Promenade of Medgidia
This trend of Romanian ceramics was very well cathered to by the organization, in 1971, of the first Ceramics Symposium in Medgidia (which was repeated until 1977), where outdoor ceramics are held, the artists having the technological possibility to make monumental sculptures, located in a park arranged along the Caras.
The prize of this symposium was a multiple of the famous figure of the Thinker from Hamangia, a small plastic in itself, emphasizing the sculptural approach and at the same time raising ceramics in the field of major art.
The critic Gheorghe Vida, still shortly after establishing this camp, suggests a broader, social direction in which he hopes for the evolution of the ceramics phenomenon:
“Let's get out of the promenade and create an atmosphere. In order to get out of a contemplative mentality, such as the one of sculpture parks, galleries, etc., the character of active intervention requires the formation of complex teams - camps are the most appropriate form of meeting for teamwork - to propose aesthetic remodeling of the environment (urban, industrial, leisure). In this way, the social effects of such actions would undoubtedly increase.”
Pottery in the public space
The contribution of ceramics to the aesthetic remodeling of the ambiance was very extensive, but it is worth mentioning that there were relatively few large artistic ceramics projects. Many of these were wall mosaics, made of industrial tiles, designed not by potters but largely by painters. There was a fairly large industrial production of these tiles that were used for wall coverings for blocks of flats, public buildings, planters, fences, railway stations.
Among the more successful there is Patriciu Mateescu, who in 1974 made an excellent industrial porcelain fountain in front of the Theater in Târgu Mureș. This ensemble is based on a decomposition of the sphere, an important preoccupation in the artist's work. He is also responsible for one of the most beautiful surface decorations, made in 1969 in Galați. This is not a painting of tiles, but a rich relief in texture, design, and enamel.
In 1981, the cover of the 10-11 issue of Arta magazine, dedicated to ceramics, shows the courtyard facade of the Youth Club from Mediaș, whose ceramic decoration was made in 1981 by important potters: Costel Badea, Dumitru Rădulescu and Eugen Cioancă, from tiles and relief from floor tiles. The project, which has a rich iconographic program and includes figurative scenes, shows how by the 9th decade, the possibilities diminished and lost in scope, leading artists such as Costel Badea to receive an order that involved many compromises, primarily regarding the placement of the location of the work on a secondary facade of an old building.
Horia Horșia (1979) writes about this work: “Such a work suggestively highlights the diversity of original qualities of contemporary Romanian ceramics and, especially, the orientation of these qualities, of the artistic approach in general, towards the organic integration of art in social life. ”
Relationship with the industry – ceramics symposia
Another direction of the development of ceramics was represented by the relationship with the industry. Before 1990, there was a rich and diversified ceramic industry in Romania, from sanitary ware, chamotte, to fine porcelain. There was a collaboration between the Union of Fine Artists and the Central of the glass and fine ceramics industry (because there was such a thing), which aimed to exchange knowledge between creative artists and industrial technicians in creative symposia in factories.
This collaboration materialized in creative symposia, which lasted for a month, the artists having the possibility to create new prototypes in the industrial units (Cluj-Napoca, Sighișoara, Alba Iulia, Turda), which would increase the quality and diversity of industrial production.
These symposia were a great opportunity for artists to learn about technology and be able to work in ceramic materials other than clay.Ioana Șetran thus recalls her participation in the symposium at the Iris factory in 1974:
“At one point, I arrived at the porcelain factory in Cluj. It was an agreement signed between it and the Union of Fine Artists, by which we, the young artists, had to work for a while in the porcelain industry and propose prototypes, which, however, they never used. This is always the case. Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, it was an extraordinary period, because I had access to the technology from the factory, and I learned a lot from the craftsmen there. It was a kind of practice what we did there, it lasted about a month, and we worked non-stop for about 15 hours a day, leaving aside all the problems outside the artistic activity [...].”
We know the prototypes that Mircea Spătaru and Ioana Șetran made during the symposium, modern and inventive utilitarian objects, such as kitchen utensils, which would surely have brought beauty to the workers' apartments...
The sorrow of artists and critics is well expressed by the critic Mircea Deac, who even states: "Industrial creation should begin by redesigning the design work, in order to achieve the promotion of aesthetic quality."
This was a continuous expectation of the artistic and critical environment, already signaled in 1970 by Patriciu Mateescu. The problem of ceramics was to enter the design area and as such, to have a direct influence on the industry and thus fulfill a social function.
Looking back, it is a wonder that the extraordinarily grand potentials of creation and that of the functional industry never met, although the ideologues were calling for an increase in the standard of living and in the quality of the environment that they lived in, having existed so little fusion, the creative or even utopic energies of the artist not being engaged by the system. The industry continued to produce the old models of trinkets and woven baskets, and unfortunately, the excellent prototypes made by artists did not revolutionize the Romanian product design. This inertia of taste and petty-bourgeois models will be attacked precisely on the occasion of another symposium at Iris, on which we shall return.
Small plastic niche
In Romanian ceramics, there is a certain restraint as if resembling an allergy to figurativeness. This is partly due to the need to get rid of the tired figurative language of socialist realism, but also due to the fact that the potters wanted to delimit themselves from sculpture, creating objects, while the appearance of the figurative leads to the area of the classical interpretation of sculpture.
However, some potters took on both to work figuratively, and to make sculptures. Small sculptures. In this niche, the Cluj sculptor Benczédi Sándor created a very expressive, stand-alone and original work (thus escaping the pressure of socialist realism), an infinite series of small terracotta figures quickly executed, portraits and scenes with a sense of special characterization and humor. Her daughter, Benczédi Ilona, continues to do terracotta works. The expression becomes more grotesque, the figures being decorated in polychrome, as she is as interested in looking at the individual, human relations, and society as her father.
Eugenia Manea Passima creates an intimate figurative universe in clay, inspired by Neolithic and medieval art. Ioana Șetran establishes the series of "Creatures" in white porcelain, an infinite series of imaginary, semi-vegetable, mini plastic insects that borrow a lot from the aesthetics of porcelain.
The status of these works is very clear; they are identical with themselves, they do not flirt with industrial production or monumental transposition. They are works of art for exposing and enriching the living environment.
The Cluj School
After a first push, punctuated by the mentioned international awards, it seems that towards the middle of the seventies, a stagnation of ceramics is reached. Thus, in her book Romanian Decorative Art, published in 1974, Olga Bușneag writes about a wide production, but still about a decline of ceramics. Therefore, it is not surprising that the emergence of a new generation, and a different approach in ceramics was well received by critics: the launch of the so-called School from Cluj.
An effervescent creative activity is born under the guidance of the young assistants Ana Lupaș and Mircea Spătaru within the ceramics department of the Ion Andreescu Institute of Fine Arts. The two young teachers were already well known as artists. Ana Lupaș imposed herself with extensive textile installations and actions. In his sculptural practice, Mircea Spătaru integrated the use of porcelain. The art of the two emphasizes the artistic process and its conceptualization and special attention to the inherent qualities of the materials used. This conceptual background and the ambition of the two to get involved in launching new generations of artists have created a pedagogical and artistic program, which makes the ceramics school in Cluj to be, to a lesser extent, a ceramics school, and to a greater one, a school of attitude and artistic thinking.
Indeed, if we look at the evolution of the potters launched by this school, only a few of them remained in the discipline of pottery, such as Jakobovits Márta, as many went from making pottery to working with ceramic material in stocks and installations or even giving it up. Alexandru Antik, Miklós Onucsán, Szörtsey Gábor, together with the two young teachers, became prominent representatives of progressive art in Romania.
The Cluj school benefited from the rich “environment” offered by practicing in the largest porcelain production institution in Romania. The industrial processes and aesthetics of porcelain are brought to the fore by these artists and captured according to the principle of ready-made and often reassembled in a postmodernist way.
This school was launched late, around 1978 when the group coordinated by Ana Lupaș and Mircea Spătaru presented itself as Porcelain-Utility-Expression in the Quadrennial of Decorative Arts of Socialist Countries (Erfurt), where it is noted and awarded a diploma of honor. Within the group exhibited: Arina Ailincăi, Alexandru Antik, Teodor Bihari, Egei István (Zu), Miklós Onucsán, Alexandru Rusu, Ion Sumedrea, Szörtsey Gábor and Titu Toncian. The team presented their works in the form of a tile installation, over which the porcelain objects were placed, some practical, but others experimental objects, of expression. Olga Bușneag praised this participation and regretted that the jury did not pay more attention to the Cluj group.
The creative symposium at the Iris Factory in 1979 had the theme of anti-belgelo, thus proposing a theme well-anchored both in the relationship between art and the industry, and attentive to the global concern for kitsch.
Antik's trinkets stand out here, making a caricature of the petty-bourgeois kitsch. It is paradoxically oriented precisely through "decorative" objects against the function of the art of decorating. In the Series of Porcelain Works and Installation, Object Hypotheses (1978-1982), the artist raises the issue of the tension between creation and artifact, paradoxically tending by using porcelain to dematerialize artistic creation. In his case - and this is telling for Cluj ceramics - conceptual art devoured ceramics.
For Cluj artists, porcelain and its technological possibilities (and the opportunity offered by the industry) will therefore be integrated into artistic processes, which do not distinguish between decorative art and "major" art. A last resort of using porcelain in the sense of leaving the discipline of ceramics is represented by the installation that Ana Lupaș presented in 1991 at Artexpo Budapest - large porcelain eyes, and the porcelain sculptures of Mircea Spătaru, who represented Romania at the Biennale from Venice of the same year. These works are made of ceramic, but they are not ceramic.