Opening: 07.02.2020, 19:00
Exhibition: 07.02 – 14.03.2020
Copying is a technique that runs all through the history of art and has always been closely associated with individual and collective memory. Our knowledge of the practice of copying in Egyptian art is derived entirely from reconstructing the many stages of transmission, which may well lead us to ask ourselves whether the body of a Sphinx shaped in some obscure provincial atelier was indeed modelled on now-lost copies of the huge monument in the Giza necropolis or rather on cats that were to be found in the vicinity of the workshop of those unknown stonemasons. Whatever that process involved, what is certain is that memory provides the irreplaceable link between original and copy.
Our Judeo-Christian culture, with its Greco-Roman roots, has for millennia been characterised by an imperative need to pass on its traditions. This exhibition examines the complex relationships involved in the transmission of tradition by putting on public display some school collections (plaster models and drawings made by pupils copying models) that exemplify the way in which, at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, European society used education as a means of relating to tradition. It also, contrastingly, features works of art that illustrate the constantly changing ways in which modern and contemporary artists interact with their artistic heritage.
The exhibition thus presents typical attitudes that span the range from a desire to reproduce the artistic heritage with absolute exactitude through to a refusal to follow its models slavishly. While many of the exhibits are connected with Cluj, they are expressions of a wider phenomenon and provide a faithful illustration of how the way in which the people of Europe relate to their past has changed.
The handing-down of traditional styles and modes can be seen in both non-religious and religious art. The books with their plates of models, and the plaster models themselves, bear witness to a precise following of tradition in secular art, while limitations imposed by iconographic convention have defined the framework within which religious subjects could be represented both in the West and in the East. These iconographic models have on occasion been adopted in a programmatic way as part of the artistic practice of both modern artists (Eugen Gâscă) and contemporary ones (Sorin Dumitrescu). Beginning as early as the 1930s, Eugen Gâscă (1908-1989), by interacting with Catholic iconography, created a modern oeuvre that is profoundly spiritual in character. Sorin Dumitrescu (1946), an important representative of the Neo-Orthodox movement, is currently striving to give a contemporary flavour to the tradition by his unwavering adherence to Orthodox canons of representation.
It is not only that the neo-avant-garde, with its artistic practice that broke the mould of tradition, did not succeed in erasing the models. More than that: the Cluj examples we exhibit appear to underline the fact that in this part of eastern Europe, the route out of socialist realism towards the neo-avant-garde took the form of a systematic imitation of the works of the original avant-garde. In 1959, Kádár Tibor (1919–1962), the celebrated professor who taught at the Cluj Fine Arts Institute, copied works by Picasso, Chagall and Léger from albums in the Institute library that were still on the official index. In 1964, his student Victor Ciato (1938) created a whole series of drawings based on the sculptures of Henry Moore, along with some in which he adopted Moore’s artistic language to create new designs for sculptures.
Ciprian Mureșan (1977), a major figure in contemporary Romanian art, has developed an entire conceptual system of his own through the way he relates to the artistic heritage. For the purposes of our exhibition he has created a sculpture cycle based on his memory of some of the sculptures in the permanent exhibition of Cluj Art Museum. His method is reminiscent of the way in which, as a consequence of inaccurate quotation from memory, the deterioration of texts over successive stages of inaccurate copying, errors introduced by mot-à-mot translation, and miscopyings both deliberate and unintended, the process of the handing-down of tradition is in fact as imperfect and contingent as any other human endeavour.
The process of remembering serves not only to keep the past alive – it also distances us from that past. A return ad fontes may frequently be undertaken with humility, but at other times – as modern and contemporary works frequently suggest – it can be devastatingly rebellious, employing copying as a means to evacuate a territory and so create a space for the future. - Miklós Székely, Sebestyén Székely