Ion Bitan, Ion Gheorghiu, Ion Pacea, Boris Caragea
This catalogue was produced in preparation for an exhibition representing the Romanian Pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia in 1964, the year Pop Art arrived in Europe and a general amnesty for political prisoners was completed in Romania. Four artists were chosen to represent Communist art in Romania, led by Boris Caragea (1906-82) who, as president of the UAP, had become a poodle of the Soviet authorities. The art critic Mircea Deac, Commissary of the Romanian Pavilion, wrote the introduction to the catalogue in the typically wooden language of Communist rhetoric. He begins with a short history of ''the modern artistic movement in Rumania initiated by the painter Stefan Luchian (1868-1916)'':
''Stefan Luchian's example concerning the difficult problem of light and colour was, for our contemporary painters in the new social and material conditions created by the 1948 National and Social Liberation, an essential problem for the achievement of a great, expressive and vigorous art. Contemporary Rumanian art shows a new orientation towards life and mankind, in a new expressive language, the stress being on truth and emotion. This orientation has opened the greatest perspectives for a manifold development of all authentical and original artistic personalities. By the years, the careful spectator of Venice Biennial Exhibitions could see in the Rumanian Pavilion, artists different as vision, very gifted and having the same scope to realise an art devoted to mankind. This year, the Pavilion of the Rumanian Peoples Republic will illustrate the works of four artists: the carver Boris Caragea and the painters of a much more younger [sic] generation, formed as artists after the Liberation: Ion Gheorghiu, Ion Bitan, and Ion Pacea.''
Before Ceausescu's rise to power, travel to Western Europe was almost impossible for artists, with the exception of a few prominent apparatchiks such as Caragea, who had exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1954 and the Rodin Museum in 1961. To showcase the work of four artists in Venice in 1964 was a significant development against the limitations imposed by the Iron Curtain. Deac speaks in triumphalist tones and shows off the freedom and resulting optimism.
"Of course, although the number of the artists and their work is little, we hope that the exhibition can show the typical Rumanian artistic temperament, expressed with frankness in warm, brilliant colours. Undoubtless [sic], this specific note grows day after day, according to the general development of Rumanian art and our special conditions. In our country, art and artists are very appreciated as well by the government as by the great public [sic]. The Rumanian exhibition from the Rumanian Biennial as an expression of contemporary art is the optimistic messenger of our artists and their firm desire for an unselfish friendship between artists and countries.''
The selection of images in the catalogue carefully depicts Socialist achievements and utopian ambitions. The first image is Ion Bitan’s “Recolta” (Harvest), which depicts a happy peasant lying on a pile of golden wheat, being driven back after the harvest in a truck carrying a large Red flag, dominating the centre of the picture. On the horizon is a line of small utes, all bearing flags, including two minute Romanian tricolours, in contrast to the central Soviet red flag. Other paintings selected for the Biennale include industrial landscapes of towering chimneys and blocks of flats which obstruct the recognisable Black Sea coast scenery, harvest landscapes with heavy red agricultural machinery, and portraits of peasants and workers. Caragea’s sculptures depict, among other athletic neoclassical figures, personified Victory (a study for his monumental ''Victory of Socialism'' in the city of Constanta) and a woman carrying two buckets on a yoke. It was because these works illustrated, and for foreign eyes reified, the clichés of post-Stalinist propaganda that they were allowed to travel West.
[Written by by Dr Alex Popescu, Dec 2016]