Artist Iosif Kiraly Interviews Critic Adrian Guta

Iosif Kiraly: What were your thoughts and hopes when you started as an art critic? If you look back, can you identify some turning points?

Iosif Kiraly, “Reconstruction-Ovidiu Construction Site with Barking Dog,” 2010 – 12. Image courtesy the artist.

Adrian Guta: I first felt attracted to art criticism when, as a student in my final year (1978 – 79), I was asked to observe the evolution of the diploma projects of colleagues in the painting, sculpture, and graphic arts departments—I eventually chose graphic arts—and to write an essay with my conclusions. Then, when I was offered the opportunity to write articles for Arta magazine in 1980, my career as an art critic began.

Kiraly: What were your models for art criticism as a student? Are there different or similar models for your students today?

Guta: My first models were some of my professors, important Romanian art critics, historians, and theorists such as Dan Haulica, Ion Frunzetti, Vasile Dragut, and Dan Grigorescu. Mihai Driscu, an art critic and member of the Arta editorial staff, was also influential. I liked iconology. In time, I came closer and closer to British and American artistic literature, methodology, and terminology. Students today have a remarkable variety of choices, local and international, from traditional artistic literature formats to new activism.

Kiraly: You run the most important faculty in Romania, one responsible for the professional education of future art historians and art critics. How popular is contemporary art among the students, compared with other fields and, approximately, how many of your graduates head for art criticism?

Guta: The Art History and Art Theory Department at the National University of Arts, Bucharest, has the longest tradition in the field, and is probably the best in Romania. Students study contemporary art from both a historical and theoretical perspective, current exhibitions are commented on, and curatorial studies are also part of the curriculum. Some of the graduates head for art criticism, but the number varies from year to year, and they often have to take jobs in museums, galleries, academic institutions, and media culture.

Kiraly: After 1989 and the fall of Communism, Romania turned from a society in which the freedom of expression was almost non-existent into an aggressively neo-liberal system. Today, expression in the public sphere seems to have lost any kind of self-control. How did the language of art criticism evolve during these 25 years?

Guta: At some level, this regained freedom of speech and written expression resulted mostly in a pollution of words, sometimes with unacceptable escalation. Happily, art criticism did not follow this course. Some of the polemics became more vivid, some reactionary pamphlet-like writing appeared, but for the most part, a rich professional vocabulary—in tune with the international one and with the art world itself—is the dominant “voice” in Romanian art criticism.

Kiraly: Do you think the status of the art critic has changed, when compared to the Communist period? If so, how would you define this change?

Guta: After 1989, the Romanian art critic was no longer conditioned by an “official” ideology. He could freely choose to write about any subject, any art trend, any artist; including Romanian ones who lived and worked abroad, who were part of the “diaspora” that resulted from the political realties of Communist times. Equally important in this change is the fact that, after 1989, access to any kind of information on art criticism, art history, and art theory became available.

Kiraly: Do you think the emergence, followed by the consolidation, of the “curator” profile as a profession affects the art critic in any way? I ask you about this because, quite often, the same person practices both roles.

Guta: No, I don’t think the curator’s profile affects the status of the art critic in a menacing way. Curating—as a profession related to conceiving, organizing, and managing modern and contemporary art exhibitions—is obviously younger than art criticism. An art critic turning into a curator from time to time is not a surprising process. There are enough examples, and I dare include myself in that area too. It is true, the curator today is one of the most powerful professionals in the art world, but the art critic still plays an important role.

Kiraly: Romanian modern and contemporary art is insufficiently known both abroad and even in Romania outside of the artistic community. This is partly because of the relative lack of comprehensive bibliographical references. In your opinion, why, even after 1989, when the possibility of writing freely and impartially became certain, are there only a few published collected histories about Romanian art since World War II?

Guta: During the 1990s, the Romanian art world and art criticism was very busy with the present moment and the recent past, after the fall of the Communist regime. There were new cultural priorities, the rapid rise of consumerism had its upsetting contribution, in a way. Starting in 2000, the first collections about Romanian art from late ’40s onward started to be published, and a few new ones have gradually been added, even recently. Unfortunately, the most important Romanian publishing house specializing in visual arts, Meridiane, was liquidated soon after 2000. Strong support is now needed for such publishing endeavors, seeing as the Romanian book market has many problems.

Kiraly: The so-called ’80s Generation of Romanian visual artists has long been of interest to you. You have published books on this theme, initiated and curated exhibitions, and you even wrote your Ph.D. thesis on the subject. It is a generation of “alternative” artists and when they debuted, in the last decade of the Communist regime, they were too young to enter the mainstream. However, today, 30 years later, the mainstream is fully occupied by the artists from the 1990s and early 2000s who are represented by galleries and enjoy international commercial success. Do you try to compensate for this situation, one way or another, with your work?

Guta: I have done a lot of work regarding the ’80s Generation. I published a selection of texts written over 20 years, starting in the early ’80s and then another book on based on my Ph.D. thesis; I have curated exhibitions—the most recent of which was called The City Viewed by the ’80s Generation, and was shown in 2013 at Victoria Art Center, in Bucharest; and I have coordinated, together with the art critic Magda Carneci, a recent issue of Arta magazine (no. 4 – 5, 2012) dedicated to this generation of visual artists, revisiting their evolution up to the present. At their beginnings, being alternative both artistically and in terms of attitude, they did not become part of the official mainstream. There are now important representatives of the ’80s Generation who have gained significant visibility not only on the Romanian art scene, but also on the international one.

Kiraly: Can you say something about your future projects either as a professor and a dean, as president of AICA Romania, or as an observer and commentator on Romanian and international art phenomena?

Guta: Five years ago I started recording video-interviews with ’80s Generation artists for documentary reasons, and I started thinking about an exhibition. I would like to continue the series, organize this exhibition, and address artists of other generations, all in the larger context of contemporary art. I want to strengthen the faculty’s relationship with others, both locally and abroad. Our university celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2014 and we want to organize an AICA national symposium for the occasion. Writing for Arta or other magazines, not only Romanian ones, represents my “training” as an art critic and art historian.

Kiraly: What would be your advice be for a young art critic and for a young artist?

Guta: Read, see, think, write. See, read, imagine, work as much as you can so that you can be ready to publish or exhibit at any time. Your time will come. Maybe it’s already at your door.

Contributor

Iosif Kiraly

Iosif Kiraly is an artist and architect living in Bucharest. His work focuses on the relationship between perception, time, and memory. Since 1990 he has been involved in various art projects, independently and as part of the group subREAL. In 1995, Iosif was one of the founder-members of the department of Photography and Time-based Media Art at the National University of Arts in Bucharest, where he is currently teaching. Before 1989 he was active in the international mail-art network, an alternative art movement rooted in Fluxus. He has an extensive international exhibition record, has participated in numerous biennials, and his works are in many public and private collections.

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