1950-2010) – the Bucharest branch” that is the first attempt to comprehend the creative union established by communists and transformed after 1990, but which continues to frame itself in relation to the state.

Alina Popescu, The Romanian Union of Artists and the Formalisation of Artistic Dialogue with the East and the West during Late Communism

In this paper, we propose to map out the contribution of the Union of Visual Artists in shaping the cultural dialogue of Romanian artists and art with the East and the West West. Established in the 1950s, the Union was the main institutional interface between artists and power and played a dominant role in the organisation of various aspects of the artistic life. Among others, it made an important contribution to establishing official contacts with countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain. During the 1950s, the international dimension of the Union’s activity meant first and foremost a privileged relationship with the Soviet Union, whose guidance was overtly assumed in the Union’s Statute. After the political distancing from Moscow, which happened gradually from the end of the 1950s to the beginning of the 1960s, contacts with other countries, including those from the West, started to flourish. Cultural agreements or conventions of collaboration were signed with different Unions, other professional associations and international organisations during this period. These represented the starting point of exchanges of peoples, art works, ideas and practices that took place on a regular basis during the following decades. This presentation will focus on the last decades of the Unions’s existence in the Communist regime, when these exchanges acquired a routinised and formalised character.

More precisely, the purpose of this paper is to analyse the Unions’s contribution and strategy towards the internationalisation of the Romanian artistic life and to emphasis the institutionalised forms that framed the contacts with both East and West. In order to do so, we will first give an overview of the activities of the department in charge of foreign relations within the Union, which acted in conformity with a plan of foreign affairs and operated with a budget that was strictly planned in advance. We will than analyse some examples of conventions of collaborations in order to emphasis the different approaches to the West’s or people’s democracies. We will also evaluate the intensity of these exchanges through the quantity of scholarships, official visits and exhibitions that were allocated to East or West. Finally, we will describe how official visits were organised within the country and abroad. The analysis of archival documents shows that there was no place for improvisation: informative notes or travel reports were given regarding contact with foreigners, and visits were tightly scheduled, guided and watched.

This presentation does not intend to give an exhaustive image of the official exchanges that the Romanian Union of Visual Artists had during the four decades of its existence before the fall of Communism. Nevertheless, it is important to mention that it was not the only one to initiate and organise contacts abroad. The Union was politically and administratively connected to other institutions, such as the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the National Bank and the Ministry of Culture, all of which had their own responsibilities in issues related to foreign affairs. Also, the Union followed the general lines of the Romanian Communist Party’s in international politics. In this regard, one of the Union’s goals was to evaluate the efficiency of the propaganda abroad and to set up an agenda of actions that were meant to improve the Romanian image beyond the national borders. In this presentation, we hope to show that these institutions collaborated in concrete ways, revealing at least a common goal: to regulate and at the same time control the cultural contacts with foreign countries. Beyond this institutional tissue and the pervasive presence of the Party, little place was left for individual, unofficial or informal initiatives.

Dan Draghia, ”Cartooning for Peace”. Changing the functions of caricature in communist Romania (1949-1970)

As if any additional proof was needed, the recent mobilization around the world brought by Prophet Muhammad cartoons in Denmark and France reminded us again the power of caricature. Appeared and developed as a negative visual protest against society, politics and religion, caricature and its more developed forms depicted common characteristics in an exaggerated way so to trigger the public reaction. Across time and space politics and politicians represented the favorite targets of caricaturists, with other types of targets having strong political significance too. Politics in general is a „serious thing” as politicians are used to say. That’s exactly why caricature has a deep impact on them. In particular, dictatorial regimes, with their „too serious” and „too severe” treatment of society, are strongly bothered by caricature, which basically represents a joke towards something that you cannot joke about. But you cannot ban what is an entire domain now because of this, the more that is a useful tool you can use yourself. You can only control and reshape it so to serve your own purposes. Examining the Caricature subsection within the Romanian Union of Visual Arts, this paper will inquire into the reshaping of caricature in communist Romania during the first two decades of the regime with the purpose of responding directly to the communist social and political objectives. Going through the documents of the subsection and tracing some of its production, this paper will show how the regime perceived the role of caricature in the new communist society. Also when and why the ideological turn was more intense and in which direction. Subsequently the paper will argue in favor of a more politicized caricature during the first years of the regime and in the moments of international tension, as opposed to a more socially orientated satirical art later on, as the socialization of Romania progressed.

Cristina Stoenescu, Reforming the Union of Visual Artists and the “state” artist

The Union of Visual Artists of Romania (UAPR) once had complete monoply over the means of production and artistic recognitions. After 1989, it was suddenly to give in to the slow emergence of a free art market with the occurrence of auction houses and a more consistent primary market. The predictability once ensured by norms and regulations had to make room to cultural policies that have also been slow to surface and inconsistent in defining a long-term cultural strategy. In regards with creative spaces and exhibition venues, there has also been a slow dynamic, with more and more of its resources being questioned and sometimes regained by former owners. The Union itself started to re-define its paradoxical role during the repressive regime as both a monopolizing force and an enabler for artists in an impossible situation.

In order to justify its continuity, UAP needed to preserve the image of an institution that was closer to the artists, rather than the state. Following Magda Cârneci’s model for the triangle party-state – Union – artists[1], UAP’s discourse after the ’89 Revolution became increasingly dedicated to branding itself as a syndicate of sorts, one that positions itself with the artists against the wrong-doings of political leadership, while in the same time requesting that it be acknowledged by said leadership for its public service and therefore receive more public funding.

Free now to choose where and what they could exhibit, the recognition-hungry artists were still facing many obstacles in terms of exhibiting space, production funds and day-to-day living expenses. The relation between the artists and UAPR influenced greatly the impact that the Union continued to have in the following years, starting with the political transition period of the 1990s in Romania. In the same time, their role of “state” artist in the past was rejected by them after 1989, with a potentially problematic association with the UAPR.

I plan to explore this tension employing a unique case-study that nuances the strained relationship between UAPR and the artists, namely Atelier 35. Constituted as a pre-entry branch where young artists could exhibit and work prior to their acceptance in the Union of Visual Artists, Atelier 35 enclaves offered an environment with more extensive creative liberties to its artists. Following the fall of the communist regime, Atelier 35 had continued to function as a space provided to young artists and thus establish a much-needed connection with emerging generations of artists who would generally prefer not to associate themselves with UAP. By studying the continuities and the dis-continuities in Atelier 35’s activity spanning form the 80s to the 2010, I aim to better define the post 1989 statute of the artist within UAPR. The archival documents that this study is based upon paint a more nuanced reality, with a complex network of communication between the Union and the state-party or the Union and the post-communist state institutions.

The Union’s attempt at reforming its internal policies had resulted in a more decided outlook on the role of artists and their statute in an ever-shifting cultural landscape still haunted by its repressive past. Understanding the way that UAPR attempted to re-assess the role of the artist and consequently re-define itself, is a possible first step in understanding the effect that UAPR still continues to exert in the nowadays Romanian cultural landscape.

[1] Cârneci, Magda. Artele plastice în România 1945-1989. Cu o addenda 1990-2010, Iași: Polirom, 2013.

Dumitru Lacatusu, Visual artists under the surveillance of the communist secret police. The case of Ion Irimescu

 Ion Irimescu was one of the most important visual artists in Romania`s last century. Although Ion Irimescu filled leading posts in the Visual Artists Union in the second part of the Romanian communism and became one of the most known and appreciated visual artists from the communist and also post-communist Romania, in his interwar biography there were some “stains“. Those were his social origin and his quality of member of some political parties that were opposed to the communist one and his participation to the anti-Soviet war, which would have justified his removal from the Artists Union. His notoriety was also illustrated by him becoming a member of the Romanian Academy in 1992, who also celebrated him when he turned 100.

From his individual case and from the files drawn up by the Security and the Party, this presentation proposes the analysis of his relationship with the Security, and also his professional and political climb. Therefore, the main questions I will try to answer are those: how much did his interaction with the Security in the 50`s could have represented an obstacle for his professional climb and how did Ion Irimescu understand to manage the relations with the main repressive institution of the communist regime, and also, which were the main motifs that determined his political and professional climb.

At the same time, this paper proposes to pinpoint, through a compared and parallel analysis of the personal files identified on his name and those drawn up by the Securitate for the Visual artists Union, the motifs for which the visual artists were followed by the secret police and also the ways in which they controlled and supervised them.


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