It is not what the artist does that counts, but what he is. Cézanne would never have interested me if he had lived and thought like Jacques-Émile Blanche, even if the apple he had painted had been ten times more beautiful. What interests us is the anxiety of Cézanne, the teaching of Cézanne- in short the inner drama of the man. The rest is false. -Pablo Picasso
To say that the paintings of Romanian artist Simon Cantemir Hausì are interesting is to say nothing at all. Not because they aren’t, but because the word “interesting” reveals nothing when used in the context of art (please, don’t ever use it if you want to say something relevant about a work of art in question). So if I were to describe the current collection of his paintings hanging on the walls of Barbara Thumm Galerie in Berlin, I would instead use words like intriguing, engrossing, engaging even, perhaps absorbing, and also compelling–nevermind the fact that all of these are adjectives for “interesting.” Yet his works are also frustrating.
What’s in a Title?
My frustration arose when, after being genuinely intrigued, engrossed, engaged, absorbed, and compelled by the paintings, and seeking to expand my understanding of Hausì and this work, I was immediately deflected by the title of his exhibition: “What Do You See?”
[Paragraph break needed for a momentary sigh]
You see, there appears to be a trend in the art world that dictates artists must be politically correct at all times. Which is to say that what an artist creates–but most importantly what he/she says–must be sensible enough not to offend social or institutional ideologies. This inclination to be politically correct tends to force artists to stay away from being explicit about their intentions and the true motives behind their work, amongst other reservations. We notice this trend whenever we read an artist statement that mentions something around the lines of, “It means whatever the viewer wants it to mean,” or “The work is certainly up to interpretation,” or exhibition titles like “What do you see?”
What I See
It is easier to understand this notion on occasions when an artist is clearly attempting to hide the shortcomings of his/her work under the cloak of mystery, as if wanting to make the work hold more depth than it is actually capable of carrying. However, what happens when a work of art appears to you, the viewer, as having much more depth than what the artist responsible is even willing to acknowledge? This is the crux of my issue with Hausì’s exhibition title. But before any more questions are asked and conclusions drawn, let me take you on a little visual tour of his work in the hopes that you see what I see:
“Backyard Camping” by Simon Cantemir Hausì at Barbara Thumm Galerie. Photo Chris Phillips
Resting on the left wall of the gallery is one of the largest paintings in the exhibition. Without reading the title or knowing any external information, I begin to watch the two men squatting in front of the red tent that they’re setting up and I ponder on their disposition. Where are they spending the night and who are these men? A touch of aqua-green offers a possible explanation by highlighting the point of their attention: the final tent-stake penetrating the ground–a possible symbol of their commitment. Are these men friends? Do they love each other? The warmth of the red-colored tent that will protect them from the chill of the night seems to point in that direction. The moon, the only other witness and my accomplice, winks at me from above. “You’re right,” she seems to tell me, “Whatever you think it means, you’re right.”