(Sporadic notes upon a century of Basarabian fine art: between
“fashion” and “model”)
In the following lines I intend to sketch the physionomy of the native fine organism from the end of the XIXth century to the present day, from the perspective of the radical metamorphoses occured in the last years, transformations that also imposed a new way of analysing fine and mental phenomena, as a result of the process of deconstructing the communist myths and of desintegrating the soviet colonial colossus.
The present moment is the first when the visual arts here fully “speculate”, perhaps, their creative autonomy, freedom of expression, particular imaginary, marginal mentality, rejection of standardization.
A foray of historical order imposes immediately. In Basarabia there never existed a tradition of the visual arts, in the classical meaning of the concept, because there dd not exist, unless since very recently, a superior school of art education. Thus, perhaps, it can be explained in the most frustrating way the lack of a visual culture synchronizing with that of the modern times, the unavailability to relate to the European historical “avant-garde” issues, resting in a paradoxical, but not entirely unreasonable way between the poles of a conservatory, provincial mentality and of a romantic-anchylosed creative potentiality, corrupted by the “immense vapours of the exotic primitivity”. Still in the pre-war period Bassarabia’s art was obviously out-dated, as a result, it seems, of a respectful attachment of the artists from Chisinau toward the academic-realistic tradition, and then toward that “critical realism” of the Russian “Wanderers”, attachment particularly explicit if it is to take into consideration the multiple exhibitions of the “Wanderers” in the city on the river Byc at the end of the last century and the beginning of our century. Thus, between 1873 and 1900, there were organised in Chisinau not less than 7 exhibitions of the “itinerant” Ukrainian and Russian painters, and after 1903 - the year when the Society of the art lovers was founded in Basarabia - there were organised common exhibitional meetings of the native visual artists and the artists that had come from the Russian space . This fact could not remain without any notable, I would say, ill-fated consequences, even if many Basarabian artists were accomplishing their studies at the European institutions of high education. Returning home, they “conformed” somehow to a super-annuated “Wanderers’ spirit” that dominated here. The modernist influences that some of them experienced (or reached at by coquetry) during their stay in the West did not perpetuate in any way. It’s something almost incredible, but absolutely provable on the basis of the work from that epoch. Even the attempts of “art nouveau”, undertaken by artists as E. Maleshevski (1878-1940) and P. Shilingovski (1881-1942) (there must have been others too), had a strongly individualized character, extremely diminished as regarding the modernist source. The last one had had access to it only by mediation, i.e. by means of the background of the Association “Mir isskustva” from Petersbourg, where he accomplished his studies. The analysis of that atmosphere, obviously retrograde, unpermissive toward the spirit of novel, needs a particular study; now I shall confine myself to signaling that only a few kilometers away, at Tiraspol, in the first decade of the XXth century, there was creating one of the most important representatives of the Russian avant-garde, the promoter of the exhibition “Diamonds Jack” of 1910, exhibition that had an European echo by the issues and principles formulated by its participants. That was Mihail Larionov. Strangely, isn’t it, that at a such small distance, two entirely different phenomena occured: one zone-isolated phenomenon, but explosive, volcanic, innovatory, iconoclastic (Mihail Larionov) , and on the other side - a mass phenomenon, perfectly tributary to a corporation, missionary, conservatory, academic spirit, characteristic for the end of the last century (the artistic movement in Chisinau). I consider, as a hypothesis, that this stat of affairs was due first to the tzarist ideology of expansion, not only the military but also the socio-cultural one, by keen supervising of the “artistic processes” at the Empire’s borders, and also of the geographical coterminous, South-East European zones. Another supposition could be related to the social command on the spot, that came from the commandatory (the burgeois townsman with doubtful aesthetic tastes) toward the visual artist, forced to answer to these retarded preferences. We are talking here about fashion, as well as about models, that need to be studied in detail.
The period 1918-1940 was extremely short for an artistic viable mechanism to be constituted in this space, the visual artists from the zone vere traveling extensively, studying in Europe, participating to exhibitions within the Kingdom, never, though, within manifestations of European proportions. They remained out of the continuously metamorphosing, ideational and aesthetic pulse of the Western culture. That isolation increased even more in the 50’s, after Basarabia was re-conquered by the USSR. The things were somehow clear at the respective epoch, the art from MSSR being easily definable in the terms of “socialist realism”, illustrating in a national variant in some places the gregariousness of that horrid method of “illustrating the reality”, a counterfeited, mystified, gummy reality. The only interesting and worth studying moment is, perhaps, the period of hrushciovian “thaw”, extremely relative for a marginal province, far away from the Center, and especially, practically lacking an “intelligentsia” conscious of its historical mission, that of formulating artistic and cultural issues that would correspond to the European time, the contemporaneity. Therefore, a group of people, few and too shy, - it’s hard to reconstitute now if their gesture was one of group solidarization or actions on theirs own (or vanity) - undertake attempts to refresh the cultural atmosphere in Chisinau by appealing, especially, to the folklore tradition, to the lode of the mystical-rural sensibility, to the ancient “wit” of the “Moldovan”. That recrudescence of the national spirit, manifested in some cultural forms, I have defined as contemporary “pasturage”, which became a fashion oriented against the official model. The cause born the effect - there started talks about a “national Moldovan art” and even about a “national school of Moldovan painting”, “Moldovan tapestry” etc. The authorities knew how to “speculate” in an extremely perfidious and intelligent way the endeavours of a part of the intellectuality, anchoring it on the machine of falsifying the “specificity” of each national republic. The artists stayed with the sweet impression that they had the liberty to create what they wanted, in reality creating what they were requested to, as a result to the multiple social commands which they didn’t show insensitive to. Much of that epoch has to be re-thought, re-defined. How much of the artistic “patrimony” of that time is creation and which part of it constitutes the imoposition, the ideological illustration, the propaganda through images and cultural forms? I also consider as being particularly urgent the need to remove the make-up off the “hero’s face” in order to see who (and why) was chosen as a model of the “national Moldovan art”.
Reaching this point, we shall not talk any more about the phenomenon because it is clear, but about persons, concrete artists, with concrete works, with the “images” of a public, aethical stateliness, etc. We shall realize the “fertile duplicity” of some of them, the others, though, will come into the light as fools-marionettes, manipulated for years, sacrifying their work and morality.
The “thaw” was gradually substituted by the period of stagnation and “cold war”, period in which the praiseful, thematic, etc. exhibitions were abundant in the visual arts. Almost nothing happens, the model seems to be taken over, strictly respected. But the freedom “fissure” of the ‘60s already became a “caprice”, an open “window”. In the studios there are produced all kinds of timid “experiments”, which had the merit of being attempted by a limited group of young people. Among their works there have to be mentioned Andrei Sirbu’s collages, made of heterogeneous materials, Valeriu Rotaru’s post-pop art, Iurie Horovschi’s sculptures , Mihai Prepelita’s lyrical, vividly colored “abstractions”. Later, at the beginning of the 80's, there is constituted a group of visual artists that “experimented” in color: M. Cheptanaru, Inessa Tapina, Elena Bontea, Ada Zevin, A. Tonceva and others, a kind of feminine “gallery” of the Basarabian chromatism, that had formulated issues eluded from the ideological engagement, constituting a model of new free thinking, with a stylistic and formal distinct system. That moment prepared, indirectly, the “autonomization” of the creative action, and, implicitly, it outlined the moments of getting rid of the obtuse ballast of a socialist-realist heritage, especially after 1987. In this period many young people make their appearance, conscious of the international artistic pulse, even if the temporal distance, in the first place, was extremely great, and the stages of society development - totally separate. This time too the renovations do not come from the West but, it may seem particularly paradoxical, from the East, exactly those centers where formerly the ferment of standardization came from. With a great delay the young graduates of the institutions of high education from Moscow, Sankt-Petersbourg, Kiev, Minsk, Tallinn bring to Chisinau the wave of artistic “novels”, which in the Center already became a fashion, being encouraged tacitly by the authorities themselves. They brought with them the undigested remainders of the same phenomenon, undigested because it was already uninteresting, confuse, out-dated. We had not an alternative art, but only imitations of something like that, an accumulation of cliches. Exemplary in that sense I would consider the exhibition “Quests ‘89”, where the artistic intentions had not, most of the time, any cover at the level of fine, formal, stylistic expression. Anyway, that, as well as some more manifestations of the same year (the Bienale of sculpture in the open air, the “Homage” to Eminescu, Iurie Horovschi’s individual exhibition, etc.) focused the visual artist’s attention upon the pure act of creation, upon the inner artist’s trace, externalized one way or the other. The Basarabian visual artist is now in the quest of a cultural model, worth following, or, perhaps, in the quest of some foundations for the constitution and instrumentalization of an own one?
Nicolai Costenco, Basarabian Ideologies, in: “Viata Basarabiei”, no 12, 1937
Tudor Stavila, Some aspects of the constitution of the professional fine art in Basarabia, in: “Actual problems of the national art” pp. 111-112, 1993; also: N. Ezerskaia, Peredvijniki I natsionalinyie hudozestvennye scoly narodov Rossii, Moskva, 1987, pp.124-130.
An extremely synthetical upon Larionov’s work has been undertaken recently by G. Pospelov, Bubnovyi valet. Primitiv I gorodskoi folklor v moskovskoi zivopisi 1910-h godov, Moskva, 1990, pp.22-49, especially pp. 38-49.
I express my gratitude to professor Razvan Theodorescu for the information offered in this regard.
Interesting for the “experimental” atmosphere of the second part of the 80's there seems to be the study of the background in the artists’ studios at the “Sculeni Barrier”, where the “multiple disciplinary” attempts (combinations of materials, paint introduction on the sculpture surfaces, mixed papier-maches etc.) were observed at many authors from that milieu: Valeriu Moshcov, Simion Rabincov, Iurie Horovschi, Nicolae Ischimji, Grigore Pototschy etc.
About the first important exhibition from the point of view of the “perestroika’s” beginning in visual arts, entitled “Tineretea tarii” (Country’s young people), from 1987 at the Art Museum: Constantin Ciobanu, “Performance or failure?” , in “Literatura si arta”, April 2, 1987, pp. 6-7; N. Ponomariova, “Skola I mastera” in: “Molodezi Moldavii”, April 7, 1987, p. 4.
A pertinent report about that exhibition was signed by N. Ponomariova, Razdumia, in: “Sovietskaia Moldavia”, September 7, 1989, p. 4
Received on 2003-01-03