july - november 17 / 2009

Mind the corners (unexhibited)

Intervention in the gallery space. Black vertical lines, 0,5 cm wide, 2 m tall, painted in the corners of the exhibition room and then painted over again, with white color. To be installed in the exhibition room where the collection for a future museum of young Romanian art will be placed.


In the Romanian wall painting practice of apartment blocks there is a tradition that consists of painting a line (or more) in the area where the walls meet the ceiling. At first, that line (or painted wooden ruler) had a practical motivation. It delimited surfaces painted in different colors, using different materials.

[Backlash - a narrow space between two buildings or between two parts of the same building, in order to permit their relative movement under the action of interior forces or temperature variations.]

However, in time the practical aspect disappeared, and the line became only a regular occurrence connected to a common aesthetic preference.

Sebastian Big - 2009


Above you can find a piece by Sebastian Big. I never exhibited it. I should have placed it inside the exhibition space of the New Gallery of the Romanian Cultural Institute in Venice, Italy - and then show it for the whole duration of my project (July - November 17 / 2009).

In the beginning, it was basically a text describing an intervention in the gallery space. It consisted of black, vertical lines that should have been drawn in the corners of the exhibition.

However, I did not agree with this form of the work. I do have aesthetic prejudice and I consider the white cube to be important. This was so even if I had read some of the literature against it, and even if in reality I was not working with a white cube. There was also another limitation I could do nothing about. The residency contract stated that I was not allowed to paint the walls or alter the room in any way.

A certain compromise was reached when Sebastian Big agreed to change the statement. He would declare the black, vertical lines were painted - and then hidden under another layer of white paint. This is how an intervention piece turned into an imaginary conceptual work, making itself visible only in the mental space of the viewer.

I then came to Venice and started to produce the shows. Because this piece was only a piece of paper - the explanation text - I thought it would be easy to place it in the exhibition at any time. And I was wrong. The exhibitions I had chosen to show had nothing to do with this intervention. In fact, as this work was a frame for the whole exhibition, it had an ambition to contain everything else in the space.

All the shows were produced by myself, without any help. There was quite a lot of work to do. I was also depressed, in the clinical sense of the word. In my mind, anxiety was related to more practical things - such as finding a good position for the works, and creating a good display with the means at hand.

There were also more intellectual things to take care of - like writing the statement for the exhibitions. But that was relatively easy, as I knew the works and enjoyed to write about them.

However, there was no time in my mind to mind the corners. Until I left, I had some flashbacks of this work I had to show. At a given point, I really thought about a place where I could glue the statement of the intervention. It really had no place in that exhibition. The wall where I usually pasted the statement for the one-week exhibitions was in a way dedicated only to that thing.

In time, preoccupied with more urgent matters, I completely forgot about this piece.

This is no doubt one of my failures as a curator. Solving the placement of a work, or having the courage to refuse it in the first place, was something that I needed to do in a timely manner.

Also, I had promised that on my return home I would exhibit all the works already presented in Venice within an institution called the Museum of Young Art. I had an idea I never materialized - to show all the pieces for three hours in a venue in Bucharest, and call it a temporary museum. This never happened, as I did not have any money to do so.

The institutions I contacted in order to get a space to show did not even bother to refuse. This was another failure, as an entrepreneur. I expected too much, in an unrealistic manner - and could do very little in the end.

The overall meaning of the intervention also bothered me greatly. The work was extremely critical. If someone is familiar with decorations within a Romanian apartment building, one will no doubt realize that the work intended to place all the objects in the exhibition within a kitsch frame.

Just being there, inside the space meant that - you are devoid of practical meaning, and that you are only a regular occurrence connected to a common aesthetic preference - which has nothing original or singular in itself.

Going beyond aesthetics, it actually passed judgment on the very existence of anything placed within its limits - which blended conveniently with the physical limits of the room. If one would not mind the corners and avoid being a form without a content, the piece materialized into a harsh and negative judgment of value.

I understood this very malicious intent from the beginning, but as I was fascinated by the idea, I did not take a decision about it. This was not a reason to dismiss it, and it is actually why I chose it in the first place. But in fact, it was very difficult to deal with.

I was familiar with critical works - even my project in Venice was critical of the very institution I was working with - but this piece was placing me on the other side of the line. To a certain extent, I really felt threatened by the implications of the work, because it contained an implicit, corrosive criticism of my project and of the objects displayed.

In the end, this further expanded my skepticism. However, I did not exhibit it, nor did I explicitly give it up, after taking a final decision about it.

In the month of March 2010 I met the artist in Cluj, Romania. After an initial conversation about all things artistic, he pointed out that I should have paid more attention to his work. I knew he was right and I apologized. The evening continued in an exaggerated manner that made me feel uneasy, but I felt I was guilty and I tried to accept the situation.

To me it was quite clear how he must have felt, and that I did him wrong. Just before that meeting, I had a similar experience in the month of January 2010. A local biennial rejected one of my works in similar circumstances, using motivations that were very hard to take for the truth.

As I had accepted it in the first place, this work was always there, whether I wanted it or not.

I apologize to Sebastian Big for not minding his corners.

Mircea Nicolae - 2010