As far as 60-ies and 70-ies, the years behind the Iron Curtain, are concerned when being subjective was considered to be a political statement, when the authentic civic expression was that of the predicative body in movement, therefore, engaged in a visual display, the global artistic exhibit could stand for a vector of impact triggered by the approach itself. As far as contemporary art history is concerned, Paul Neagu’s work will be talked about or presented in a retrospective but under de sign of urgent recuperation and active research. This is the very explicit purpose of the present Paul Neagu exhibition, What if He Was Right?, that triggered the intention to build a visual discourse, perhaps illustrative, around “A-Cross” (1983) by relying on the other works as well as on the bibliographical body owned by Allegra Nomad Gallery, but, however, this approach happily turned out to intricately recall a zone of mathematical reunion of Paul Neagu’s works that belonged to a wide span of time (1966-2004), works that up to now lingered in the sanitary demi-shade of private collections.
The exhibition has therefore come into being as several distinct sections; its purpose fully exposed, i.e. that of creating a radicular patchwork, thus betraying the nostalgia of an all-encompassing exhibition, yet always aware of the utopian alluvial deposit of such a curatorial approach. Nevertheless, the core of the exhibition is represented by an anthology of original works, concentrated around the sculptural construction A-Cross (1983), flanked by the emphasis put on the textualistic dimension of Paul Neagu’s work – the volume of poems “The Great Sand Galls / Marele Clepsidru” (2004) is being exhibited by itself – on the one hand, and the placing of the same work in a hyperlink with the works of the three artists that left traces in the visual discourse of the author, i.e. Joseph Beuys, Horia Bernea and Ion Bitzan, on the other hand.
This is why an exhibition route such as the present one, governed by the intention of recovery and research, will not do without an applied study and working shop in relation to Paul Neagu’s work. Our display intended to present, although in subduction, the multi-layering and partitioning that characterized Paul Neagu’s artistic exploits for quite a while. Not aiming to be a legitimate hyphen the exhibition additionally reiterates that geometric voluptuousness, that poetry of the always post-Pythagoras material, that climax level where the trigonometric calculus turns malleable, while the disobeying force of the tornado gets a knife-precision. A situation only apparently paradoxical since as the title of the exhibition suggests Paul Neagu might have been right.
Richard Demarco meets Paul Neagu and Horia Bernea in Ion Bitzan’s studio during his first trip to Bucharest, back in 1968, and he immediately gets connected to the main western aesthetic directions of the time: an Eastern-European short-circuit of minimalism and conceptual art, Arte Povera and American abstract expressionism, Fluxus and post-avant-gardism or neo-avant-garde. Anish Kapoor and Anthony Gromley, Paul Neagu’s later students, recall his meeting with Joseph Beuys. The two meet in 1976 at ICA and they got into a dialogue, it was clear none took to the other; they did not share the same weltanschauung, Anish Kapoor recalls.
The reason of this ostentatious silence between the two is not hard to fathom. At the time Paul Neagu reached, or, rather immigrated to the most-dreamed-of West Europe was just rediscovering the democratizing of art. The Dada creed, stating that art should be done by all, was just reaffirmed by the new post-modern artistic movements with a gusto that this time was somewhat more politically spiced. The institution of the author and his signature went second, once again making place for the group, the artistic alliance, while art as a unique object little by little was being replaced by the collective action and the participative art, where the audience and the artist turned into a collective author. Paul Neagu, on the other hand, came from a cultural context where the collective art and the participative involvement of masses had become a state policy, becoming one with the official direction of the propaganda carried out by the unique party of the Communist Romania. During those years, in the Eastern Europe, behind the Iron Curtain, an authentic and engaged political attitude of the artistic approach eventually translated into a controlled exhaustion of subjectivity. Not a post-romantic, proustian-freudian one, mind you, of endless fathoming of the auctorial subliminal and unconscious depths, but one of the civic subject who – as noted by Giorgio Agamben at the beginning of the ’90 – possesses a body, a sex, a blood group and a specific ethnic membership, placed under the sign of fragmentation and nondetermination.
This is the cultural background that still haunts Paul Neagu in Edinburgh, where he opens his first “western” exhibitions in Richard Demarco’s gallery; this is the ghost that will follow him as far as London, the city that adopts him as an immigrant artist, a fresh product of a voluntary uprooting, draped in the conceptual language of his former philosophical studies. Some years later he was to become a professor at the Royal College of Art, but up to that point the artist’s researches circle around most varied forms of expression, from the traditional drawing, draft, painting, engraving and silkscreen to the sculptural and tactile object, poetry and laborious performance. From this perspective, Paul Neagu’s artistic endeavor comes, without many a doubt, closer to the conceptual phalanx of the Viennese actionist group, rather than to the pure and tough western conceptualism. The same work, A-Cross (1983), neither sculpture nor object, comes close to the haptic sculptures of a Franz West, for instance.
This could be the reason why he founds the Generative Art Group (GAG) in 1972, alongside Philip Honeysuckle, Husney Belmood, Anton Paidola and Edward Larsocchi, a group which in fact is formed by fictitious / invented artists, true alter-egos of the artist, their function being no other than to formally decant the expression media of the real Paul Neagu. Among them there is a poet, the one that as early as 1966 creates his first poems, while his last one appears in 2004, the year of the artist’s demise. It is obvious that the fictitious group created by Paul Neagu subscribed to the same fight with the self in an effort to understand the collective artistic endeavors that were sweeping over Europe at the time, when the idea / concept of group were again gaining weight.
Obviously, many of the East-European artists left behind quite an impressive amount of texts, more or less poetical, yet holding a real documentary and historical value for the art they practiced. However, the poems signed by Paul Neagu, gathered under the title „The Great Sand Glass” (2004) – a syntagma that still echoes the ghost of the “great glass” created by Marcel Duchamp – transgresses this dimension of the ephemerid having a strictly documentary value and stoically holds its own against the literary interpretation. Tackled with the instruments of the literary critique, Paul Neagu’s poems reveal a poetic ideology that turns to be extremely coherent and valid, especially as against the East-European literature or the Romanian ’60-’80, if you will, reaching a poetic result that the local literary Postmodernism was to get to no earlier than by the end of the ’80, beginning of the ’90.
The sound and image in recorded movement, the video image left untackled by the artist’s preoccupations, and yet, by merely watching the video recordings of the performances created by Paul Neagu we can easily guess the tendency his work might have taken. A sound, tribal most probably, somehow ritualistic, yet mathematically exact and carrying a lot of sampling. A video, not at all impossible, might have endlessly explored the means to magnify or minimise the image, a frenzy of zoom-in and zoom-out, that would have resulted in an overwhelming map-making of the same aesthetics of the fragment or of the controlled chaos and of the entropy triggered only to be emaciated by artistic means.
Clearly the exhibition did not aim at narrating all these, showing examples, artistic samples; it rather constituted itself as a reunion of artistic segments, in a work as vast as dissipated in public or private collections. Put together from private collections exclusively, our endeavour – circumscribed, as I said, to that global effort of recapturing and map-making which is yet to complete – describes a thematic spiral among the lesser seen works of the artist, bringing to light what Marcel Mauss put in a nutshell sometime in the middle of the XX century through the notion of gift economy. Paul Neagu. What if He Was Right? brings together, among the walls of the same space, art as a gift of an artist who turned to be quite generous with people and history.
Text publicat în catalogul expoziției omonime, „Paul Neagu. What if He Was Right?”, artist: Paul Neagu, artiști cooptați: Joseph Beuys, Ion Bitzan, Horia Bernea, 14 – 28 martie 2014, Allegra Nomad Gallery, Locație: Galeria UNArte, București, RO.