Issue #43, 2013

An Interview with Daria Dumitrescu by Edith Lázár

Daria Dumitrescuis cofounder and director of the art gallery Sabot. The gallery, opened in 2009 in Cluj, has been present in numerous art fairs such as Viennafair, Artissima, Independent, Art-O-Rama or Liste.


Edith Lázár πIn general, discussions on galleries are initiated by tracing a chronological itinerary and outlining the relationships in the art world. However, I’d like to know if there are texts or artistic practices that have gotten your attention and influenced you in setting a direction or, better said, in building an image for the gallery?

Daria Dumitrescu ∫When I decided to open the gallery, I saw myself as a potential counter-saboteur. I had in mind the exhibition made ​​by Nancy Spector at the Guggenheim, theanyspacewhatever and how the end of relational aesthetics has started. I’d already exhausted Bourriaud and returned to Deleuze and, further, to Marc Augé. I was thinking about the path I have to go from non-space to space and how this path must be filled with content. I decided I’m not interested in engaged art and then that I will not include remains of the relational aesthetics in my discourse. I did not want a spectacle, I was not going to submit myself to the dictatorship of the curator and I doubted that celebrity has something to do with art. In other words, I was trying to place myself outside fashion, because I thought nothing was more exciting in art than unsafe choices.

This could be one of the gallery’s constants: I want to keep working with artists who haven’t found their way or who are not in danger of saying they found it. If this is visible, it means that we already have a certain image and that, most likely, we’ll also abandon it.

πSo you never felt that you are taking too much risk with certain artists, that their art would be more difficult to digest due to the experimental nature? It was there any exhibition, from this point of view, which entailed difficulties?

∫I see no risk in the experimental nature, so I cannot avoid it. I remain faithful to the belief that art should puzzle.

There were many exhibitions which caused reception problems in Cluj. I only remember Stefano Calligaro’s exhibition, which people believed to be minimal from a lack of resources. I blame an intellectual inertia which entails boredom and convenience. An exhibition of contemporary art cannot be read just visually, in an epidermal manner. If you do not access its references, things remain one-dimensional, at the mercy of taste and speculative interpretation.

πIn the multitude of artistic practices and media through which contemporary art goes what makes an artist attractive to the gallery? What triggers you to provide an exhibition space?

∫That’s a tough question, because I don’t have a set of predetermined rules. I follow art daily and remain interested in the artists who manage to baffle me. I found that usually there are artists who express themselves easily in various media, have a vast cultural background, they read and write (it seems like a joke), practice art and think prospectively. Schematically, if an artist manages to really baffle me, then we begin a dialogue that could result in a collaboration and therefore in an exhibition.

πHowever, in terms of the exhibition program, I have noticed a tendency I would call a taste for the post-conceptual...

∫You’re probably right, I’m interested in ideas and their relationship to the image. I do not know if that means post-conceptual, post-neo-conceptual, de-conceptual or simply has to do with the attention towards the formulas derived after conceptual art. It’s interesting that today we can negotiate with various determinations without being in error.

I am especially careful to particular meanings that conceptual art now has, to its relation with the minimal aesthetics, with abstraction, with craftsmanship. Alice Tomaselli, for example, introduces the idea of conceptual artisanal, while Stefano Calligaro speaks, minimally, about the object-idea and Lucie Fontaine about the commodity-culture, about the function, creation, production, distribution of an artwork. I can go on, to Alex Mirutziu, who has moved his focus out of the gender area toward articulating a discourse about the hyper-object and time, or to Radu Comșa, who went from figurative painting to abstract language, borrowing processes of transcription, translation and multiplication from music, literature and design. Florin Maxa remains minimal, concerned by serial, which makes him close both to formal and conceptual, Vlad Nancă illustrates an extended concern for urban semiotics in objects/installations informed by Bauhaus and minimal art, and for Aline Cautis painting is a form of abstract rewriting of its own history.

I intentionally omitted Mihuț Boșcu Kafchin who is harder to compare: a bitpix generation artist whose aesthetics is inspired by the sci-fi fantasy cloud which irradiated generations of artists since the beginning of the entertainment industry until today.

πYou said earlier that you’ve decided to reject the dictatorship of the curator. One of the exhibits that caught my attention was i-n-v-e-n-t-o-r-y by Lucie Fontaine. Beyond the mixture of everyday life aesthetics and gallery space, she played with the presentation, the archiving and the inventory of her own works, so we can call it a curatorial act. But Lucie Fontaine also curates exhibitions involving different artists. Now, in the context of the debate on the status of the relationships between artist and curator versus the curator-artist’s situation, to what extent the project proposed by the artist finds an echo in the gallery policy?

∫Yes, I think I prefer the dictatorship of the artist. But one sees things better from the perspective of Lucie Fontaine (an artistic collective, a fake identity in the tradition of Claire Fontaine or Donelle Woolford), which seeks to clarify the integrator meaning of contemporary art, where the position of the creator can be taken today by the artist, gallery owner, curator, cultural operator, editor, critic and so on. Similarly, understanding the work should take into account the broad sense of the artistic practice, be it the design, creation, production, presentation, distribution, communication and promotion.

Lucie Fontaine is at the same time a gallery with two headquarters – Milan and Tokyo –, an artistic identity operated by two “employees“ (an editor and an artist) and a curator. A discussion on the work of Lucie Fontaine must engage this entire background because her works are the result of this triple vision: that of the curator-artist, of the artist as editor and artisan, of the gallery exhibiting and distributing the work of others, thus creating their own work.

Interpretations of this modus operandi can be found at Sabot, too. The artists we work with play different roles and the gallery always amends its performance according to their script, but never limits itself to being the plane white cube that hosts an exhibition.

When I said I rejected the dictatorship of the curator, I meant the mercenary curator invited to orchestrate a gallery program.

πThere is one more thing. Usually, art institutions are those offering residencies, but I know you have included such a program into the gallery. What does this project of granting residencies mean for Sabot?

∫Our residence program has no schedule and is not bureaucratic in any way. It is an extension of the dialogue that Sabot wants to have with the art scene. I still consider it an experiment, but I noticed that it begins to act more like an antechamber for the Sabot program.

πIn this respect, more often, artists choose to be represented by a gallery. How do they come to being included in the residency program? How do you establish a connection with them?

∫There are situations in which I observe the artists, as in George Crîngașu’s case, whom I invited to use the residency for the preparation of a possible exhibition at Sabot in 2014. The same happened with Aline Cautis in 2010–2011. We also receive many requests, but I only respond positively to those who converge with the gallery program and have the potential to generate content. I do not necessarily want to occupy the space at all times, so I am careful to choose projects and artists for which the interaction with Sabot is more than free access to a workshop in Paintbrush Factory.

πSince you’ve mentioned Paintbrush Factory, is it still an exhibition space or has it became one for production? I ask this because I see artists and galleries seeking to build an image by associating with Factory.

∫I do not know how others relate to the context, but I know that at the beginning (in 2009) there was this idea of us summing up as a whole based on a common ground that I still consider today rather vague: the cultural horizon. So vague, that in all these years, the prestige of Factory increased based on the independent work of the artists and organizations inhabiting it. It is remarkable, however, that we managed to live together successfully, even in the absence of a broader common vision and that, strictly logistically, we are getting better organized.

Factory is a known and visited location – one of the great benefits of cohabitation – but it’s naive to think that it boosts our image. My big concern is that, on the long run, it can ruin it.

πSabot is one of the galleries in Cluj which goes more and more beyond local coordinates. How is it to represent a gallery outside the country? I mean you haven’t relied on the Eastern European exploitation of the post-communist landscape, which at a certain point became a trend among the Romanian galleries. From this point of view, what is it like at art fairs and, especially, how were you perceived in those areas?

∫I didn’t rely on clichés and that brought us a sort of quiet prestige among foreign curators, critics and gallery owners and a fabulous failure among collectors everywhere.

Things began to change only in the last year. Perhaps the market is oversaturated with the same old story of the East and wants to hear other stories, too. Our presentations at fairs are not different from the exhibitions in the gallery: we illustrate a specific project, preceded by lengthy exchanges of ideas, we never present our stock. As I am not a born dealer, but I decided that I could take on this role, our market introduction rather resembles a cultural fact than a profitable enterprise.

It’s not easy to represent such a project, but nothing else or done differently wouldn’t have interested me.

πHow do you relate to associations with the Cluj School?

∫I don’t. Neither to the school as a university, nor to this phrase. Sabot got rid of this association, although one of our artists, Radu Comșa, is part of the generation to which it is assigned. Can I make a joke?... Radu has been invited to play from time to time in the school team, but only rarely, because he was tempted to score for the opposite team. I don’t know if the coach or the teammates put him on the bench, what is certain is that our artist has left the team and reinvented himself.

πIn the end, I would like to draw a broader context. If you were to establish some points of interest of contemporary art today, what would they be? And what events have become obsolete on the art scene, but continue to seize the galleries’ space?

∫Who is contemporary art, anyway? But I suppose you mean the hits, the trends around which both artists, gallery owners, curators, institutions, collectors and art magazines swarm. I will refer to an article by Jerry Saltz recently published in the American press, “Art’s Insidious New Cliché: Neo-mannerism“. It is about Anarchy Lite, referring to contemporary sculpture, about the fact the statement “Painting is dead“ hiding much epigone and common painting, about the insipid collages that abound on the market and the wave of artists that mimic the same aesthetics and the same manners. I think we need to understand that all that is meant as a manifesto for something is already obsolete and that we need to begin to look elsewhere.