Guest curated by Francesca Popescu Ife
Romanian Cultural Institute
200 East 38th Street, New York City, NY 10016
October 5 – November 10, 2023
You might be aware of the Romanian Cultural Institute on East 38th Street and the art gallery on the second floor named for the groundbreaking Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi. But, if you aren’t, it is worth your time to check out the current show of Romanian-American artists, titled Between Dreams and Realities: A Journey Through Painting and Sculpture, guest curated by Francesca Popescu Ife founder of FPI Art Initiative. The exhibition features the work of Ana Popescu, Irina Alimanestianu, Leonard Ursachi, Mitzura Salgian, and Radu Serban. After being buzzed into the building, one enters the ground floor of the RCI and is met by a colorful painting of a New York street scene by Radu Serban and a large sculpture by Leonard Ursachi. The sculpture, in the form of an exclamation point without the dot, blends ancient and modern aesthetics. The form is covered with square white tiles, the type that were ubiquitous in 1950-60s American bathrooms. Breaking through the tile is a portrait painted in the style of a Byzantine fresco. It is as if an ancient fresco was discovered behind your bathroom wall.
Upstairs is the newly created Brancusi Gallery. The gallery was created by converting office spaces into a gallery in 2020. Between Dreams and Realities is the second iteration of the annual Salon of Romanian-American artists that “aims to showcase the creative vitality of the Romanian-American artistic community.” A large painting by Irina Alimanestianu greets one as you enter the gallery. It is composed of six sheets of full-size watercolor paper. Each sheet is colorfully painted in greens, blues, and reds in spontaneous brush strokes, displaying Alimanestianu’s mark-making prowess. Subtly blended colors are contrasted with vigorous brush marks and splatters, combining to make a pleasing and playful composition. Alimanestianu works intuitively, believing her work bubbles up from the primordial soup of the collective unconscious. She titles the works after they are completed by what she sees in them; this prominent piece is titled Rooster Sings.
Mitzura Salgian, a Romanian-Armenian artist living in Queens, creates what she calls “Poetic Surrealism” paintings, several of which highlight the show. The most enigmatic, titled The Reward, is framed in a specially designed tree-like wood frame. On the right side of the painting is a figure covered in a bark-like texture wearing a golden rosette award ribbon and a blue and green crown. To the left is a flat woodgrain form with a wine bottle-shaped cutout. Inside the cutout is a silver chalice with what appears to be a glowing Eucharist rising from it. The painting has many references to wine and winemaking, including stunningly rendered grapes and grape leaves, a wine bottle with a leafy texture, and a corkscrew encased in another bottle-like form. In the distance is a city rendered in a purple haze. In the tradition of surrealist masters such as Salvador Dali, the meaning of the painting is dream-like and undecipherable. Many of Salgian’s paintings contain incredibly rendered still life elements, the technical virtuosity I have not seen matched in other than Northern Renaissance Dutch still life paintings.
Other highlights include sculptures by Leonard Ursachi. You may know Ursachi’s work if you have recently visited Dumbo. His monumental Fat Boy sculpture is on the corner of York and Pearl Streets in Brooklyn. The show features two small versions of the Fat Boy sculpture, one gilded and one not. In the province Ursachi grew up in Romania, the landscape was dotted with bunkers built during the Communist era. The bunkers were constructed with openings known as embrasures from which soldiers could shoot. The Fat Boy series has embrasures built into the foreheads of their cupid-like heads. The sculpture takes its name from the names of the atomic bombs that the U.S. dropped on Japan during World War II, Little Boy, and Fat Man. The cherub’s smiling face contrasts sharply with the somber reference of its title. Another sculpture by Ursachi is a turquoise-blue and gold egg-shaped form of the earth, reminding us of the fragility of life on the planet.
Ana Popescu explores the subconscious tensions between her lived experience as an immigrant from revolution-era Romania and her youth spent in “sunny” Miami, exhibiting both three-dimensional and two-dimensional works. Her striking sculptural ceramic pieces are gestural in their form, and their glaze application gives an air of expressionistic spontaneity. Popescu says her work is “a push and pull between synthetic and organic, the boundaries between meticulous methods and un-calculated spontaneity.”
Radu Serban, an architect by trade, is also an avid painter living in Tappan in the Hudson River Valley just north of NYC. Serban travels back and forth between his home and the city, painting local scenes in brightly colored “new post-impressionistic images.” The show is an eclectic blend of artistic styles by artists united by their cultural identity, thoughtfully curated and arranged by Francesca Popescu Ife. If you haven’t yet visited the Brancusi Gallery at RCI, now is the time.
Between Dreams & Realities continues at the Romanian Cultural Institute through November 10th.