Sunday, August 8, 2010

Timisoara on my mind: Gallery Calina

Does this blog seem partial to the art scene in Bucharest? Well it just so happens that I am most familiar with the art community there, but this past week I have branched out to some key contemporary spaces in Transylvania; so without further introduction, this entry will feature an interview with Alina Cristescu, the founder of Gallery Calina in Timisoara. This is the first in a series of debates over the state of the art institutions in Romania, through which I hope you will gain some insight into their current challenges, and also to inspire the institutions themselves to examine their principles and strategies.

Gallery Calina was inaugurated in February 2007, in the center of Timisoara, next to the Romanian Opera. The gallery promotes the works of contemporary artists from Romania and abroad, especially young artists. Every show is enriched by catalogues, films, flyers and postcards about the artist and their work. I was introduced to this space by Ileana Pintilie, a renowned art historian based in Timisoara which I had the opportunity to meet at the Nasher Museum in 2007. I approached Alina Cristescu with my blog project, and she was generous to contribute with some thoughtful answers.

[RAM] Can you tell us something about how you came to be involved in the contemporary art scene in Timisoara? Why contemporary art?

[AC] I started by buying art, collecting seems like a big word for my endeavors....I graduated university with a degree in journalism in 1989, after the Revolution, and I was eager to write about art and culture in general, but in those times there were more interesting topics for me. I started buying art from the first private art gallery in Timisoara, and I also started training there. One of my biggest dreams was to own a contemporary art gallery, which would function according to my ideas.

[RAM] Please share with us a contemporary Romanian artist, whose work really touched you. Can you tell us why?

[AC] I have the privilege of knowing Romul Nutiu, who is also one of the galleries advisors. The moment I bought one of his works I felt prepared to run a contemporary art gallery.

[RAM] Your exhibitions promote young artists especially, which is something most art spaces are afraid of. Can you tell us why you chose this curatorial strategy?

[AC] Romania doesn't promote its artists. Let alone the younger generations of artists. In the gallery's third year of existence (2009) we launched a nation-wide program destined to support young artists, 30 years or younger [“Express yourself through art: dynamism and cultural diversity with young artists”]. We received around 50 projects out of which we selected 13 for solo shows. Those exhibitions were instrumental for the artists' careers and for putting Timisoara on the map in what concerns contemporary art.

[RAM] How do you see the evolution of contemporary art spaces in Timisoara and in Romania since 1989? Are they struggling with the same problems?

[AC] I am hopeful because we have found international partners by collaborating on shows that bring together artists from Romania and outside the country. I think by now we have acquired enough experience to enter the international circuit. We intend to participate in art fairs, and I am particularly interested in the Vienna Fair, which focuses on bringing together contemporary art from Eastern and Western Europe. We also collaborate with the Art University in Timisoara. Unfortunately we don't get much coverage from the local media about our events... It is very difficult....I know some very talented curators in Bucharest and Cluj, who could do extraordinary things for contemporary art. But currently they are fighting for survival....

[RAM] What about curators or cultural managers at the beginning of their career in Romania? What resources can they rely on to make a name for themselves?

[AC] Well, my first remark is that there are extremely few of them active today. Very few curators, managers and private galleries with which they can collaborate. There is a master's program (which I graduated from) at the Art University of Timisoara in European Cultural Politics, especially for training cultural managers. Unfortunately, most graduates are deprived of the object of their study (the art centers) in Romania. So they either find other fields to work in or emigrate.

[RAM] In a period in which the focus is more on commercial entertainment than culture, what strategies does your gallery use to build a public?

[AC] This is one of my biggest disappointments. We show exhibitions featuring young artists, who are very promising, and it is precisely the young audiences that are missing – for example art students from the University. I find this attitude baffling. Generally our public is pretty homogeneous, also depending on the nature of a show. This spring, precisely to attract younger audiences we stepped outside of the traditional gallery space and organized a show in an industrial warehouse (Halele Timco), curated by Ileana Pintilie, one of Romania’s foremost curators [“In the Middle of Things,” May 2010]. We had an overwhelmingly big crowd at the reception, hundreds, but throughout the show very few people came.

[RAM] What are your long-term goals?

[AC] I would like the gallery to enter the international art circuit. My biggest dream is to found at Contemporary Art Center in Timisoara. But this is not possible by relying only on private investors, and I’m afraid the government will not get involved for a long time because of the crisis.

Image: banner for the exhibit “In the middle of things,” curated by Ileana Pintilie, May 2010

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