Romania and the Avant Garde
By Lucy Li
posted: 08-17-11

Romania is not exactly the first country that comes to mind when one thinks of modern art, but exhibitions in Bucharest and Amsterdam are shedding light on this often overlooked center of the avant-garde.


The Amsterdam exhibition, “From Dada to Surrealism: Jewish Avant-Garde Artists in Romania, 1910-1938” highlights works of many iconic Jewish Romanian artists. Curated by art historian rabbi Edward Van Voolen and collector Dr. Radu Stern, the exhibition features an impressive collection of pre-Dada, proto-surrealist and avant-avant-garde artists such as Marcel Janco and Victor Brauner that combines experimental modern approaches with Jewish sensibility and Romanian folklore. The Bucharest exhibition, “The Roots and Echoes of the Avant-garde Graphic Collection of the Library of Romanian Academy,” features the permanent collection at the library of the Romanian Academy. It features 72 works of art, 40 vintage books, and “micrographie” in a very academically designed exhibition, and is “probably the first of its kind after the fall of communism.” Some forgotten names like Lazar Zin, Losif Ross and Jean David are featured, along with many women artists such as Milita Petrascu, Margareta Sterian and Nina Arbore.


Bucharest was an important epicenter for the avant-garde. Marinetti came to Romania (then Craiova) in 1909 to launch Futurism and enact his famous manifesto, and a great number of literary and avant-garde books and magazines flourished in Bucharest during this pivotal period. However, Bucharest was much better at producing great young artists than keeping them, as most promising Jewish Romanian writers and artists quickly left this “Dada nursery” to establish themselves in Paris, Zurich, London, and Tel Aviv, not necessarily to escape anti-semitism, but simply to pursue life in a non-dictatorial society. This artistic “brain drain” still plagues Romania today, but it also resulted in a particularly eclectic array of inspiration for the pieces in the exhibition.

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