Excerpt from Proiect 1990. Art in public spaces program 2010-2014
“Four years, 20 projects.
Beginning: Ioana Ciocan, January 26th 2010, 11 o’clock.
Ending: Nicolae Comănescu, April 14th 2014, 11 o’clock.
Proiect 1990 officially ended after the receipt of the following email: “Referring to the continuity of ‘Proiect 1990’. This is in reference to your previous address, regarding the continuity of the cultural project ‘Proiect 1990’, with the mention that there are notices and placement authorizations emitted for the solicited location of Monumentului Luptei Anticomuniste – Aripi (The Monument of the Anticommunist Battle – Wings), by Mihai Buculei, prior to your solicitation, due to which the local authorities cannot approve of the continuation of the project for the placement of temporary sculptures.“
Proiect 1990 developed over four years under the constant incertitude created by the possible placement of the over 100 tons of stainless steel and 28 meter high monument Aripi (Wings). The fate of the disappearance of Lenin’s former pedestal had already been sealed through the Government Ordinance nr. 76 in 2003, signed by former Prime Minister Adrian Năstase and former Minister of Culture and National Heritage Răzvan Theodorescu. Article 1 pc. 1 names the sculptor Mihai Buculei – former student of Boris Caragea, the esteemed representative of socialist realism and the official sculptor of communist ideology – as the artist. The multiple financial and administrative delays caused by politicians have caused this government ordinance to not take effect even now, at the publication of this catalog, which has, in fact, made the existence of Proiect 1990 possible.
In the year 2009 I started to show an interest in the fate of the pedestal in the Free Press Square in Bucharest. Its emptiness and visible and historical importance, seemed like a perfect place to run an art program for temporary public art. In Bucharest, public art is dominated (because of phantom contests that no one ever really knows about and always seem to have only one participant and winner) by the same three or four names. Thus, through this program, artists who otherwise would not have access to Bucharest’s public space would be allowed to exhibit their work. For a long period in 2009 I hit the many administrative walls which sent me from one bureaucratic booth to another. In the end I managed to get approval for the “placement of contemporary artworks”. The ambiguity of the term “contemporary art”, which continuously represents a conundrum for government officials and university professors alike, allowed me to hide the fact that I was actually going to once again exhibit Lenin in the square. After a fierce struggle I received, in January 2010, the first approval for the placement of my work Ciocan vs. Ulyanov, thanks to the vision and imagination of Tudor Toma, General Secretary of Bucharest City Hall. Tudor Toma became the first supporter of this project, was present at every board meeting that followed – and there were several – who showed a real interest towards contemporary art. This first authorization was granted for only 24 hours. It was the first victory for Proiect 1990, followed by another 19. When Bogdan Rață´s HandGun, with the highest record of seven months on the pedestal, was moved to the Bucharest National Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest’s General Mayor Sorin Oprescu expressed his regrets for its absence and for not being able to turn Proiect 1990 into something permanent, because of the existing Government Ordinance.
At the unveiling of Ciocan vs. Ulyanov I said goodbye to the former pedestal with a garland of red carnations, inaugurating the new one with white doves, borrowed from the symbolism of communist propaganda. I inaugurated the ugly Lenin, “Ciocan vs. Ulyanov”, made from colivă-polystyrene (colivă – boiled wheat, traditionally seen as ritual food) and 3 meters shorter than the original made by Boris Caragea, on January 26th 2010, on Ceaușescu’s birthday, accompanied by the yelling of an old man: “Who is this Ciocan woman?! To hell with that communist! Go and learn some history!”
The history of the sculpture began in 1956, after Boris Caragea won the contests which were organized with the purpose of creating a monument dedicated to V.I. Lenin. After receiving the official order, Boris Caragea began to work. “For a long time I had been meaning to dedicate a monument to Lenin. (…) In time, in a period of study, after careful consideration, I reached the conclusion that Lenin’s monument would have to reflect a few of his most important traits: his fearless thinking, his confidence as a great thinker, an exceptional man of politics who looks at everything with foresight from the height of his ideological position.” (Boris Caragea, The Lenin Monument, Plastic Art Magazine nr. 2, the year VII, 1960, p.3) Without any financial obstacles or electoral delays, the final prototype for Caragea’s Lenin was presented at the State Exhibition of Visual Art in 1959, together with the statues Dr. Petru Groza by Romul (Romulus) Ladea, “Vasile Roaită” by Dorio Lazăr and many others. The monument designed by the architect Horia Maicu (together with Iulian Nămescu for the study of its systematization and with Nicolae Cucu for the blueprints of the pedestal) as a 6.46 meter tall bronze sculpture, made by Boris Caragea to be seen from Kiseleff Road whilst having Spark House as its backdrop, was unveiled on the celebration of 90 years since the birth of Lenin, on April 21st 1960, in the presence of Gheorghe Gheorghiu Dej and a young Nicolae Ceaușescu. ”The 5.25 meter tall pedestal harmoniously completes the subtle equilibrium of the monument (…). Set on a platform floored in Bampotoc stone and with borders made of andesite from Baia Mare, the pedestal will be surrounded on three sides by a flowery green frame, which will harmonize with the surrounding green space.” [Arh. A. Moisescu, The Monument of V. I. Lenin in Bucharest, Architecture R.P.R magazine, the year VII, nr. 3 (64), 1960, p. 7] said Arh. A. Moisescu.
The Romanian revolution in December 1989 allowed, after a long-lived history of 30 years, that Lenin’s statue and all it represented be taken off the pedestal. On March 3rd 1990, the crowd, helped by the famous Gigi Macaragiu (Gheorghe Gavrilescu; “macaragiu” is a word for crane operator) hanged Lenin and left the pedestal empty. The same crane operator would later take down the neighboring statue from the prototype exhibit of 1959, Romul Ladea’s Dr. Petru Groza.
After the short-lived art work Ciocan vs. Ulyanov, until the 25th of May 2010, once more the pedestal belonged to Caragea’s Lenin, because I couldn’t manage to find appropriate projects for it, or to stir interest in it as a place of exhibition. In the meantime, I received threats in the mail and accusations that I didn’t respect the memory of the victims of the revolution.
The change in mentality – this is no longer Lenin’s pedestal, this is a new space for artists to exhibit their work – happened with the second sculpture was presented on the pedestal, in May 2010: Replacing Lenin by Andrei Ciubotaru. The concert of Argentinian tangos by Astor Piazzolla, held by Ciubotaru’s living sculptures (people who then formed the Romanian Piano Trio: Alexandru Tomescu, Răzvan Suma, Horia Mihail) marked a special moment, a musical voodoo against Lenin. It was a case of Tango vs. Lenin.
The works of the artists I invited to participate in Proiect 1990, specially made for the pedestal, were a critical commentary upon Romania’s post-December 1989 socio-political evolution; managing to give Lenin’s pedestal a new identity.
For four years I received only notices of the project’s temporary function, because Buculei’s work was waiting to be exhibited, and the participant artists assumed the risk that their works, once made, might not be exhibited. The artists’ extraordinary commitment to participate in an art program for a public space, which may or may not exist, in which the pedestal might or might not be demolished the very next day, made the exhibition of twenty artworks possible at Free Press Square in Bucharest, through Proiect 1990 – with complete freedom of expression. .
The incertitude regarding the legality of the project meant a significant decrease in the number of willing financial contributors. The program was able to develop through the financial efforts of the OBOS Foundation, several supporters and the artists involved themselves.
Through The Gaze/ Una Mirada, Mexican artists José Antonio, Vega Macotela and Chantal Peñalosa Navarro, the only international presence in the program, began to document a future absence of the pedestal. Lenin’s place, once there for an eternity, will be taken by another sculpture for another eternity. The pedestal’s demolition is imminent*, and through it we will lose the history of the present, not of the past. The pedestal stopped belonging to Lenin anyway, having been exorcised through the 20 projects.”
*The plinth was demolished on November 27th, 2014.