We are visiting the Tiny Griffon art gallery in Nürnberg and having a conversation with Cristina Simion, the gallery owner and curator of the exhibitions. The gallery has recently moved into a smaller place, one that allows, as the gallery owner says, more flexibility and feels cozier for the visitors.
Our gallery was recently reorganized and transformed, at least from a legal standpoint, from a commercial gallery to a non-profit gallery that benefits society (the German term is gemeinnützige). This means there is no pressure anymore to make a profit from our activities since it is very difficult to make a profit in general from culture, and art in particular. The passion still remains in offering all those interested a better knowledge of art and culture originating from Eastern Europe, and more specifically from Romania, and the opportunity to promote artists with Romanian roots or with an artistic interest in Romania, sometimes in cooperation with artists from other parts of Europe, or German artists from here, i.e., Nuremberg. When we organize joint events with German artists we have the chance to attract a public otherwise not interested in Romanian art.
We also discovered that when we organize an event in a public place, the audience tends to be larger that what we previously had at the gallery with regular hours of operation. Perhaps the reason is people don’t necessarily come for an exhibition and discover the exhibition by chance. If they are interested in it, and bring friends and acquaintances along, they feel more relaxed viewing the exhibition in a non-commercial space, such as a museum, a public gallery or a church. When they go to a commercial gallery, the pressure to buy is probably higher and they might have reservations thinking they are being seen as potential clients.
We recently had a grand exhibition at the Gustav-Adolf-Gedächtniskirche, a very large church here in Nuremberg, of an art photographer from Berlin, Jürgen van Buer, who is professor at Humboldt University. The exhibition was dedicated to fortified churches in Transylvania. The event was part of a series called Vesperkirchen, with the most important part was that the church was open to everyone during the day for forty days. Lunch was served for the token amount of one euro to all people experiencing financial difficulties. Since it took place during the winter, I believe it greatly helped people in need, although it wasn’t just for them, some people came out of curiosity, or maybe the chance to have a warm meal for just one euro. Other people came for the associated art shows: concerts, recitals, theatre plays or even our exhibition. All events were not-for-profit, donation only, in order to support the social program. A large volunteer network worked on preparing and serving the meals. The logistic effort is complex as it involves many sponsors, including the City Hall. This type of event attracts more visitors than we previously had at the gallery. Now we can receive less visitors at our gallery since we work by invitation only or by appointment only and are not open to the public. The ones who make appointments are truly interested in the work of the artist or the subject on display.
We currently have an exhibition called Daily Reveries, which was transferred from a gallery in Leipzig and then from here will travel on to Istanbul along with some larger art pieces that were not on display here, to the Romanian Cultural Institute. The theme of the exhibition by artist Anamaria Avram is coffee as an ambassador of destiny, which is a highly interesting concept.
Before this, we had a different exhibition of the same art photographer, Jürgen van Buer, which was pictures of the city of Brașov and called Corona – die Stadt im Östen (Corona, the Latin name of Brașov, city of the East). Many people who came were not only interested in photography, they also had roots in Brașov, and were looking for familiar buildings, spaces, and cherished corners from their childhood and youth. So we had a lot of people from Brașov, more or less interested in photography as art, but who really just wanted to see the photographs of Brașov. We also had visitors who were passionate about photography, and appreciated the finer details in Jürgen van Buer’s black and white photography, and ended up purchasing prints. But many just liked the subject and came for the sake of their Brașov-related memories.
How were the photographs of the fortified churches displayed at the Gustav-Adolf-Gedächtniskirche received by visitors of the exhibition unfamiliar with Romania?
It was an extraordinary opportunity to introduce Transylvania as a tourist destination. There were three guided presentations, two lead by the other curator of the exhibition, Josef Balazs, who actually initiated the project, and one by Jürgen van Buer, who came from Berlin for this very purpose. They were very well received, and at the end of one of the presentations, we had at least two people who wanted to mention they intend on going to Transylvania. One of them even had an offer from a travel agency for a tour in Romania. She told us our exhibition persuaded her to sign up for the tour.
We created a positive image for Romania and Transylvania as tourist destinations, but at the same time it was a good occasion for many people to learn things they did not know. For example, many of the fortified churches in Transylvania were built shortly after protestantism emerged. The number, and there are over a hundred of them, is also impressive. The correspondence between Martin Luther and Johannes Honterus, and the significance of Honterus for protestants in the Transylvanian region, remain largely unknown in Germany. Many subjects were discussed while looking at Jürgen van Buer’s photographs: some dealt with religion, geography, or more specifically, with the history of christianity in Europe, some just with general knowledge. I enjoyed the fact that people showed interest, and asked questions, beginning with mundane questions about certain things that seemed strange. For example, they asked about the pantries that each family kept in chambers located in the wall of the fortified church, and their purpose, and asked questions about old objects without a corresponding function or utility nowadays, from spindles or spinners to looms. They also posed philosophical questions, which were addressed by both Mr. van Buer and Mr. Balasz with quick-wittedness and patience.
Before moving to Germany you had a successful career in the publishing industry. What lead you to opening an art gallery?
My decision was lead by passion, the least advisable way. In general, when starting a business, one needs to be well informed regarding the economic risk and other factors. I have to admit, I wasn’t that well informed. People who make decisions out of passion probably ignore most of the risk factors anyway. From the beginning, I planned out my activity as a passion, not as a business, and I gained friends and attention from a lot of people. Even though I cannot say that the gallery took off as a business, I think it found a way to be sustainable in the long-term. Continuity is the most important thing. It’s important for the local community, who is interested in art and culture coming from Romania, as well as for modern art lovers, who enjoy seeing interesting things regardless of their origin, and for the local authorities, who are interested in supporting important artistic events, regardless of where the artist originates from. I enjoy promoting not only visual artists, but other cultural activities as well. I promoted artists that played music at the gallery, and organized round tables and conferences. I myself had a presentation at the City Library of Nuremberg in a series of readings called Gast und Buch. I read from Peggy Guggenheim’s autobiography, about her relationship with Constantin Brâncuși and with Victor Brauner, and realized that people were very interested.
At the moment, I am one of the protagonists of an itinerant exhibition, Objects in Exile, born from a series of articles featuring this theme as was published in the magazine Dacia literară (Literary Dacia). The exhibition was introduced during the Days of Literature and Translation at Chur, Switzerland, and will be on display in Paris in September. The series of articles that started this exhibition features interviews with people who left Romania at different times. The theme was the objects they are connected with, from objects they took with them when they left, to their definition of home, which is a personal one for each of them. The “exiled” objects were not just the objects we took from Romania, from our childhood, youth, our past, but also the objects that surround us today.
“I think artists have an extra sense, one that makes them see the world in a different way, and the translation of their vision into art enriches us all.”
Your passion for art, the one that set you on this adventure with the gallery, is it an old one from your childhood? Do you have artists in your family?
We don’t have artists in our family, but we’ve always been interested in art. My father especially is more interested in the artists themselves rather than art, or maybe I say this in a way that seems undeservedly derogatory, because our taste in art is very different. For many years he organized art camps in Romania, and I was thus able to become acquainted with many artists. Apart from this, I started collecting contemporary art rather early, with modest aspirations, and, just as importantly, I’ve always liked reading about art and artists. I have always thought that artists must have an extremely interesting life and most of them in fact did, regardless of whether we’re referring to their external or “just” internal life. Maybe from the outside their life doesn’t seem unusual, but their ardent feelings and perception of the world are extraordinary. We notice this perception in their artwork. “If you could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint,” said Edward Hopper. And I think artists always view the world in an exceptional way. Always. And I am not referring only to successful artists or famous artists, but to all artists. I think artists have an extra sense, one that makes them see the world in a different way, and the translation of their vision into art enriches us all.
Regarding the objects you brought over from Romania when you moved here, what have you chosen to keep close to you?
In addition to personal items, I also chose objects with a sentimental value. I had, and still have, the luxury of keeping a pied-à-terre, as French say, a “home” in Romania, which is my parents’ house in Iași, thus there was no pressure to choose or be too selective about what I take with me or not, what I’m allowed to take, or what I have to bring. I had no limitations, and I continue to enjoy the freedom of moving things from “home” to “home,” that is, to move some things I have in Germany back to Romania, or to bring things from Romania here to Germany. For me “home” is both there and here, and having this privilege, I’m not under pressure to be very selective.
Can you tell us more about past exhibitions organized at the gallery?
I recently participated in a competition for a European program and counted how many exhibitions I had organized. In three and a half years I had almost fifty exhibitions. It’s a large number and I wasn’t expecting fifty, I had thought maybe over thirty, or close to forty, but in fact, I had about fifty exhibitions in my gallery and other locations, most of them in Nuremberg. I also organized exhibitions in Bucharest, Chișinău, Brussels, Rome, Bayreuth, Schmericon, Berlin and Munich. Quite a few places indeed. This year, I’ll have two exhibitions in Brașov, at the Multicultural center of Transylvania University. This is the first time we are organizing an exhibition in Brașov, and we are glad to be able to add new places every year.
All of our exhibitions have been diverse: paintings and sculptures oftentimes combined with graphic works of art, mix media, art installations, photography, but most exhibitions were paintings or graphic works of art. I’ve represented Romanian contemporary artists, or artists of Romanian origin. Michael Lassel, for example, with whom I had three exhibitions in Nuremberg, Munich, and the Romanian Cultural Institute in Berlin. Michael Lassel has roots in Romania and was raised there, studied at the University of the Arts in Romania, but he is ethnic German and has been living in Germany for 35 years.
Ursula Krauss, who had her first personal exhibition at our gallery, was born in Romania, but left with her parents when she was very young, and from an artistic standpoint, I cannot say that she belongs to Romanian culture. It’s just a sentimental connection, since Romania is her birthplace. Gabriela Bodin has been living in Italy for many years now and became known as an Italian artist. Her roots are in Romania though, and she’s kept her Romanian citizenship.
Christian Hamsea became a German citizen a long time ago, but kept dual citizenship, and his artistic education is German. He belongs equally to the Romanian and German cultural worlds. Horia Vancu graduated from the University of Arts in Bucharest, and comes from a family that contributed a lot to Romanian culture although he is a German artist and member of the Bavarian Artist Union whose works have good market value. He became established as an artist in Germany, but was educated in Romania. His latest exhibition was a biennale in Arad, and he gladly participates in Romanian art shows.
As you can see, the palette of artists I represent or collaborate with is very wide. They aren’t only artists who were born, received their education or lived in Romania. Anamaria Avram, the artist currently exhibited, lives in Leipzig. The next artists, Melita Biber-Nuță and Doru Nuță, live in Nuremberg. She comes from Serbia and he is from Romania. You see, it’s all very diverse.
Jürgen van Buer is not Romanian, but the subject of his exhibitions has a connection with Romania. The same is true for another German artist, Gabriele Rottweiler, who had an art show in Munich. She created a series of art prints showing large cities of the world, among them, Bucharest. The Bucharest series was
shown in Munich, at the Consulate General of Romania. She is not Romanian, but the subject connects her to Romania. We also had German artists that had no connection with Romania, either cultural or subject-related, but nevertheless resonated very well with Romanian artists, and so we created dual exhibitions. I would like to organize more such shows, because it appeals to a wider audience, and I wouldn’t want it limited only to Romanians, Germans with Romanian roots, and people who are interested in Romanian art.
Can you give us a few more names of artists who had exhibitions at the Tiny Griffon Gallery?
There are several very interesting artists who had exhibitions here: Sorin Purcaru, sculptor and graphic artist, who had a show here and another in Bayreuth through our gallery, as well as another one in Brussels (a group show), and one in Chișinău. Constantin Tofan, painter and professor at the University of Arts in Iaşi had two shows, one during the Romanian Festival in Nuremberg, but also in Bayreuth and Schmerikon. Marcel Lupșe, Gabriela Drânceanu, sculptor and graphic artist, Rudolf Kocsis, sculptor and professor at the University of Arts in Timișoara, Ștefan Pelmuș, Felix Aftene, who received the latest painting category award of the Romanian Visual Artist Union.
Vasile Tolan is one of the artists whose work was much appreciated by the local audience, people used to the abstract expression in art who enjoy colors. His exhibition included older works, alongside a new series in a strong chromatic range.
I have mentioned only a few names, but there are many artists who came from Romania to have art shows here.
You have a long list of collaborations…
It’s not that long. With some artists I collaborated several times, with others only once. This was a time of searching, which is normal for a gallery still in its beginnings. I tried to limit the list to artists with whom I resonated, not just with their art, but also on a personal level. I think the relationship between artist and gallery owner is very important, sometimes there is a synergy and other times it’s missing, as always in human relationships. I continue to have respect for artists I don’t resonate with, for their art and their personality, and I am grateful to all of them for allowing me to be a part of their world, albeit briefly. Sometimes I was sad to see that my efforts were not appreciated, but don’t we all go through this, at least occasionally?
Changing the subject a little, what were the things that pleasantly surprised you after you moved to Germany?
Regarding the gallery, I was surprised by the attitude of the German authorities. I did receive support from the City Hall in Nuremberg, and we collaborated many times, and each time it was a good experience. I received no such support from the Romanian authorities (and I applied for several projects). The local German authorities are clearly very open, and I’m not talking about the state or federal level, since I never collaborated with state or federal officials. However, at local level there is a great deal of openness for multiculturalism, authentic art, Romanian art, and perhaps we also benefit from the fact that Nuremberg is a sister city of Brașov, a Romanian city with rich cultural traditions, so we had the chance to organize beautiful events, I would say memorable, if the word doesn’t sound too pretentious. I was pleasantly surprised as I definitely did not see it coming.
Beyond the experience with German authorities, another pleasant surprise was working with different local associations and non-profit organizations in Nuremberg such as the Romanian-German Friendship Association “Romanima,” which offered support for many projects, “Haus der Heimat,” an organization which helps Germans who have arrived from beyond the borders of Germany, especially from Eastern Europe, and the “Verband der Siebenbürger Sachsen.” I was pleasantly surprised to see how active all of these organizations are, how well they promote Romanian culture and the culture of the Saxons from Romania, and how much they value not only preserving, but also revitalizing tradition.
As noted by Elena Richard.
Translated from the Romanian by Elena and Paul Richard.
Top photo: Anamaria Avram, Daily Reveries, installation.
Photos: Elena Richard
Filed Under: Culture, Romanians Abroad, Film & Visual Arts, Across the Globe, fortified churches, Cristina Simion, Transylvania, sculptor, Gabriela Bodin, Anamaria Avram, Constantin Tofan, Doru Nuță, Vasile Tolan, Melita Biber-Nuță, Horia Vancu, Jürgen van Buer, pictor, Brașov, Nürnberg, Romanian art, Nuremberg, Christian Hamsea, painter, Michael Lassel, Tiny Griffon