There is little we might know of Romania, coming as we do from the parochialism of third world Philippines, with our eyes trained to look towards the West, i.e., America, and predisposed as we can be to a specific kind of art making, a particular aesthetic, even a kind of artist/artist, that disallows us from being open to the infinitely more diverse, and undoubtedly more complex and complicated, kinds of art making.
Walking through the exhibit “Matter of Contemplation and Discontent, Art in Romania, 1980s-1990s” at the Vargas Museum is a test in itself on our ability to appreciate artmaking that might not only be foreign or strange, but also is of a specific historical juncture in Romania that we might be uneducated about. The layers one must transcend, the steps one must take, to actually fully engage in the process of spectatorship, are clear here. But also one finds that there is value in coming in cold, spending time with the exhibit, maybe even coming back for another round, watch the videos a little longer, absorb the photographs, read through the documents.
On the surface, it is a distant place and time. In reality, there is much of ourselves here, especially at this point in nation, when our specific crisis is one of transition and change.
Drawing from the period of Romania’s transition from communism to democracy, it is ironic that much of the subject matter that is here resonates for the Philippines in the present, even as the transition we might be going through is not only totally different, but is in fact dissonant from the narrative that this exhibit works with.
And yet the echo of uncertainty, the demand of contemplation, the undercurrent of discontent, is loud enough to be its truth. This echo makes this exhibit an important enough one to see, and sit through, and engage in, and discuss. — KSS. ***
“Matter of Contemplation and Discontent” presents a selection of influential artists from Romania, with art created between the 1980s and the 1990s in various media—from drawing to photography and video. Other works have been produced for the current exhibition, based on archival documents and photographs. Participating artists include Alexandru Antik, Sándor Bartha, Geta Bratescu, Teodor Graur, Ion Grigorescu, Peter Jacobi, Dan Mihaltianu, Dan Perjovschi, Lia Perjovschi, Mircea Stanescu, Sorin Vreme. It is curated by Anca Verona Mihulet.
This exhibition runs until November 19, and is supported by the Romanian Cultural Institute, with special acknowledgment extended to Ortansa Ghindea. The Vargas Museum is at the University of the Philippines Diliman, and is open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For a museum tour, email firstname.lastname@example.org.