Last week traveling through Romania (hence the lull in writing), I had the good fortune of stumbling upon an exhibition by one of my favorite artists- Dan Perjovschi. The exhibition, entitled Chestii tripartite (Printed stuff), was held at The City Museum of Art, in Cluj-Napoca, a large university city in Transylvania. Dan Perjovschi was born in Sibiu, Romania in 1961 and currently lives and works in Bucharest. He transformed the medium of drawing, using it to create installation and performances. The drawings, simple in form, communicate volumes about global and local issues and present a political commentary in response to current events. Dan’s wife, Lia, is also an artist, mainly focusing on performance art and they often work together. Between the installations and the performances, viewers need to be in the right city at the right time to see the work. Dan has exhibited all around the world, including Portugal, Germany, the United States, Romania, Kosovo…etc.
In the summer of 2007, I stood in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, transfixed by the drawings that took over the atrium walls. Everyone stood with heads tilted back, staring at the drawings stretching a few stories high. It was the first time I had ever seen or heard of Dan Perjovschi, and I was newly interested in East Europe at the time. Immediately I realized that there was something inherently different about his outlook on the world from the typical Western-centric perspective of which I am accustomed. The “political cartoons” touched on a diverse set of issues, including the US military, globalization, identity, fashion trends, global warming, and art politics. The collage of images provided an installation that transformed the usually sterile museum walls and the space as a whole, drawing the viewer into the artwork.
Judging from his cartoon-inspired drawings today, one might not guess that Dan was classically trained in fine arts in Romania. During the Ceausescu dictatorship, he was identified at a young age as possessing a special talent for art, and he began the state-run art school at the age of 10. However, Dan was quickly disillusioned with the restrictions of state art, and he did not feel that he could fully express himself with the medium of painting and the subject matter chosen for him. Drawing and performance later became his means for fully expressing himself in response to social and political issues. Censorship was very strict for artists in Romania under Ceausescu, and Dan states that “self-censorship ruled” as artists were forced to comply. Desperate for freedom of expression in the 1980s, Dan covered his whole apartment in white paper and drew all over, and he said it was as if he were “living in his own drawings.” One can notice the influence of this repressive time on the format of his later work. Dan’s installations, like the one in MOMA, takes on similar collage form, and the viewer is truly invited into the mind of the artist. Dan spent two weeks drawing on MOMA’s walls, and visitors to the museum could actually watch the artist at work.
Although I checked to see if the Perjovschis had any exhibit in Bucharest before embarking on my university trip, I did not think to check the museums in the city of Cluj-Napoca. I could not believe my luck when I walked by the city museum only a few hours before heading back to Krakow to discover that I was just in time to see a retrospective of Dan Perjovschi one hour before the museum closed. As the title suggests, the exhibition was a collection of Dan’s printed work- mostly books and catalogues of his site-specific sketches. Although I was somewhat disappointed that this exhibition did not include a new installation, the show provided an invaluable opportunity for me to review his work from the past decade. I could flip through books and compare the drawings he made in different places in different years. The information is hard to obtain in the United States and I felt completely overwhelmed to see evidence of so much work in one place by such a prolific artist.
If you ever have the opportunity to see some of Dan Perjovschi’s work in person, I guarantee you will not be disappointed. Coming from a country that seems to be pretty cynical in general, Dan’s drawings are extremely insightful and witty. He provides a unique perspective on today’s world, and I think that the 2007 show in MOMA is a huge part of the reason I am studying East Europe today.