The Separation: A February Story with Blacklisting, Longing for a Biennale and the Unbearable Weight of Belonging
On January 30th, 2014, Nicolaus Schafhausen, the appointed curator of the Bucharest Biennale 6 (BB6), released a public statement that he was withdrawing from the project, stating that : “The curatorial direction of BB6 developed in a direction inconsistent with that of PAVILION – the local organisers in the Romanian capital, Bucharest.” (Răzvan Ion & Eugen Rădescu, are the co-directors of BB6 and the co-directors of PAVILION)
Schafhausen had been appointed in the summer of 2012 and had attended the previous edition of the biennale (BB5) which opened in May 2012 in Bucharest. This current project was to be organised in close cooperation and collaboration with Kunsthalle Wien in Austria, and significant symposia in both Vienna and Bucharest had been planned. Schafhausen also stated that he contacted several sponsors to fund and support BB6, based on the curatorial direction and the theme of “Longing and Belonging.” This theme was to include international artists born in Romania. The curator and his concept had been also officially announced by the organizers of the biennale who supported it.
However, after a year and a half of work, the partnership between PAVILION and Schafhausen /Kunsthalle Wien fell apart, the curator citing that “irreconcilable differences” had emerged, so that “the curator and his partners cannot in good faith continue to support BB6 and PAVILION, and consequently must terminate any further commitments.”
Upon hearing the news, which was announced only via an official statement of withdrawal on the website of Kunsthalle Wien, the artistic community in Romania was left with a series of unanswered questions as to what exactly the “irreconcilable differences” were and in general, the details behind the dissolving of the partnership. In a public note, Raluca Voinea, a curator based in Bucharest, wrote: “I think this decision has a negative impact upon the entire scene in Bucharest, which will be again judged as unserious and unprofessional. I don’t believe he was not warned what he’s getting himself into and he had enough time to figure it out in the meantime. [..] he was not to curate the Vienna biennale but the one in Bucharest, so I expected at least an open letter with explanations if not a press conference addressed to the professional community in Bucharest.” Voinea’s note received many comments from local artists, critics, curators, and gallerists. Artist Cristina David had this to add: “[…] I don’t think as you do, that the entire art scene of Bucharest will be judged as unserious, I do hope that the team of BB6 will be the one that supports the consequences. […] I think people should not do compromises of getting along with all kinds of irregularities, because then they also give credit to the ones that don’t deserve it (BB6 people)”. Mircea Nicolae, artist, also remarked: “Personally, I do not think BB6 internal organisational problems have anything to do with others than Pavilion people themselves. What they have been doing for a while now is well known and publicly available, not in the least on the ArtLeaks page. To start with, maybe we can lay the blame where it belongs, and leave it there for a while. […] I do not believe that the invited curator should have just accepted the problems, even if they menaced to completely alter the project. For one, it seems that Pavilion has a blacklist of local artists. So if you want to work with the local scene you have to make your way around that list, if you can. If the list is extensive and maybe even goes to the point of being exhaustive of the local scene, there might be a problem.”
Right before the announcement of Schafhausen’s withdrawal, PAVILION had published in their newsletter a list of spaces in Romania who they claimed to be in cooperation with: “MNAC Bucharest, Atelier Zerotreizerodoizerodoi, Anaid Art Gallery, Galeriile Artmark, Zorzini Gallery, Andreiana Mihail, Galeria Plan B, Mircea Vulcanescu (Alert Studio), Victoria ArtCenter, Revista ARTA, Revista Zeppelin, Noaptea Alba a Galeriilor, Comunitatea Reforma, Anca Poterasu Gallery, Club-Electroputere Craiova-Bucuresti, Facultatea de Istorie – Universitatea din Bucureşti, Facultatea de Ştiinţe Politice, Administrative şi ale Comunicării, UBB Cluj, Universitatea Nationala de Arte, Universitatea de Arte “George Enescu” Iasi , Facultatea de Stiinte Politice, Universitatea din Bucuresti and many more.” They ended with “A great Biennale is on the way.”
Their next newsletter, after the curator’s statement of withdrawal, announced the “the end of cooperation with Nicolaus Schafhausen, due to incompatibilities and [a] conceptual approach that could generate a reputational risk”. They concluded that the biennial must be implemented in “an ethical manner”. They further called a press conference for Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 to announce the new curator and the concept of BB6 at their space in Bucharest.
On February 3rd, ArtLeaks members in Bucharest spoke with Schafhausen, presenting him with all these facts and statements, and asking him to give a more detailed explanation as to the end of his curatorship. The curator stated that the matter was very complex, and that the prospect of organising the biennale was very attractive to him in the beginning. He added that he wanted to focus on Romania, as here he observed that there was a total withdrawal from the state to support and fund contemporary art projects, and that organisations like PAVILION had been struggling with this lack of resources for a long time. The curator added that it seemed to him very interesting at the time to look into this very diverse and rich artistic community. However, he could not reconcile his concept, which was to focus on Romanian-international artists working abroad, with the demands of the organisers who pushed that international artists from Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K. be part of the selection, so that they would be able to receive funding from foreign foundations, or consulates. He found this pressure extremely uncomfortable, but he declared that he continued on board the project because Răzvan Ion, the co-director of the biennale agreed to back off at the end of November. (this announcement was never made public).
Nevertheless, Schafhausen found the aggressive, demanding tone of the co-directors of the Biennale uncomfortable and grew mistrustful of the partnership and of PAVILION. Schafhausen also disclosed that he had received a list of no-go / black list of artists, spaces and curators, who the PAVILION co-directors told him they strongly do not want to work with in Romania. He also found problematic the aforementioned announcement stating the cooperation between the biennale and the spaces above, which came as a total surprise to him. He stated that he never received any clarification from their side about this announcement, although he asked for one on behalf of himself and his partners. All this made the curator realise that he could not trust the space and continue to work on the biennale in good faith.
The email with the infamous black list was dated November 19th 2013 and was sent to Schafhausen and his colleagues, Rainald Schumacher and Nathalie Hoyos and contained the following list of names, with the mention “please take it in consideration seriously.”
Candidatul Președinție/Presidential Candidate (Florin Flueraș and the gang)
Galeria Sabot (all of them)
Galeria Plan B (all of them)
Vasile Ernu/Critic Atac
Maria Rus Bojan
University of Arts Cluj (all professors there)
Melodramatic Reseach Bureau
It is worth mentioning that part of the names on this list are ArtLeaks co-founders who in 2011 wrote a protest letter criticising PAVILION in very direct terms. The letter can be read here, as well as the response from the institution.
On February 5th 2014, at the announced BB6 press conference, the co-directors, Răzvan Ion and Eugen Rădescu appointed a pair of young curators, Gergő Horváth and Ștefan Voicu (aged 21 and 25 respectively) to organise the biennale, whose new concept is to be: “Apprehension: Understanding Through Fear of Understanding.” Members of the local press and the artistic community questioned the co-organizers about the reasons why the collaboration with Schafhausen ended. The event was recorded and the debates in Romanian from the conference can be listened to online here. Ion declared that the ending of the partnership with the curator happened “naturally” because of problems related to the fact that his team did not respect deadlines and were conceptually inconsistent, although the PAVILION side was always ready to implement the biennale. During the conference critic Iulia Popovici confronted the co-organizers with the infamous black list of artists, critics, curators, reading it out-loud. As a response Ion and Rădescu declared that while they respect Schafhausen, they doubted that the email was correct or ever existed, and that it may have been modified or that it was pure speculation. Ion added that he was ready to give Popovici a moral lesson, and that she should produce the email in court, to which she responded that she didn’t have to prove anything in court, since this was not a trial, but a press conference where people could ask questions openly. (As previously mentioned, ArtLeaks obtained the email sent to Schafhausen and his colleagues).
Răzvan Ion ended this line of questioning comparing their falling out with Schafhausen with a divorce between two entities. He added that he is confident that they will be ready to produce the biennale even in the short span of 3 months with the new curators. In the Feburary 5th PAVILION press release it had been announced that some of the artists participating in this edition were: Erwin Wurm (AT), Chiara Fumai (IT), János Sugár (HU), Adrian Dan (RO), Dan Beudean (RO), Matei Arnăutu (RO), Zoltán Béla (RO). Bucharest art gallery owner Marian Ivan, also present at the conference, asked what kind of research the new curators did for the project, or if a research indeed existed, and Gergő Horváth stated: “When we did the research [for the biennale] we also researched the local scene and it seemed to us that these artists so much inspired us conceptually, and that they also made sense as a concept with what we came up with.”
Meanwhile, Andreiana Mihail, the owner of the gallery that was among the announced BB6 collaborators, had this to comment on her Facebook page: “I want to be clear: I didn’t sign any partnership/ cooperation with PAVILION, BB123456 or any institutions connected with this event. I just spoke about having some biennale leaflets around in case I will have an exhibition during that time. I don’t want to be mentioned in the context of BB or argue with anyone about my so-called affiliation with this event.”
The story is developing. We welcome further public statements and comments from the artistic community.