Simona Vilau and Valentina Iancu: Art Collecting in RomaniaIntroduction Romania (text from Eastern European Collections)
Simona Vilau and Valentina Iancu: Art Collecting in Romania
Rewinding Romanian cultural and artistic specificities along the last 150 years makes us see that private Art collecting has been a developing concern and, also, an enterprise of Upper and Middle classes’ members (except the Communist era, when the classical idea of social stratification theoretically disappeared).
The Romanian evolution in the framework of collecting Fine Art (both public, and private) is simultaneous with its cultural and artistic evolution, in general. The 19th century in the Romanian environment comprises some of the European patterns and highlights of the Modern era, such as the Revolutions from 1821 and 1848, the Unity of two of the Romanian provinces (Moldavia and Wallachia) from 1859, the War of Independence from 1877-78 etc. Onto this background, of massive social and cultural changes, the interest in producing and collecting Fine Arts had increased. One of the most important episodes from this period is the inauguration of the Art Academies in Bucharest and Iasi, and with that, the creation of two genuine, local, educational centers, in the Arts & Crafts field.
The synchronicity with Western European currents and ideas (with a very powerful French influence in Modern Romania (before 1918), and a very strong Austrian-Hungarian, and German influence in Transylvania) was high until the end of World War II.
Between 1944 and 1947, Romania became a Communist country, in which all the criteria of private property, possessions, belongings and fortunes were criminally abolished. So, in the following 45 years, there had been no art market, and no official art trades, only individual stories, and divergent points of view.
In 1989, after the falling of Ceausescu’s regime, things had changed. Now, we are talking about post-Communist era, transition, the European Union’s membership since 2007, the slow, but steady development of the local art market, the emerging Romanian artists on the international art market, and many more.
The beginnings. The formation of taste for art and the first collectors
The 19th century was a century of change for the Romanian Provinces, both at the political level, but also in the mindsets. The spread of French Revolution’s ideas and the launch of a set of concrete national ideals (The Revolution from 1848) have determined the establishment of the modern state (1859), the Proclamation of Independence (1877) and implicitly, the beginning of a reforming process which aimed a fast-pace modernization of the Romanian state and society, based on the occidental model.
The role of the artist in this transition, from a late Middle Age, founded on Christian-orthodox ideas and principles – which have altered over the years the evolution of art – was rather symbolic and marginal. The first artists, separated from the “thick painters’” tradition, who have organized themselves at the end of 18th century and the beginning of 19th century in the cluster of “thin painters”, have joined a group of foreign artists who came here to speculate the absence of an art market and started to steadily gain a role in the society by painting the portraits for the high and middle nobility or for the recently enriched bourgeois. The phenomenon was for a long while isolated, the presence of art in the high class spheres being rather a proclamation of the social status than a genuine interest in art and thus, the collection of it. From the tradition of portraying the benefactors within churches, which ultimately signified a confirmation of the high social status of the personages depicted, the presence of the portrait in the private sphere came to continue this myth already shaped within the mindset of upper classes. Not even the appearance of some artists educated abroad, in Western Europe, did succeed to radically or visibly change the nobility’s reference towards fine art.
The first official exhibition – 1864 – which has coincided with the establishment of the Superior School of Arts in Bucharest and Iaşi and the Painting Collection of the State could be considered the historical moment corresponding to the beginning of art collecting phenomenon in the Romanian state. The Romanian Painting Collection – the first official act of forming a public art collection – was displayed in Iaşi, in the Art Museum, opened on October 26th 1869. As in Bucharest there was no set site, the exhibition was hosted within two-three side rooms of the Romanian Athenaeum.
The first generations of Romanian artists had the bad-luck of being part of a rather marginal domain, art collecting being an extravagance without many amateurs. The sumptuous nobility interiors were still tributary to oriental tastes, while the recently-constituted low nobility still did not have an appetite for art collecting. The buyers and amateurs of art were isolated cases, the only known collection from those times belonging to the literary and liberal politician, Mihail Kogălniceanu (1817-1891). “He was collecting mostly paintings of universal classics, without neglecting sculpture, decorative and applied art and historical objects from all times.” It is said that Kogălniceanu was also interested in contemporary art, both Romanian and international. Despite intending to donate his collection to the State with the purpose of creating a museum, because of some financial problems and also due to successive rejections from the authorities to get involved in the establishment of a museum, he has sold himself most of the exhibits, as the rest were sold by his descendants. What exactly that collection contained and which was its faith after being sold abroad, remains still a mystery.
Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (1839-1914), the future Carol I of Romania, an important collector of European fine art and armaments, was also a promoter of the art collecting phenomenon in the Romanian region. Some of his close acquaintances, politicians and distinct high class personalities, influenced by his passion, started acquiring art pieces, without forming any reputable collections though. The pieces collected by the King, left through his testament to the Romanian State, are displayed today by the Romanian National Art Museum or by the Peleş National Museum.
The first collector whose collection is very well known, a veritable art Maecenas, was the controversial Alexandru Bogdan-Piteşti (1871-1922). “Unquestionable information about the life of Alexandru Bogdan-Piteşti is very little. Everything is wrapped within a legend that has seduced and disgraced his contemporaries and assures him a prolonged presence in posteriority.”
Expulsed from Paris under anarchism accusations, after a couple of arrests caused by the eccentricity with which he liked to spend his time along the symbolic and anarchic bohemia, Bogdan-Piteşti moved to Bucharest in 1894. The intellectual rebel integrated rapidly within the autochthon environment, becoming close acquaintance of many prominent poets and fine artists of the time. He involved actively in the cultural life of the city, financing exhibitions under the auspices of Ileana Society (whose symbolic patron, cynically chosen, was Ileana Cosânzeana). Being permanently preoccupied by novelty, Alexandru Bogdan-Piteşti was often organizing debates in his private home or different coffee-shops about art, literature, esthetics, etc. He published the first art magazine in Romania – Ileana – he signed the manifesto of the independent artists’ exhibition and in 1908 he transformed his estate in Vlaici (Olt County) into a real artistic colony. Significant names of Romanian modern art worked during summer time at the Maecenas-collector’s estate: Camil Ressu, Nicolae Dărăscu, Ştefan Dimitrescu, Max Hermann Maxy, Cecilia Cuţescu-Stork, etc. Most of the works made over the summers in Vlaici were acquired by Alexandru Bogdan-Piteşti, who was always evaluating them generously.
Until the end of his life, Bogdan-Piteşti collected in his house from Ştirbei Vodă Street no. 36 (today demolished), more than 1,500 paintings, graphic works and sculptures created by the most renowned Romanian contemporary artists. His collection was complemented by a significant number of icons, old cult objects, old books, ex-libris and pieces of folk art. He died on March 25th 1922 without leaving any testament, despite his expressed intention of transforming his collection into a museum. “The Bogdan-Piteşti House! Since his death have completely disappeared those few square meters which represented Paris and Athens in the heart of Bucharest.” mentioned a couple of years later the famous writer, Gala Galaction, while nostalgically talking about the moments spent with the collector and his group of friends.
 Petre Oprea, Art Collectors from Bucharest, Meridiane Publishing House, Bucharest, 1976, p.13
 Lucian Boia, “The Germanophills” the Romanian intellectual elite from the years before First World War, Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest 2010, p.189
 Ileana Cosânzeana is a mythological character of Romanian fairy-tales, impersonating the symbol of feminism, beauty and good-will.
 F. Aderca, Talking with Gala Galaction, in “The Liberal Movement”, December 27th 1927
The first collections become museums. Failures, successes, problems
It is said that Alexandru Bogdan-Piteşti wanted to see his art collection transformed into a museum even during his lifetime. The undertakings to the minister I.G. Duca in 1918 were rejected though, based on unknown reasons. Two months after his premature death, Domnica Bogdan, his mother, wrote to the Ministry of Art with the intention of donating the State the reputable collection. Initially, the minister C. Banu accepted the honorable donation, but the terms imposed by the heir-at-law and some suspicions of the Ministry’s employees have hindered and later rejected the donation process, based on absurd reasons: the dispute over the clause of establishing the Alexandru Bogdan-Piteşti Museum at his Vlaici residence, the suspicion that his mother will try to avoid paying inheritance taxes and later on, a rumor which turned true: the levy upon the collection by the creditors of Bogdan-Piteşti. The person behind wasn’t a creditor, but his lawyer – Ernest Paximade – who initiated the levy as a result of the non-payment of the honorary associated to his services. Thus, the faith of the collection was written: it was broken up at an auction, most probably “arranged by the common interests of art amateurs, auctioneers and executors”.
All the press campaigns and the protests of the artists for the safeguard of the collection were in vain. The faith of the art works collected by Alexandru Bogdan-Piteşti was similar to the one of the famous collection of his Hungarian contemporary, Marcell Nemes Jánoshalmi (1866-1930). The verdict given for this event by the writer Perspessicius remains indefectible: “It was a theft or, if you prefer, a grotesque scene from a flea market”.
The Simu museum though had an undoubtedly better faith. A private collection transformed by its owner into a museum, under the slogan: “Not only for us, but also for the others”. Anastase Simu (1854-1935), Romanian academician and political person, with a doctor’s degree in political science and administration, has succeeded, in 1910, to base the first art museum from Bucharest, an institution which was named after him. Unlike Alexandru Bogdan-Piteşti, whose collection indicated well taste and inspiration, Simu’s collection was unbalanced, having a selection of highly resonant international names next to pieces of art created by obscure Romanian and international artists with doubtful artistic value. The artists who have met him kept a pleasant memory, admiring both his gesture of donating his collection to the Romanian State and also his attitude towards artists: “Simu, the founder of the museum with the same name, together with his wife had a distinct appreciation towards our artists (…). He appreciated the advice given by the artists he respected and had the merit of offering all his material means towards the freshness of art.”
Anastase Simu’s collection encompassed along Romanian artists (Carol Popp de Szathmary, Theodor Aman, Mişu Pop, Nicolae Grant, Apcar Baltazar, Aurel Jiquidi, etc.), French artists (Antoine Bourdelle, Camille Pissarro, Camille Claudel, Eugene Vibert, Leo Putz etc.), a selection of plaster casts after Italian Renaissence and Antiquity masterpieces, the collector being highly preoccupied by the artistic education of the youth who were not able to travel.
Excepting his unparalleled ego, all those who wrote about Anastase Simu kept a rather positive memory of him. A single quick-tempered intervention, perfectly justified, is mentioned by Zambaccian, when the collector was criticizing the Romanian State. At the establishment of Toma Stelian Museum, being asked to be part of the editorial board, Simu has flared up:
“How could I, who I have offered the country a Temple with more than a thousand Romanian and international works of art, patron a committee whose purpose is to garnish Toma Stelian’s residence with paintings and sculptures bought with tax-payers’ money? If Toma Stelian has donated a house, very nice act from his side, it would have been proper to establish a school or a library, as he was a highly educated man, but why to create a museum of art with his name, when he was never interested in art, leaving not even a stamp collection or having ever gone to the Art Museum!
Paradoxically, I [Zambaccian] concluded, just as in Pirandello’s play: Museum without paintings and seven members in a committee looking for pieces of art. While the State neglects its own painting collection which moves from here to there.”
Completely paradoxically, shortly after the failure of Bogdan-Piteşti’s donation, a museum without any works of art has been established in Bucharest.
Another controversial museum was established by Anastase Simu’s “rival”, Iancu Kalinderu. The institution was based on the collection of the doctor Nicolae Kalinderu, who has manifested his idea of establishing a museum. His heirs have steadily improved the collection, and with the help of the authorities managed to open a half-private museum. After Nicolae Kalinderu’s death, the museum was partly donated, partly acquired, so that it could become public. Some of the contemporaries have highly criticized this new undertaking, questioning the authenticity of some of the art pieces: “the collection, except for the pieces coming from doctor Nicolae Kalinderu, is very suspect: many paintings have a dubious origin. From I. Kalinderu’s notes some payments to painter D. Serafim were discovered, apparently for his signature on some paintings. Another proof of the fakes within the collection.”
The two museums, shortly joined by the Toma Stelian Museum (opened on March 21st 1926), enriched by a couple of artists’ donations and state acquisitions, had the merit of educating the taste of the Romanian art amateurs, especially of those from Bucharest.
Simultaneously with Simu and Kalinderu, other collections were created, whose names are now forgotten: Nicolae Moret de Blamberg, Vasile Morţun, Eugeniu Carada, Goodwin etc. The poet Alexandru Vlahuţă and the Swiss art critic William Ritter became collectors due to the numerous gifts offered by the painter Nicolae Grigorescu.
The State Painting Collection from Iaşi was enriched with the donations of some collectors from that time, among whom: Scarlat Varnav, Costache Dasiade, Costache Negri, Ioan Aivas, Iancu Manolache-Codrescu or artists such as Gheorghe Panaiteanu-Bardasare and Constantin D. Stahi.
 Theodor Enescu, Writings about art, Mediriane Publishing, Bucharest, 2003, p. 71
 Cecilia Cuţescu-Stork, A life given to art, Meridiane Publishing, Bucharest, 1966, p. 82
 K.H. Zambaccian, The notes of an art amateur, ESPLA, 1957, p. 59
 Alexandru Tzigara Samurcaş, Writings about Romanian Art, Meridiane Publishing, Bucharest, 1987, p. 290
The inter-war years: the glory of the collectors
The inter-war period distinguished itself through a cultural-artistic effervescence as well as through the formation of some important art collections. It is interesting that both the amateurs as well as the art collector acquired almost exclusively contemporary art, mostly Romanian. “My personal research concluded that the interest of art collector was focused on accurate values in which regards living artists. They were especially attracted by artists who reached maturity, around 50 years old, and had only rarely supported young talents. The latter were only sporadically encouraged and the reason laid rather in the collectors’ fear of not being considered rusty.”
Excepting some resonant Romanian modern art names, such as Theodor Aman (1831- 1891), Nicolae Grigorescu (1838-1907), Ioan Andreescu (1850-1882) and Ştefan Luchian (1868-1916), the collectors’ taste focused almost exclusively on the Romanian emerging artists. Among the most popular were the temperate modern artists such as Nicolae Tonitza (1886-1940), Theodor Pallady (1871-1956), Gheorghe Petraşcu (1872-1949) and Camil Ressu (1880-1962). Other names frequently encountered in the inter-war collections were Iosif Iser (1881-1958), Eustaţiu Stoenescu (1884-1957), Cecilia Cuţescu-Stork (1879-1969), Francisc Şirato (1877-1953), Ion Theodorescu-Sion (1882 – 1939) and Ştefan Dimitrescu (1886-1933). Advocates and even initiators of using the traditional art as source of inspiration, these exquisite drawers and colorists have promoted an art profoundly anchored in the autochthone image. With the exception of nudes and flowers, themes highly widespread among collectors, the subjects of these artists were inspired by the village life, to which they often conferred an idealistic image. The most “wanted” piece was the nude of the Turk girl named Aişe, exhibited by Camil Ressu at the Official Salon in 1928. The paining was bought by the doctor Iosif Dona, an important collector of those times, for a fabulous amount of money. The best represented crayon-draft of the painting was immediately bought by Zambaccian.
The most important inter-war collections were formed after the auction of the Bogdan-Piteşti collection. According to the biographers of Alexandru Bogdan-Piteşti, the most well-known collectors present at the December 3rd 1924 auction were: Iosif Dona, Krikor Zambaccian, Adolf Grünberg-Ruleta şi Lazăr Munteanu. Notorious names of Bucharest art collectors of those times were also Nicolae Ionescu Barbă, Henri Tembinski, Virgil Cioflec, Alexadru Răscanu, Mişu Weinberg, Leon Laseron, Aristide Blank etc.
The most popular among them was the Armenian industry-man Krikor H. Zambaccian (1889-1962). “My passion for art gave room to many comments and interpretations. Thus, the sculptor Han would say that I suffer from a painting angina, while a journalist when hearing someone calling my name said he’s name is not Zambaccian, it’s Colleccian” mentioned the collector at some point in his memoire. The Armenian trader, with studies in Constanţa and Antwerp, became passionate about art during his first career years. Unlike many of the important collectors, Zambaccian became famous for his exquisite knowledge, aspect confirmed also by the harshness in selection of the pieces which compose his well-known collection, today exhibited by the Museum with his own name, on Zambaccian Museum Street 21A. His contemporaries remember with enthusiasm about the reputable collector’s personality and his influence within the Romanian cultural sphere: “Strongly distinct from Alexandru Bogdan-Piteşti, a bizarre person, pamphleteer and art critic, inclined toward charlatanism, but generous with painters, also different from Anastase Simu, well intended, but naïve, who acquired indiscriminately various paintings among which painters such as Claude Monet, Daumier, Signac or Bourdelle shine, Zambaccian breaks fresh grounds in art. Passionate collector and surprising autodidact, he has spent his life between artists, lingering in museums, exhibitions and ateliers, selecting famous paintings of Cézanne, Corot, Courbet, Renoir, Matisse, Marquet and many more other maestros.” Indeed, Krikor Zambaccian managed to found the best connected collection in Romania, a section of extremely valuable pieces, being in the same time a Maecenas for the artists and last but not least, an important critic of art. The Zambaccian Museum manages to completely fulfill the desire of its founder: “a school for Romanian artists and researchers”. Specialists who have studied inter-war collections, often mention his brother’s, Onic Zambaccian, collection, much smaller but remarkable for its sensitivity in selection. The collection though was not kept, being sold by his inheritors.
An exceptional personality of the cultural environment of the inter-war time was the poet Ion Minulescu (1881-1944). Critic, collector and dear friend of many sculptors and painters, he had actively contributed to the promotion of Romanian fine art. He wrote chronicles about the artists and exhibitions of the time, in which he showed both an exquisite analytical spirit and also a deep understanding of art. As Director General of the Ministry of Culture and Arts, he has organized the reopening of the Official Salon – the most important artistic event of the inter-war Romania.
Together with his wife, the poet Claudia Millian, Minulescu has gathered an important number of pieces of art. The collection, formed along his life, illustrates his personal affinities. He collected many pieces of the artists who became his friends, for whom he posed, about whom he had written. The relationship between the minulescian poetry and his art collection is novel. The pieces which have attracted his attention, mostly those signed by adepts of the new trends, such as Iser, Brauner, Michăilescu, Ghiaţă, Pallady, Ciucurencu, Petre Iorgulescu-Yor, Ressu, Vasile Popescu, show his openness towards novelty in Romanian art. The poet has also collected minuscule handcrafted objects, silvery, carpets, china, glass icons, archeological pieces, objects of traditional Romanian and oriental art, etc.
Three years after the poet’s death, the collection was transformed by Claudia Millian into a small museum, which is intact until this day. Hidden in Cotroceni, close to the Medical University, the apartment which shelters the Ion Minulescu collection redeems the delicate and elegant universe in which the two poets lived and worked.
It is interesting that notorious names of the international avant-garde, native Romanian artists, have only rarely found a place in Romanian collections. Constantin Brâncuşi (1876-1957) has only managed to sell 3-4 pieces in Bucharest, but none of them significant for the style that made him famous. Also Arthur Segal’s (1857-1944) works have found only seldom a place in autochthone collections. Works of reputable avant-garde activists in Bucharest, among which the initiator of the Dadaistic move, Marcel Iancu (1895-1984), internationally renowned surrealists, such as Victor Brauner (1903-1966) and Jules Perahim (1914-2004), have likewise remained, with very few exceptions, outside the preoccupations of the contemporary collectors.
The only person who managed to create an exclusively avant-garde collection in Bucharest was the writer Saşa Pană (1902-1981). A close friend of the surrealist circles, who were gathering at Secolul (Lăptăria lui Enache), Saşa Pană has funded the most long-lived surrealist Romanian magazine: Unu. Around the magazine he created a group, part of whom was also Victor Brauner, whom Saşa Pană collected with high interest, the Pană family still possessing the painter’s first surrealist works. The collection encompasses, together with works of art signed by the most important avant-garde Romanian painters, a great number of magazines, ex-librises and princeps editions of the active avant-garde Romanian writers. Kept integrally by his family in the writer’s house from Bucharest, the collection remains to these days the most important document of the artistic and literal Romanian avant-garde.
 Petre Oprea, Collections and collectors from Bucharest in inter-war times, Conference held at Cotroceni National Museum on April 15th 1993, Technica Agricola Publishing, 1994, p. 9
 K.H. Zambaccian, The notes of an art amateur, ESPLA, 1957, p. 86
 Octav Moşescu, From the journal of a collector, Litera Publishing, Bucharest, 1974, pp 74-75
Confiscaton of the art collections during communist years: between reality and myth
The decade 1938-1948 was probably the cloudiest in the history of Romania. In between the succession of four dictatorships and under war circumstances, the art collections began out of various reasons to deteriorate. If in the beginning the carlist dictatorship installed in 1930 encouraged the evolution of art and culture, the last years have culminated with the beginning of an anti-Semite legislative system, which announced the events of the holocaust period. Under this time, the collections possessed by Jews have disappeared, some of them without a trace. Some other collections have vanished during the war, under the American, Russian (April 1944) and later on German (August 1944) bombardments, which also affected the private residences. Today, the blackest moment is considered to be the beginning of the communist era, a moment attributed to the nationalization and confiscation of important works of art, considered to be of national interest. Mihai Pelin, in the volume The Collapses’ Decade, consecrates one study to the phenomenon, suggestively named Collectors, from celebrity to clandestinity. The conclusion of this study raises a question mark regarding the general myth, very much circulated in autochthone press, regarding the massive confiscation of art collections commanded by the authorities of the communist state: “For many years, several paintings found in the private property of some collectors became practically inaccessible. The fear of confiscation thus imposed a quasi-secret existence. The human’s natural joy of elevating its quotidian environment has annexed itself a smothering clandestinity.” Mihai Pelin’s conclusion synthetizes not only a complex but also a complicated situation. During the communist times there was no legislative framework which to create a foundation for the confiscations, and the nationalization never included works of art. “The party household”, a hybrid institution of the communist state, has brought into requisition pieces of art, which officially were only temporarily borrowed. There were also rumors about donations made under pressure, but this aspect still remains unclear for the Romanian historiography. Another contested aspect was the one of public acquisitions, whose commission was valuing the works of art much under their real value. There were though collections secretly built during communism. What this system has fundamentally changed, through repression and fear, was the mentality of the art collector. Even though in the most retrospective exhibitions of important artists there have always been displayed works belonging to private collectors (Ion Chirichuţă, Sabina Florian, Ursula and Bucur Şchiopu, Rodica Ciocîrlel Teodorescu etc.), it is hard to identify what those collections actually consisted of or how they have been built. The collector, from an important pillar of art’s evolution and an active presence of the artistic environment, became an obscure passionate of art, about whom people knew less and less, year after year. The fear of confiscations and persecutions? Indubitable is only that this suspicious attitude, this clandestinity imposed by communism, has remained an inheritance for the art collectors even after 1990.
A controversial faith was attributed to the popular collection of doctor Iosif N. Dona (1875-1956). One of the most important art collectors from the inter-war period, the doctor donated in 1950 to the Romanian state most of his collection, followed by other two donations in 1980 and 1989 conducted by his inheritors. The collection was one of the most bounded known collection, relevant both for the refinement of the doctor’s personal taste, and also for the artistic directions
of a whole époque. The doctor’s taste for art was educated within the family, his parents being amateurs of Romanian art. Dona started to collect works in 1902, when he acquired a painting signed by Nicolae Grigorescu, and 8 years later he self-defines himself as an art collector, starting to write down in a notebook all his acquisitions. The collector had the chance of inheriting within the family, from his aunt, Zettina Urechea, an important number of works, but he also took part at the most reputable auctions of the time: Alexandru Bogdan-Piteşti, Eugeniu Carada and his bother-in-law’s, Alexandru Vlahuţă. At the end of the Second World War, the Dona collection was undoubtedly one of the most important collections from the capital. Under the communist era, the doctor and his inheritors have donated the collection to the state (in 1950, 1980 and 1989), the motives behind this choice remaining still unknown. The donations were later on the object of lengthy lawsuits, which have eventually conduced to the restitution of the collection to its by-law inheritors, followed by the dispersal of most of the works on autochthone art market through different auctions. The Dona case confirms the fact that during the communist period methods of confiscation existed, which proves useful for determining donations which still remain completely unknown.
In 1978 a part of the collections gathered in Romania and officially donated to the state, have been for the first time exhibited together, though the establishment of Romanit Palace and Art Collections Museum, by valuing the idea of art collecting and its significance in the history of arts. This institution has the merit of reminding the role of the art collectors in the emergence of arts within the Romania, where, until very late, they were the only source of income for the artists.
 Mihai Pelin, The Collapses‘ Decade (1940-1950). The lives of Romanian painters, sculptures and architects, between legionaries and Stalinists, Compania Publishing, Bucharest, 2005, p. 502
Collecting Romanian artists from 1989 to the present: Private collectors following public trends
The key-phrase of this chapter, ‘private collectors following public trends’, is based on an intense observation and analysis of the nowadays art phenomenon in Romania, and how does it appear in the eye of an art observer. At a glimpse, one can notice that most of the contemporary art collectors need guidance and counseling in their choices, in their investing plans, in their acquisitions and in the further development of the increasing collection. The process of collecting depends on each collector’s profile and needs, but most of them had one or more art specialists (advisors, gallery-owners), or trusted professionals (artists, curators) who helped them in creating the shape of their collection. Seldom, the process of collecting is life-long, but there are exceptions, when collectors get a specific idea about what they are collecting, how much they are collecting and how much they are going to spend on art. Or, maybe, the worst case scenario, when the collector has financial issues and cannot rule this kind of investment anymore.
But it is not all about the money, business and investment. As we know, there are more ‘romantic’ approaches, and yet many collections are based on true friendships with artists, when the collector got the desired artworks at a lower or ‘symbolic’ price. The 90s in Romania, for example, were dominated by sporadic transactions, also caused by a lack of private galleries system. So, the artist was his own promoter and art dealer, in the same time. This is how many of the relations, between artists and collectors, had developed, and often became solid, ‘time-proof’ collaborations. And the ‘price’ hadn’t been a commercial one, but a symbolic one. This is why almost all the visible, local collecting initiatives from the 90s were donations, except the ones that benefited by local public funds or private investment (Romanian or foreign).
Another particularity of these times is the surviving Union of Fine Artists, a national organization that, under the Communist regime, supervised, commissioned and managed all the financial transactions and all the state commissions. After 1989, their chain of commercial galleries also functioned as opportunities for selling and buying art.
After 2000, private galleries started to rise on the Romanian art scene. The first, in Bucharest, were H’ art gallery, opened in 2002, and Galeria Posibila (firstly, deINTERESE), opened in 2003. They were shortly followed by Anaid Art Gallery, Bucharest (2004), Plan B, Cluj-Napoca (2005), Andreiana Mihail, Bucharest (2006), Ivan Gallery (former Hag Gallery, from 2006), also in Bucharest, and many others. I am putting into discussion only the galleries that are still active today, because in the last two decades, there were many initiatives that failed or closed, from many reasons.
Romanian artists in public collections from Romania and abroad
It is very important to notice that private collectors waited for the new politic environment to settle down, because the first part of the 90s seemed transitional, and in the same time, uncertain, after almost 50 years of Communism. Thus, the 90s were dominated by public acquisitions and private investment that came from abroad. We have a few major episodes from the 90s, that are very important for this kind of historical approach of the subject.
First, the Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst from Aachen organized a very important exhibition – Bukarest nach ’89. Kunst in Rumänien Heute (Bucharest since ’89. Art in Romania Today), that ended with acquisitions for the collection. Peter Ludwig and, then, Wolfgang Becker, came to Bucharest (Peter Ludwig in 1994), both being interested in the development of Romanian contemporary art, after the sudden changes of the social and political environment in 1989. The linkage between Aachen and Bucharest was made by prof. Wolfgang Becker (the director of Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, between 1970 and 2001) and the Romanian architect Radu Dobre-Sima, who is also a collector and art investor, based in Germany. The officials of Ludwig Forum first met Radu Dobre-Sima in Bucharest, in 1988, and with this occasion, they have met the Romanian art scene for the first time and became interested in it. They had also offered a series of fellowships for Romanian artists at the Ludwig Forum, starting with 1988. Among the fellows, we can find painters as Paula Ribariu (b. 1938), Bogdan Vladuta (b. 1971), or sculptor Marian Zidaru (b. 1956). The foreign interest in Romanian art after 1989 had been rising, and from this exhibition, several artworks became part of Ludwig Foundation collection. The artists featured in this exhibition were Ioana Batranu (b. 1960), Mihai Buculei (b. 1940), Sorin Dumitrescu (b.1946), Laurentiu Mogosanu (b. 1958), Dan Perjovschi (b. 1961), Romelo Pervolovici (b. 1956), Marilena Preda-Sanc (b. 1955), Paula Ribariu, Mihai Sarbulescu (b. 1957), Mircea Spataru (1937-2011), subREAL (Calin Dan (b. 1955), Dan Mihaltianu (b. 1954) and Iosif Kiraly (b. 1957)), Aurel Vlad (b. 1954), Marian Zidaru, Victoria Zidaru (b. 1956). We can notice here various artists’ names, with ages between 35 and 55 at that time, who were practiced in art of various genres, from high-scale painting or sculpture, to raw installations, or multimedia works. When it comes to describing a collection, or to emphasize its conceptual content, it is often very difficult to find the right path, because one can easily find, simultaneously, different ‘grand’ themes, different kinds of media, and also various artistic discourses, in a way that one cannot realize if it is about the quality of the artistic object, or, maybe, about the necessity of that kind of object in a collection, may it be public, or private.
In this selection, one can notice that they invited several of the most active Romanian artists of that time, names mentioned above, artists from various fields, starting with ‘neo-Orthodox’ artists and continuing with neo-Expressionist artists, as painter Ioana Batranu or sculptors Mircea Spataru and Aurel Vlad, and many more.
Recently, in 2011, Ludwig Museum from Budapest organized an exhibition entitled Kind of Change-New Acquisitions 2009-2011, in which one can notice the presence of the Romanian young artist Ciprian Muresan (b. 1977), with his controversial work entitled Communism never happened, or the presence of the artistic duet Mona Vatamanu & Florin Tudor (b. 1968, 1974).
Several Romanian artists are also present in public art collections from abroad. Tate Modern UK has in its collection several pieces, especially sculptures, by Romanian artists Paul Neagu (1938-2004) or Ovidiu Maitec (1925-2007).
In 2012, for example, MoMA New York organized a retrospective of Romanian film director Lucian Pintilie (b. 1933) and shortlisted, for the permanent collection, the film Reconstituirea (1968).
MUMOK Vienna (Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien) organized, in 2011/12, an exhibition entitled Museum of Desires, showing an important part of 20th century artwork samples, artworks that were proposed for the museum’s modern and contemporary art collection. Among the artists presented in this exhibition was, for example, Geta Bratescu (b. 1926), one of the most active and important Romanian artists of the neo-avant-garde.
Along with Paul Neagu, Ion Grigorescu, subREAL, Lia Perjovschi (b. 1961) or Dan Perjovschi, Geta Bratescu is present in the collection entitled 2000+ ArtEast Collection, developed by Moderna Galerija, in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Going back to the 90s in Romania, the opening of Soros Centre for Contemporary Art in Bucharest had been another important step in the development of the post-Communist Romanian art scene. This initiative lasted for almost six years (1993-1999) under the patronage of Soros, and afterwards, it became ICCA (International Centre for Contemporary Art).
This initiative was dedicated to new media, in particular, and to the artists that emerged at the beginnings of the 90s, or to the late avant-garde and experimental branch of the 80s, in Romania.
Simultaneously, there was a ‘conservative’, neo-Orthodox wing in contemporary art, represented by Anastasia Foundation and Catacomba gallery (closed in 2001), initiated by the artist and theorist Sorin Dumitrescu.
In 2001, Sorin Dumitrescu initiated the project The Royal Collection of Contemporary Art (patronized by King Michael I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen), a collection that comprises over 70 works of Romanian art (paintings, sculptures, or drawings), signed by artists like Horia Bernea (1938-2000), Henry Mavrodin (b. 1937), Sorin Ilfoveanu (b. 1946), Vladimir Zamfirescu (b. 1936), Sorin Dumitrescu, Bogdan Vladuta, Stefan Caltia (b. 1942), Marian Zidaru, Constantin Flondor (b. 1936), Ovidiu Maitec etc. All the artworks were donations, made by the artists to the Royal Collection, which functions as a private collection, showed in Elisabeta Palace and Savarsin Castle.
The richest public collection of contemporary art in Romania, that is, unfortunately, kept closed to the public (until now) is the MNAC collection (The National Museum of Contemporary Art). MNAC was founded in 2004 in Ceausescu’s House of the People and it functions more like a ‘kunsthalle’, bringing foreign exhibitions and projects, or organizing internal exhibitions, featuring Romanian contemporary artists. Sometimes, these artists can also be found in the museum’s collection. In the 90s, the National Museum of Art had a Department of Contemporary Art, which organized solo-shows and retrospectives for living artists, altogether with Kalinderu MediaLab. While the Contemporary Art Department from the National Museum of Art was focusing on somehow ‘traditional’ artists, as Radu Dragomirescu (b. 1944, living in Italy since 1973), Paul Neagu, Sorin Ilfoveanu etc., Kalinderu MediaLab had the role of a multimedia ‘satellite’, that was positively, and compulsory completing the ICCA’s activities.
The latest MNAC public acquisitions program was in 2007, when the museum (through funding from the Romanian Ministry of Culture) bought artworks with an approximate budget of 600,000 euros, 197 artworks from 141 Romanian artists. This selection was made from over 500 applications, most of them being registered directly from living artists. At the beginning of 2008, MNAC hosted an exhibition, Achizitii MNAC, with several pieces from these new entries, by Ion Bitzan (1924-1997), Florin Mitroi (1938-2002), Roman Cotosman (1935-2006), Vasile Gorduz (1931-2008), Gheorghe Ilea (b. 1958), Peter Jacobi (b. 1935), Daniel Spoerri (b. 1930), Napoleon Tiron (b. 1935), Ecaterina Vrana (b. 1969) etc.
Also in 2004, another private collection was opened to the public, in Bucharest – Vasile Grigore collection, in the framework of a private museum. The collection comprises artworks and decorative objects bought by the artist along his career. Vasile Grigore (1935 -2012) was a Romanian painter and professor at the Academy of Arts in Bucharest. His collection comprises paintings, sculptures, small graphic works, wooden icons, folk decorative art (carpets and ceramics), Japanese prints, and decorative arts (both European and Oriental). His paintings, showed in this collection, are mostly modern and contemporary.
Another institution that is unique in this kind of review is The Comparative Art Museum of Sangeorz-Bai (Bistrita district, located in the center of Transylvania), a private museum founded by sculptor Maxim Dumitras in 2006, after research and work of over 15 years. The collection comprises artworks from the symposia that had been held there since 1990, mostly sculpture and installation (but painting is also present), from artists like Florin Ciubotaru (b. 1939), Ilie Pavel (1927-1995), Ion Dumitriu (1943-1998), Ion Salisteanu (1929-2011), Teodor Moraru (1938-2011), Suzana Fantanariu (b. 1947), Alexandru Chira (1949-2011) etc. The novelty that this institution brings is the association of contemporary art with vernacular objects from that geographical area, and also the success of an artist’s initiative ahead local authorities.
A few Romanian art collections were also presented within a program, initiated by Dialog gallery in Bucharest, entitled Collections and collectors, starting with 2006. In these series of exhibitions, one could see a selection from various art collections, like Mia and Mihai Nazarie collection (approx. 300 pieces, from David Teniers II to Surrealism and contemporary art, with an emphasis on sculptor Vasile Gorduz, or Ion Bitzan), Damian Florea collection, a well-tempered collection of paintings, from Horia Bernea, Wanda Sachelarie-Vladimirescu (1916-2008), Ion Pacea (1924-1999), and many others.
Another specific detail, in the Romanian collectors’ field, is SCAR/SRAC (Societatea Colectionarilor de Arta din Romania / The Society of Romanian Art Collectors), a non-profit organization based in Bucharest, initiated in 1989. The founder, and also president of the society is the painter, writer, and collector Vasile Parizescu (b. 1925), the son of a well-known book collector from the inter-War period. SCAR gathered, until now, 300 active members, from all around the country, and it comprises all kinds of collectors, from classical to modern art. Only few members collect, also, contemporary art.
The Art of Transition. The Romanian-Hungarian collection of Gábor Hunya
A private collection based on ‘the art of transition’ is the collection of Gábor Hunya, a Hungarian contemporary collector, based on both Hungarian and Romanian artworks. Parts from his collection have been exhibited already, in Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest. This collection is one of the few mentioned in this study, that has a comprehensive catalogue with images, theoretically sustained by specialized studies, written both by Hungarian and Romanian specialists. The book is entitled Bucharest-Budapest Bridge. Contemporary Romanian and Hungarian Arts. The Gábor Hunya Collection and comprises over 200 pages. Mr. Hunya is the owner of many artworks by relevant, yet fashionable Romanian artists from the 90s and the beginnings of 2000, artists that were, and still are, interested in social and political subjects, in the framework of sudden political and social changes, such as migration, globalization, the Communist heritage, the ‘ghost’ of Ceausescu in people’s conscience, corruption, poverty etc. Artists like Ioana Batranu, Matei Bejenaru (b. 1963), Dumitru Gorzo (b. 1975), Teodor Graur (b. 1953), Petru Lucaci (b. 1956), 2META (Maria Manolescu (b. 1956), Romelo Pervolovici (b. 1956)), Marilena Preda Sanc (b. 1955), or Sorin Tara (b. 1975), from the Romanian side, are to be found in this collection.
Mircea Pinte Collection in Cluj: a short (re)view on the exhibition’s catalogue
As Calin Stegerean (director of Cluj-Napoca Museum of Art) thoroughly explains in his introductory text from the catalogue, published with the occasion of Mircea Pinte Collection’s exhibition in 2010, this collection comprises artworks from the most successful Romanian artists of The School of Cluj, such as Adrian Ghenie (b. 1977), Victor Man (b. 1974), Mircea Cantor (b. 1977), Ciprian Muresan, and many more. The very important thing about these artists is that some of them were also collected by famous international art collectors, such as François Pinault, Susan & Michael Hort, or Blake Byrne.
Almost all the young artists featured in this collection are represented by Plan B gallery, who opened in 2005, in Cluj-Napoca, and in 2008, in Berlin.
‘The Mircea Pinte Collection was initiated in Cluj in 2004 and focuses on Romanian art of the last 50 years. It now comprises approximately 200 works and is distinguished by substantial sections of works by Paul Neagu, Ion Grigorescu, Horia Bernea, as well as by the consistency with which it has integrated Cluj artists of the 2000 generation. The Museum of Art Cluj-Napoca has initiated a partnership with collector Mircea Pinte to make the collection accessible to its public, via a series of thematic exhibitions, over the next few years.’
This first exhibition of the collection gathers artworks by Marius Bercea (b. 1979), Mircea Cantor, Alexandra Croitoru (b. 1975), Adrian Ghenie, Cantemir Hausi (b. 1976), Istvan Laszlo (b. 1981), Victor Man, Ciprian Muresan, Vlad Nanca (b. 1979), Cristi Pogacean (b. 1980), Victor Racatau (b. 1967), Cristian Rusu (b. 1972), Serban Savu (b. 1978), Mircea Suciu (b. 1978), Supernova (Istvan Laszlo, Ciprian Muresan, Cristi Pogacean), Gabriela Vanga (b. 1977). In 2012, parts of this collection were showed in The Netherlands, at Collectors House.
Romanian private collectors after 2000. Collections “under construction”
In the 90s, private collectors emerged as new investors in the art field, such as various people with economic studies, lawyers, doctors, real estate businessmen/businesswomen, or simply art lovers that invested money in artworks.
The last ten years were more sophisticated and fashionable, because private galleries and auction houses emerged and created their own clients and even their own collectors. We can say that there are certain types of collectors that were formed by gallery-owners (that often get the role of an advisor), who advised them in buying specific artworks. Their criteria are a mixture of good aesthetic quality and potential in further value on the market.
First, we have to make a difference by separating the types of collectors that emerged in Romania, from its first years of transition to its first attempts to create a complete chain in a ‘fresh’ art market. The interest in Romanian Art is expanding and is becoming more commercial and quantifiable.
The collectors profiles are various, but in the same time, similar. We are talking about people who have financial power, usually coming from business, banking or commerce, other times having liberal professions, such as attorneys, doctors or architects and who began this kind of adventure from various reasons. For the love of Art, for the sake of an investment that has all its chances to develop and grow as value, or for a mixture between these two reasons: the idealistic and the pragmatic one.
One of the definitions of a collector, that Gábor Hunya gave, was ‘a collector is a person who has more pictures than place on his walls’. So, this quote says a lot! In a way, about the limitations of a collection, because collecting means mostly buying, investing, and in other way, it means storing pieces in a way that they would survive over the years in the best conditions possible.
A young, but very strong contemporary art collection is Emilian Radu Collection, from Bucharest, started in 2010. Mr. Emilian Radu is also the president of the association Friends of MNAC. His expanding collection contains, besides international art pieces, very bold examples of artworks, by Romanian artists that are ‘in a search for the inner-self’. The artists shown in this collection are Nicolae Comanescu (b. 1968), Dumitru Gorzo, Gili Mocanu (b. 1971), Mircea Suciu, Teodor Graur, Ecaterina Vrana, Anca Muresan (b. 1965), Ion Grigorescu, Sorin Tara (von Neudorf), Florin Mitroi, Ion Barladeanu (b. 1946), Adrian Preda (b. 1985), Andrei Gamart (b. 1980) etc.
Another consistent private collection, based on emerging artists (mostly painters) is Daniel Stefanica Collection, from Bucharest. Daniel Stefanica is an attorney who started collecting at the beginning of the 2000s. His collection is very rich in artworks from emerging artists, or former-emerging artists, starting with Rostopasca group – an artistic, neo-avant-garde, neo-Expressionist, performing group, with 7 members – Angela Bontas (b. 1972), Alina Buga (b. 1968), Nicolae Comanescu, Dumitru Gorzo, Alina Pentac, Mona Vatamanu & Florin Tudor, from the end of the 90s, and ending with emerging painters after 2005, such as Zanga (b. 1990), Stefan Ungureanu (b. 1984), or Codruta Cernea (b. 1979).
Another unique collection is Daniel Ioan Collection, from Bucharest, started in 2009. The main motif of this collection is the self-portrait in Romanian contemporary art, so we are not talking about a collection based on value, but a collection based on a pattern, a specific thematic preoccupation of the artists. This collection comprises over 100 self-portraits, both modern and contemporary. Among the contemporary, one can find relevant names of emerging and established artists, such as Ion Grigorescu, Suzana Fantanariu (b. 1947), Gheorghe Ilea (b. 1957), Bogdan Vladuta, Alexandru Radvan (b. 1977), Ciprian Ciuclea (b. 1976), Ana Maria Micu (b. 1979), Mihail Cosuletu (b. 1982), Lea Rasovszky (b. 1986).
A very important collector’s figure, an almost iconic figure, I might say, from outside Bucharest and Cluj, is Mr. Sorin Costina from Brad, Hunedoara district (South-West of Transylvania). Sorin Costina is a medical doctor, as profession, and started collecting, by pure passion, in the early 60s, in his very youth. His long-term counselor had been the artist Horia Bernea, who helped him to collect important names of Romanian artists, active after 1965, as Corneliu Baba (1906-1997), Paul Neagu, Ion Grigorescu, Stefan Bertalan (b. 1930), Marian Zidaru, Ion Nicodim (1932-2007), and many others.
The Romanian process of collecting or, better said, the process of collecting Romanian art, is continuously expanding and transforming. From the youngest art entrepreneurs, that had started collecting since early youth (Alexandru Davidian is 26, started collecting at 19), to the established collectors, as several described above, we can notice a genuine appetite for fresh art pieces, for novelties, and for promising names (why not say, also, affordable prices). Sometimes, we can even say that emerging artists become better-known through their presence in art collections and that the collector is, indeed, a catalyst in the evolution of an artist who works with ‘solid matter’.
I would like to thank Mr. Alexandru Davidian, Mr. Gábor Hunya, Mr. Emilian Radu, Mr. Daniel Ioan, and many others, for their support in the making of this study.