Ion Grigorescu: The Open Artist

Ion Grigorescu (born in 1945 in Bucharest, where he still lives) is a crucial European artist of his generation. He is both extraordinarily versatile and singularly focused, both profoundly invested in tradition (classical and Byzantine) and experimental in the most open-ended way. Rooted in an archaic culture that has consistently uprooted itself for the sake of modernisation, Grigorescu has contributed a vast, diverse and influential oeuvre to recent Romanian art history, from his first student years until now. He has worked with painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, film, video, performance art and text, but also as a pedagogue and as a restorer and creator of wall paintings and other liturgical images for the Orthodox Church.

Ion Grigorescu, left to right: Maşină de scris (Typewriter), 2016, digital print on fabric, 270 × 220 cm; Porţi şi vicleşuguri (Gates and Plays), 2017, oil and pencil on canvas, 296 x 90 cm; Poziţie de mers (Walking Position), ca 1977, colour litograph, 70 × 50 cm; Cei 4 Evanghelişti: Marca (The Four Evangelists: Mark), 1997, cut-out figure, wood; Noapte (The Night), 1974, litograph, 100 × 70 cm; Noaptea (Detaliu) (The Night (Detail)), 1974, litograph, 40 × 60 cm; (all works courtesy the artist); Poziţie de box (Boxing Position), 1977. litograph, 70 × 50 cm; Autoportret între două oglinzi (Self-Portrait between Two Mirrors), 1974, oil on canvas, 73 × 38.5 cm; Nicolae Bălcescu şi Avram Iancu (Nicolae Bălcescu and Avram Iancu), 1973, oil on canvas, three-dimensional effects, 116 × 143 × 17 cm. All works courtesy the artist. Photo: Jussi Tiainen

Grigorescu is, and has always been, an artist ‘of his time’: observing and subverting a reality where the individual is often under pressure. Yet he also transcends time: foreshadowing things to come, retracing forms and ideas to their mythical origins, collecting and connecting images that would otherwise be lost in the flow. Because of the prolonged after-effects of the Cold War, his importance has only been fully realised in the last fifteen years or so, and only gradually. Grigorescu’s work is now in the collections of museums such as Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou and MoMA. He has twice represented Romania at the Venice Biennale, in 1997 and in 2011, and he participated in documenta XII in 2007.

Ion Grigorescu, left to right: Moarte a copiilor lui Brâncoveanu (Death of the Brâncoveanu Children), 2016, digital print on fabric, 140 × 120 cm; Sidari (Schiţa de compoziţie) (Masons (Composition Draft)), 1964, oil on masonite, 71 × 88 cm; Sidari (Compoziţie finală) (Masons (Final Composition)), 1964, oil on masonite, 70.5 × 73 cm; Pristolnic (Cross Engraver), 2014, oil on canvas, 50 × 40 cm; Cei 4 Evanghelişti: Matei (The Four Evangelists: Matthew), 1997, cut-out figure, wood; Şant (Nicula) (Ditch (Nicula)), 1995, oil on canvas, 164 × 112 cm. All works courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jussi Tiainen

This is his first exhibition in Finland. It comprises around 100 works in various techniques and formats, made between 1964 and 2019 and belonging to himself and to a number of private collections in Romania. The exhibition purposely doesn’t try to summarise Grigorescu’s long career – an exercise that could only fail. It even doesn’t try to pin down dominant themes or tendencies, even if many key works are included. The overall effect of the densely hung walls and suspended screens is instead that of a study collection or open museum storage – for the open oeuvre by the open artist that is Ion Grigorescu.

Ion Grigorescu, left to right: Maşină de scris (Typewriter); Porţi şi vicleşuguri (Gates and Plays); Portret de sportiv (Portrait of an Athlete), 1967, oil on canvas, 55 × 33 cm, collection of Dragoş Niculae, Bucharest; Cadavrul Cancelarului Hitler (The Corpse of Chancellor Hitler), 1992, oil on zink, 75 × 71 cm, private collection, Sweden; Autoportret (Self-Portrait), 1974, litograph, 70 × 50 cm; Moldovean (Moldovan Peasant), 2018, oil on canvas, 170 × 80 cm; Studii pentru portretul preşedintelui Ceauşescu (Studies for Portrait of President Ceauşescu), 1979, ink on paper, 20 × 30 cm; Ruxandra tricotând (Ruxandra Knitting), 2018, colour photograph, framed, 60 × 80 cm; Inginerul agronom (The Engineer and Agronomist), ca 1974, colour litograph, 70 × 50 cm. All works courtesy of the artist, unless stated otherwise. Photo: Jussi Tiainen

Nevertheless, many stories about the context in which Grigorescu’s s art took shape are embedded in the works on display. The well-articulated figuration in Portrait of an Athlete (1967, oil on canvas) betrays his early ambition to be a classical painter. As this exhibition demonstrates, he has never quite given it up, despite many forays into other genres and formats.
Dialogue with Ceauşescu (1978, digitised super8 film) is often referenced as a key instance of artistic resistance to dictatorial Eastern-bloc socialism. Grigorescu has double-exposed himself as himself and wearing a paper mask of the infamous politician, insisting on the right to at least have this conversation with him. Yet the text at the core of the piece (but illegible in low-resolution super8, the only film camera available to private individuals in Romania at the time) shows a lot of understanding for Ceauşescu’s modernising ambitions, and even empathy for the plight of political leadership.
From the mid-1970s, Grigorescu has frequently worked with his own presence before the camera. More often than not he manoeuvres the camera himself, but not always. Good and Evil: Man as St George (1982) is a prime example of how he combines performance art and body-art (he was always well informed about the latest developments in contemporary art) with his inquisitive interest in the symbolic and the spiritual. Two photographs of Grigorescu performing a ritualised action in nature are superimposed. He appears to be jumping over his own back, as if riding himself into a battle of moral categories.
The Last Supper (1993) shows him as a master of the ‘neo-orthodox’ current in Romanian art that has been strong since the years after the collapse of the Ceauşescu regime in 1989. As always, however, Grigorescu is unorthodox in his mastery: innovating on the basis of established iconography, introducing unexpected psychological nuance and painterly sketchiness, celebrating and subverting tradition at the same time.

Ion Grigorescu, left to right: Strangularea lui Cantacuzino (The Strangling of Cantacuzino), 2016, digital print on fabric, 170 × 170 cm; Interior de biserică (Church Interior), 1965, oil on masonite, 80.5 × 90 cm; Adormirea maicii Domnului (Dormition of the Mother of God), 2017, oil on wood, 40 × 30 cm, private collection, Helsinki; Cina cea de taină (The Last Supper), 1992, oil on canvas, 100 × 106 cm, collection of Razvan Banescu, Bucharest; Cum sa-ţi imaginezi răul (How to Imagine Evil), 1996, oil on sackcloth, 100 × 102 cm, collection of Ion Alexandru Radu, Bucharest; Schimbarea la faţa (Transfiguration on Mount Tabor), 1994, watercolour on paper, 100 × 70 cm; Duminica Tomii (The Sunday of St Thomas), 2014, acrylic on paper, 92 × 65 cm; De şapte ori se va întoarce la tine (Seven Times a Day Turn Again to Thee), 2014, acrylic on paper, 92 × 65 cm; Făceţi-vă vouă prieteni. Joi săptămâna XXVI (Make to Yourselves, Friends. Thursday of Week XXVI), 2014, acrylic on paper, 100 × 70 cm; Fiul Omului nu are unde să-şi piece capul (The Son of Man Hath Nowhere to Lay His Head), 2014, acrylic on paper, 65 × 90 cm; Tatăl nostru (II) (Our Father (II)); Biserică Macedoneană (Macedonian Church), 1979, oil on canvas, 12 × 13 cm, private Collection, Romania; Om cu turban (Man with Turban), 1982, oil on canvas, 17.3 × 15.7 cm, collection of Ruxandra Grigorescu, Bucharest; Turmă (Flock of Sheep), 2018, colour photograph, framed, 50 × 50 cm; Academia atonită (The Academy of Athos), 2010, oil on canvas, 29.5 × 19 cm, collection of Maria and Costion Nicolescu, Bucharest; Schiţa pentru frescă la Kisceli (Study for Fresco at Kisceli), 1998–99, ink on paper, 70 × 50 cm; Moarte a copiilor lui Brâncoveanu (Death of the Brâncoveanu Children). All works courtesy of the artist, unless stated otherwise. Photo: Jussi Tiainen

Ion Grigorescu, ‘Moldovan Orientalism Posters’ in the foreground, left to right: Moldova zace netoată (Moldova Lies Incomplete), 2008, crayons and watercolour on paper, 62 × 44.5 cm, collection of M HKA, Antwerp; Orient, Moldova, Limanul (Orient, Moldova, Borderland), 2008, crayons and watercolour on paper, 62 × 44.5 cm, collection of M HKA, Antwerp; Moldova – ce lai la orient Românie (Moldova – The Most Oriental Part of Romania), 2008, watercolour on paper, 62 × 44.5 cm, collection of M HKA, Antwerp; Ţara mea de dor (My Land of Longing), 2008, crayons and watercolour airbrushed onto paper, 62 × 44.5 cm, collection of Mircea Stupar, Bucharest; Zori/orizont pustui de mări şi stepe (Daybreak/Bleak Horizon of Seas and Steppes), 2008, crayons and watercolour airbrushed onto paper, 62 × 44.5 cm, collection of Mircea Stupar, Bucharest. Photo: Jussi Tiainen

Another recurrent strand in Grigorescu’s oeuvre is his interest in the ‘oriental’ heritage of the two Ottoman-controlled principalities that united to form Romania in the mid-nineteenth century: Wallachia in the south (where Bucharest is located) and Moldova in the north. In the exhibition, this interest is articulated in works using different artistic techniques: a series of black-and-white pinhole photographs from Iaşi, the former Moldovan capital (taken in 1974–75), the text work I’m Oriental (2000), a series of posters commenting on Romanian orientalism (2008) and an almost life-size painted portrait of an anonymous Moldovan peasant (2018).

We are proud to have been able to introduce Ion Grigorescu to our audiences in Helsinki and grateful for the collaboration with him and his collectors. The exhibition was organised by Kohta, with kind support from the Romanian Cultural Institute in Stockholm and Andreiana Mihail Gallery in Bucharest.

Ion Grigorescu, Iaşi, 1974–75, black-and-white pinhole photograph

Ion Grigorescu, Iaşi, 1974–75, black-and-white pinhole photograph

Ion Grigorescu, Das gelobte Land (The Promised Land), 1990, oil on canvas, 135.5 × 115 cm (recto/verso), private collection, Bucharest. Photo: Jussi Tiainen

Ion Grigorescu, left to right: Piramida (Pyramid), 1973, litograph, 100 × 70 cm; Scara spre înalta societate (Ladder to Another Society), 1969, linoleum print, 100 × 70 cm; Portret cu Buddha pe faţă 2 (Portrait with Buddha on Face 2), 1993, oil on canvas, 47 × 34 cm, collection of Marius Ivan, Bucharest; Portret cu Buddha pe faţă 3 (Portrait with Buddha on Face 3), 1993, oil on canvas, 46 × 33 cm, private collection, Helsinki; Cei 4 Evanghelişti: Marca (The Four Evangelists: Mark); Studii după Buddha (Studies after Buddha), 1982, gouache on paper, 41 × 30 cm; Hermes-Buddha (schiţa) (Hermes-Buddha (Sketch)), 1982, pencil on paper, 110 × 75 cm; Lumânălică (Aaron’s Rod), 2018, colour photograph, framed, 78 × 59 cm; Peisaj cu ţărănci (Landscape with Peasant Women), 1968, tempera on paper, 25 × 35 cm; Cortul diplomatic (The Diplomatic Tent), 2018, colour photograph, framed, 120 × 80 × 8 cm; Vindecarea epilepticului (The Healing of the Epileptic Boy), 1993, oil on zink, 27 × 55 cm; Curte din Sibiu (Courtyard from Sibiu), 1967, oil on canvas, 32 × 48.5 cm; Ţinte (Targets), 1973–74, ink on paper, 35 × 50 cm; Abatere de la simetrie (Exception from Symmetry), 1973–74, ink on paper, 70 × 50 cm; Omagiu lui Bacon (Hommage à Bacon), 1977, colour photografic print on paper, 110 × 70 cm; Naştere (Birth), 1978, colour photographic print on paper, 70 × 110 cm; Naştere (Birth), 1978, colour photographic print on paper, 110 × 70 cm; Tatăl nostru (II) (Our Father (II)); Turmă (Flock of Sheep); Academia atonită (The Academy of Athos); Schiţa pentru frescă la Kisceli (Study for Fresco at Kisceli); Moarte a copiilor lui Brâncoveanu (Death of the Brâncoveanu Children); Sidari (Schiţa de compoziţie) (Masons (Composition Draft)), 1964, oil on masonite, 71 × 88 cm; Sidari (Compoziţie finală) (Masons (Final Composition)), 1964, oil on masonite, 70.5 × 73 cm; Pristolnic (Cross Engraver), 2014, oil on canvas, 50 × 40 cm; Castele de nisip (Sand Castles), 2016, digital print on fabric, 175 × 215 cm; Râşca, 2016, oil on canvas, 50 × 60 cm, collection of Constantin Ţinteanu, Bacău. All works courtesy of the artist, unless stated otherwise. Photo: Jussi Tiainen

Ion Grigorescu, left to right: Castele de nisip (Sand Castles); Bradul pentru Petra (The Christmas Tree for Petra), 2009, oil on canvas, 38 × 55 cm, collection of Bogdan Vlăduţă, Bucharest; Duminică (Sunday), 2017, acrylic on paper, 40 × 50 cm; Luni (Monday), 2017, acrylic on paper, 41 × 52 cm; Marţi (Tuesday), 2017. acrylic on paper, 41 × 52 cm; Joi (Thursday), 2017, acrylic on paper, 44 × 51 cm; Vineri (Friday), 2017, acrylic on paper, 43 × 55 cm, Sâmbătă (Saturday), 2017, acrylic on paper, 44 × 50 cm; Cei 4 Evanghelişti: Ion (The Four Evangelists: John); Eu sunt viţa, voi mladiţele (I Am the Vine, You the Branches), 2019, watercolour on paper, 60 × 45 cm; Porţi şi vicleşuguri (Gates and Plays); Portret de sportiv (Portrait of an Athlete); Poziţie de mers (Walking Position); Cei 4 Evanghelişti: Marca (The Four Evangelists: Mark); Noapte (The Night); Om mort (Dead Man), 1982, oil on canvas, 46 × 73 cm, collection of Marius Caraman, Bucharest; Bine–rău (schiţa) (Good–Evil (Sketch)), 1979, watercolour on canvas, 18.5 × 25 cm, collection of Marian Ivan, Bucharest; Bine şi rău. Om Sf. Gheorghe (Good and Evil. Man as St George), 1982, black-and-white photographic print on paper, 80 × 60 cm, courtesy of Anca Poterasu Gallery, Bucharest; Om ucis (Murdered Man), 1969, oil on canvas, 52 × 70 cm, private collection, Bucharest; Nicolae Bălcescu şi Avram Iancu (Nicolae Bălcescu and Avram Iancu); ‘Moldovan Orientalism Posters’; Autoportret în oglinzi (Self-Portrait between Mirrors), 1990, oil on canvas, 135.5 × 115 cm (recto/verso), private collection, Bucharest. All works courtesy of the artist, unless stated otherwise. Photo: Jussi Tiainen



Ion Grigorescu: Avoin taiteilija 

Ion Grigorescu (s.1945 Bukarestissa, jossa hän asuu edelleen) on taiteellisessa tuotannossaan syvästi ankkuroitunut niin klassiseen kuin bysanttilaiseen perinteeseen. Hän lukeutuu sukupolvensa merkittävimpimpien eurooppalaisten taiteilijoiden joukkoon. Grigorescu on toiminut maalauksen, piirtämisen, grafiikan, valokuvauksen, elokuvan, videon, performanssin ja tekstin parissa mutta myös pedagogina ja ortodoksisen kirkon seinämaalausten ja muun liturgisen kuvaston entisöijänä ja tekijänä.

Kylmän sodan pitkään kestäneiden jälkivaikutusten vuoksi Grigorescun merkitys on tajuttu taidemaailmassa vasta asteittain viimeisten viidentoista vuoden aikana. Hänen teoksiaan on nykyään mm. Tate Modernin, Centre Pompidoun ja MoMA:n kokoelmissa. Hän on edustanut Romaniaa kahdesti Venetsian Biennalessa, vuosina 1997 ja 2011, ja hän osallistui documenta XII:een vuonna 2007.

Grigorescun ensimmäiseen näyttelyyn Suomessa kuuluu noin 100 teosta vuosilta 1964–2019 eri tekniikoissa, jotka ovat hänen omasta kokoelmastaan ja eri yksityiskokoelmista Romaniassa. Näyttely tahallaan välttää yhteenvetoa hänen pitkästä urasta. Sen sijaan ripustus luo pikemminkin vaikutuksen tutkimuskokoelmasta tai museon varastosta, jossa on esillä avoin taiteilija nimeltään Ion Grigorescu.

Samaan aikaan yksittäiset teokset välittävät monia kertomuksia kontekstista, jossa Grigorescun taide on muotoutunut. Hyvin jäsennelty hahmon käsittely Atleetin muotokuvassa (1967) paljastaa hänen varhaisen halunsa hallita klassista maalausta. Kuten tästä näyttelystä käy ilmi, hän ei ole aivan täysin luopunut tästä pyrkimyksestä.

Dialogi Ceauşescun kanssa (1978) on keskeinen esimerkki diktatorisen itäblokin sosialismin taiteellisesta vastustamisesta, jossa Grigorescu vaatii keskustelua Romanian korkeimman johtajan kanssa. Teoksen ytimenä oleva teksti (jota on mahdoton lukea resoluutioltaan huonossa super8-formaatissa) osoittaa paljonkin ymmärrystä Ceauşescun modernisointi-pyrkimyksille ja jopa myötätuntoa maan poliittisen johdon vaikeuksille.

1970-luvun puolivälistä alkaen Grigorescu on usein käsitellyt omaa läsnäoloaan kameran edessä. Teoksessa Hyvä ja paha: Ihminen Pyhänä Yrjönä (1982) hän yhdistää performanssia ja kehotaidetta (hän oli aina hyvin perillä nykytaiteen uusimmasta kehityksestä) uteliaan kiinnostuneena symbolisesta ja henkisestä.

Viimeinen ehtoollinen (1993) osoittaa, kuinka Grigorescu on romanialaisen taiteen “uusortodoksisen” suunnan mestari. Tämä suunta on ollut vahvana Ceauşescun hallinnon kaatumisen (1989) jälkeisistä vuosista lähtien. Grigorescu keksii uutta vakiintuneen ikonografian pohjalta ja jättää tilaa odottamattomille psykologisille vivahteille ja luonnosmaiselle maalauksellisuudelle samanaikaisesti juhlistaen ja horjuttaen perinnettä.

Grigorescun kiinnostus ”itämaiseen” perinteeseen Osmanien valtakuntaan pitkään kuuluneissa kahdessa ruhtinaskunnassa, jotka yhdistyivät 1800-luvun puolivälissä Romaniaksi, ilmenee näyttelyssä eri teoksissa: sarjassa mustavalkoisia valokuvia vuosilta 1974–75 Iaşista, Moldovan entisestä pääkaupungista, tekstiteoksessa Olen itämainen (2000), moldovalaista orientalismia kommentoivassa julistesarjassa (2008) ja moldovalaisen talonpojan maalatussa muotokuvassa (2018).

Näyttelyn on järjestänyt Kohta Romanian Tukholman kulttuuri-instituutinja bukarestilaisen Andreiana Mihail Galleryn ystävällisellä tuella.

Ion Grigorescu: Den öppna konstnären

Ion Grigorescu (född 1945 i Bukarest, där han ännu bor) är en omistlig europeisk konstnär i sin generation. Han är utomordentligt mångsidig och osedvanligt fokuserad, djupt förankrad i traditionen (den klassiska och den bysantinska) och en experimentell fritänkare av format. Grigorescu har arbetat med måleri, teckning, grafik, fotografi, film, video, performance-konst och text, men också som pedagog och som restauratör och skapare av väggmålningar och andra liturgiska bilder åt ortodoxa kyrkan.

På grund av Kalla krigets långa efterdyningar har Grigorescus betydelse kommit att uppskattas först under de senaste 15 åren. Idag finns hans verk i de stora museernas samlingar: Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou, MoMA. Han har två gånger representerat Rumänien vid Venedigbiennalen, 1997 och 2011, och han deltog i documenta XII 2007.

Grigorescus första utställning i Finland omfattar nära 100 verk i olika tekniker och format, gjorda mellan 1964 och 2019 och tillhörande honom själv och olika privatsamlingar i Rumänien. Presentationen försöker inte sammanfatta hans långa karriär, vilket bara kunde misslyckas. Den liknar istället en studiesamling eller ett öppet museiförråd. Det som visas är det öppna konstnärskap som går under namnet Ion Grigorescu.

Samtidigt förmedlar de enskilda verken många berättelser om kontexten där Grigorescus konst tagit form. Det välartikulerade Porträtt av en idrottsman (1967) vittnar om hans tidiga ambition att bemästra det klassiska måleriet. Som vi ser har han aldrig egentligen gett upp den.

Dialog med Ceauşescu (1978) är ett nyckelexempel på konstnärligt motstånd mot den diktatoriska östblockssocialismen. Grigorescu insisterar på att få föra ett samtal med Rumäniens högsta ledare. Den skrivna dialogen är kärnan i verket (fastän den är oläslig i det lågupplösta super8-formatet) och förmedlar kritisk förståelse för Ceauşescus moderniseringssträvanden, rentav empati inför hans lott.

Från mitten av sjuttiotalet har Grigorescu arbetat med sin egen närvaro framför (och vanligtvis också bakom) kameran. Gott och ont – Människan som Sankt Göran (1982) visar hur han smälter samman performance och ”kroppskonst” (han har alltid hållit sig välinformerad om samtidskonsten) med ett inträngande intresse för symbolik och andlighet. Han tycks hoppa bock över sig själv och rida ut i strid mellan moraliska imperativer.

Nattvarden (1993) visar honom som en mästare inom den ”neo-ortodoxa” strömningen i rumänsk konst, stark sedan åren efter Ceauşescu-regimens kollaps 1989. Som alltid är emellertid Grigorescu oortodox i sitt mästerskap. Han uppfinner nytt med den fastställda ikonografin som grund, han lämnar plats åt oväntade psykologiska nyanser och åt det skissartat måleriska, han både hyllar och undergräver traditionen.

Valakiet och Moldavien, två furstendömen som länge varit under Ottomanska rikets kontroll, ingick union i mitten av 1800-talet och bildade Rumänien. Grigorescus intresse för deras ”orientaliska” arv formuleras i flera verk: de svartvita fotografierna från Iaşi, Moldaviens tidigare huvudstad (1974–75), textverket Jag är orientalisk (2000), affischserien om moldavisk orientalism (2008) och porträttet av en anonym moldavisk bonde (2018).

Vi är stolta över att kunna visa Ion Grigorescu för vår publik i Helsingfors och tacksamma för samarbetet med honom och hans samlare. Utställningen är anordnad av Kohta, med benäget bistånd från Rumänska kulturinstitutet i Stockholm och Andreiana Mihail Galleryi Bukarest.