2 February 2024

On the majestic Unirii square of Timisoara, a strange figure, the huge eye, appeared. It is displayed on the facade of the Museum of Fine Arts, signaling the first retrospective of Victor Brauner (1903-1966) in Romania. The return to the country of the child prodigy? The most esoteric of surrealist painters has never returned to his native land since his departure in 1938. Here he is welcomed in majesty, opening the festivities of the European Capital of Culture 2023. On this occasion, the baroque palace was makeover. Two million euros to bring it up to international museum standards. In September, he will welcome the country’s other child, Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957, pronounced “Brancoush”).

But would Brauner have been happy with this fanfare comeback? ” Not so sure, admits, with a smile, the French curator Camille Morando, who has been working on her work for twenty years. This exhibition is a real challenge, and also a repair. » Founder of the avant-garde in Bucharest, the Jewish artist left his country twice: in the mid-1920s, he went to Paris with André Breton’s gang. The Romanian press has just described its first exhibition as “fruit of a dark strangeness” : “the art of a madman”. He then paints “desert landscapes where humanity seems in danger, a world in decomposition”describes the curator, a figure of the Center Pompidou.

In 1935, he returned to Bucharest. The fascists of the Iron Guard reign terror, anti-Semitism is at its peak. Return to France in 1938, therefore, that he will never leave. “Yet, despite the heavy history that weighs on his shoulders, despite the three years he spent hidden in a cabin in the Alps, he always pursued his poetic intentions, marvels the commissioner. Geography, he said, is (s)your worst enemy. »

“Very unconventional”

What happened to his fame under the communist dictatorship? In the 1970s, President Ceausescu planned to celebrate the “national genius” : his country is the cradle of planetary talents, he wishes to demonstrate. Brancusi is propelled to the rank of monument by the regime, which underlines his love of local folklore. “The happy union of the peasant from the Carpathians and the artist from Montparnasse”, claims the cliché that the Romanian commissioner Doïna Lemny intends to strip in September.

But Victor Brauner is more difficult to recover, and therefore unknown here, says Camille Morando. His personality is very divisive. Firstly because, from the second trial in Moscow in 1937, this great Marxist abandoned all communist ideas. But also by his artistic posture, very unconventional. » Coming from Canada for the opening, her niece Olga remembers the paintings of Uncle Victor, rolled up in the cellar, behind the charcoal, when she was a child. “It was better not for anyone to know of their existence”remembers the one who became a musicologist.

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