Muzeul de artă recentă (MARe)
By Giles Eldridge
MARe is a major new museum in Bucharest and at just a few months old, it has already proved itself to be a remarkable, unique, controversial, problematic yet ultimately intriguing and engaging institution that should be visited by anyone with even the slightest interest in art or architecture. Designed by YTAA architects it is a contemporary museum of galleries, café, auditorium and library.
Now, it is true to say that right from the start MARe has attracted some criticism, but that should be expected if one seemingly sets out to be explicitly provocative.
Demolishing a 1939 Mediterranean revival style building, previously occupied by a very high ranking Communist of the post war Dej era, only to put in its place a “Ghost image” of the house is an intriguing idea and must be a first in the world for a contemporary art museum yet I am clueless as to the reasons. Likewise, the exhibition spaces are a very curious series of black boxes and quirky, awkward spaces instead of the traditional modern art White Cube. In an apparent attempt to move away from the anodyne yet loaded traditional modernist space the team took off in the opposite direction. Some might see all this as a negative start but for me this is what art is all about; experiencing, thinking, talking, arguing etc. It’s all a good thing. If you look closely at any museum there are usually a multitude of issues, from Nazi looted art to dodgy sponsorship deals etc.
The main exhibition is a collection formed by Lebanese art collector, Roger Akoury, an entrepreneur previously involved with A+D Pharma and now Cambridge School. Over several years, under the guidance of Romanian art historian and critic Erwin Kessler and other art professionals in Bucharest he has amassed over 550 works, from the 60s to the present day. Around a third of this will be on display at the museum at any one time. Alongside this there will be temporary exhibitions of Romanian art and an international programme.
The basic curatorial premise of the collection takes as its starting point 1965, when Ceaușescu decreed that art in Romania should be freed from the Soviet style socialist realism espoused by Stalin (picture strong men and even stronger looking women in the wheat fields surrounded by electricity pylons). Almost like an instruction to Romanian artists the upshot was a distinctive artistic aesthetic, different from most other Communist countries of the time. In the MARe collection we see abstractions, humour and intellect alongside resonances and references to Western art. So, at a time when the CIA was still funding abstract painters in the US to demonstrate political and cultural freedom, Romania was letting their artists be a bit freer than those in the studios of Moscow, albeit for different reasons. This was of course a relative freedom. Essentially Ceaușescu wanted artists to be different from Moscow not similar to the US. The artists, of course cared nothing of what the big man told them to do they just wanted to do whatever they could get away with and develop their own language and discourse. The collection also includes plenty of contemporary art, so that seen as a whole it is a very convincing, impressive and coherent survey of Romanian art under the heading of recent art.
The emergence of the Museum for Recent Art is hugely significant in the cultural history of Romania. It is the first private museum of its kind to house a collection of Romanian art with an international exhibition programme – it will showcase three international artists each year. The first selection could not be better; Jeff Wall, Martin Creed and Thomas Ruff, all artists of considerable standing. The significance of this programme cannot be overstated, it benefits the collection and recontextualizes the former; it’s win win. Presently on display are four video works employing humour, repulsion, iconoclasm and up-beat brio of the UK artist-performer and thinker, Martin Creed.
Whatever you might say about MARe, it isn’t dull and it is going to do some things that no one else seems capable of. Under the current political regime, Bucharest is a broken city and fading badly so maybe it is going to take places like MARe to move things on a bit. The museum should be seen in this context and therefore must be visited and talked about and used and if necessary argued about; it’s for the good of all.
Situated at Blvd. Primărverii 15.
Open every day except Tues. 11am – 7pm
Access from the street to the café and garden terrace is free
One ticket price for all exhibitions – 15 Lei
Guided tours available
TEL. 0744 763 858