– Spring/Summer 2016

Ion Grigorescu: My Vocation Is Classical, Even Bucolic

Anders Kreuger

Ion Grigorescu, Realizarea planului stă în puterea colectivului (Realising the Plan Is within the Power of the Collective), 1972, oil on canvas, 140 x 100cm. All images courtesy the artist and Galerija Gregor Podnar, Berlin

We may say that being an artist is a ‘vocation’, and that this is also his ‘style’. My vocation is classical, even bucolic.

– Ion Grigorescu1

After several collaborations with Ion Grigorescu, I have stopped trying to summarise this many-faceted and self-reflexive artist, born in Bucharest in what some historians call ‘Year Zero’.2 He has little desire to be ‘understood’ in ways that are too specialised or general, too intellectual or not intellectual enough. But he is prepared to speak about his work in generous detail and with unbridled precision if we are prepared to also register the halftones of what is being said. What follows is my latest attempt at analysing his oeuvre, based on an extensive recent interview.

More than half a century ago, Grigorescu followed in the footsteps of his older brother Octav and enrolled in what was then the Institutul de Arte Plastice ‘Nicolae Grigorescu’3 to study painting. Since then he has inhabited a succession of artist roles so varied that they might have cancelled each other out. In the ‘liberal’ years after 1968, when Romanian president Nicolae Ceauşescu was courted by the West for refusing to participate in the Warsaw Pact invasion of

  1. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from a conversation with the artist held in Bucharest on 3–5 December 2015.

  2. See Ian Buruma, Year Zero: A History of 1945, London and New York: Penguin Press, 2013. Romania, a rich oil-exporting country in the 1930s, was a wartime ally of Germany and participated in the invasion of the USSR in 1941. Despite shifting its allegiance in 1944, it ended up losing most of its sovereignty to its new Soviet masters. The Grigorescu family – cultured and Francophile but not wealthy – belonged to the pre-War bourgeois intelligentsia that saw its radius of action narrowed after the gradual Communist takeover in the mid-1940s.

  3. Now the Universitatea Naţională de Arte din Bucureşti. Grigorescu is a rather common family name in Romania, and there is no blood relation between the two brothers and Nicolae Grigorescu, one of the founders of modern Romanian painting.

  4. Grigorescu is consistently urging his viewers and readers to also consider the continuity between the communist and post-communist regimes. ‘The tendency has been to turn Ceauşescu into a caricature. But he was the president of the country for almost 25 years... Still today we see the results. The political class today, the rich, they do the same things that he did, in their offices and at home with their children.’

  5. Anders Kreuger, ‘Interview with Ion Grigorescu. Bucharest, July 14 2009’, in Alina Şerban (ed.), Ion Grigorescu: Omul cu o singură cameră / The Man with a Single Camera, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2013, pp.281–89.

  6. Grigorescu elaborates: ‘After the Revolution a new generation of exhibition-makers and critics questioned my Christian faith. “Are you really an active Christian?” The Christians, the believers, were always seen as somewhat bizarre and out of date. Perhaps I wanted to go against the flow, to show that you can be a messenger of faith also in contemporary art.’

  7. Grigorescu recounts how Gherasim ‘visually reorganised the exhibition halls of certain museums, exhibiting disparate artefacts together, as installations: pieces of furniture, rugs, icons, sculptures, ceramic objects, clothes... [...] So the spaces, the rooms, were brought back to life. They became spaces you could inhabit, have conversations in.’

  8. ‘But I myself agreed to the change of my vocation and received a new one, in response to the social reality.’

  9. ‘Classical’, Oxford Dictionaries, available at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/classical (last accessed on 20 January 2016).

  10. ‘Bucolic’, Oxford Dictionaries, available at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/bucolic (last accessed on 20 January 2016).

  11. See Georg Schöllhammer and Andreiana Mihail (ed.), Ion Grigorescu: Diaries 1970–1975, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014.

  12. The use of both Romanian and Bulgarian place names is to do with Romania’s annexation of Southern Dobruja in 1913, after the Second Balkan War. The province was returned to Bulgaria in 1940 in accordance with Treaty of Craiova, signed by both countries and approved by Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the USSR and the US.

  13. This happened in stages, from 1859, when Alexandru Ioan Cuza was elected Prince of Moldavia and Wallachia, until 1881, when Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen became King Carol I of Romania.

  14. ‘Critical’, Oxford Dictionaries, available at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/critical (last accessed on 20 January 2016).

  15. ‘Activism creştin’, Anticariat Curtea Veche, Bucharest, November 2014.

  16. Ion Grigorescu, email to the author, 28 January 2016.