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MĂIASTRA: A History of Romanian Sculpture in Twenty-Four Parts

Igor Gyalakuthy

Marcel Iancu, Autoportret (Self-Portrait). From Contimporanul issue 25 (6 Jan. 1923): cover

× What was the purpose of your visit to Israel?
+ To conduct research on the village of Ein Hod, an artist commune on the coastal hills near Haifa, built in 1953 by the Romanian artist and architect Marcel Iancu.
× Did anyone help you to pack your luggage?
+ No.
× And your bag has been in your care all morning?
+ Yes.
× And how long was your stay in Israel?
+ Four days.
× Who guided you?
+ I came by myself.
× Do you not think it is suspicious, a man of your age traveling alone in Israel?
+ At my age, everything I do is suspicious.
× And what was the nature of your research in Israel?
+ To view the later work of a major figure of Romanian art history, to better understand the effects of anti-Semitism and the consequent aliyah on the Jewish artists and intellectuals living in Romania in the 20th century, and to track the reach of Romanian art throughout the world.
+ And what did you discover?
× I found seated among the olive trees and desert hills a village made of modest stone where artists and their families live in relative peace.
+ And what is the meaning of art?
× What is the meaning of life?
+ To live according to G-d’s will, and to worship Him.
× Yes, of course.
+ And with whom did you stay during your visit?
× A Mme. Iuster, widow of the late Romanian-Israeli sculptor Tuvia Iuster, a student of Marcel Iancu and the once talisman of the village of Ein Hod.
+ Describe this Yuster.
× A fat-fisted Tolstoyan muzhik, jovial and mischievous. Not an innovator like his mentor Iancu, more of a Brancusi acolyte, but a true “Sculptor,” with a corporeal mastery over stone and wood. [Note: there is a rumor that Iuster served as the model for Boris Caragea’s infamous statue of Lenin, which was torn down during the Romanian Revolution of 1989. See Part I.]
+ And this Janco, who was he?
× A Romanian cubist painter and Constructivist architect from Bucharest, responsible for the creation of the Dada movement in Zurich in 1916, and of Contimporanul in 1922, a literary journal around which the art nebula in Romania swirled. [Note: untangling the narrative thread of the myriad artistic sub-movements in the post-war Romania is a task for another time.] After Zurich, Iancu found inspiration in the chaos of Bucharest and his mind moved from painting to city planning and building.
+ Inspiration in chaos? That is a funny notion.
× “In a city where a hay wagon moving lethargically hinders the way,” wrote Iancu, “a whole borough pulsates, a city where a horse-drawn tram in a ceaseless idiotic derailment shakes traffic wheels for hours, where in bright daylight
street sweepers choke up people in dust,
everything is unpredictable, everything is fortuitous, an accident.” 1


Marcel Iancu, Ein Hod. Oil on canvas, 1954

+ Then why come to Israel? Surely, there is nothing of that here.
× Iancu fled with his family to British Palestine after the pogrom in Bucharest in 1941. The initial impetus was to travel far away from the growing fascist sentiments and anti-Semitic violence, but on arriving in Israel, Iancu saw an opportunity to figure majorly in the construction of a modern state, one free from the chains of insidious histories that were choking the nations of Europe.
+ In what way was he peerless?
× Answer me this: what is it that you care about?
+ My family and my faith.
× What else?
+ My community.
× And your work?
+ …
× Well, what if instead of that ill-hidden ambivalence towards your profession, you were on the contrary filled with love for it.
+ That would be something.
× Exactement! In Dada, there were the Nothings and there were the Somethings. This was the rift between Tzara and Iancu. If Tristan Tzara was the nihilistic enfant terrible, Iancu saw himself more as a uniting father figure. [Note: in this light, the name of the Janco-Dada Museum in Ein Hod feels like a Dadaist pun.] Iancu saw in art a structure around which a community could build itself without the dogma of religion or politics. “Art will once again belong to all, and contact between art and people will never again be infected by any art critic’s discourse, but will always be infused with life by beautiful proportions, by painted cities, and by the social conscience with which the artist will build.” 2
+ But is that not your profession? A critic of art? Is it not your discourse that is the infection?
× I am a historian of art.
+ Same thing.
× Nothing is the same. Things are different, not only from one another, but from the things that came before them and from the things to come.
+ That is not the case in Israel.
× So I noticed.
+ Then is there nothing of Dada in Ein Hod?
× I did see something. In the basement of the Janco-Dada Museum is a playroom called the Dadalab filled with toys, books, costumes, and doodads, where young Jewish children come to draw and doodle, to dress up in costumes, and perform on a stage in the round. This is Dada! Not the sacred white walls of the museum above but the profane, childish absurdity of the cabaret below.
+ But if Ein Hod is a society built on a structure of thought, be it art, religion, or political affiliation, is it not subject to the same tyranny of thought that is generated by any shared ethos?
× Precisely. We end up worshiping the upside-down urinal as an objet when we should be finding a new way to piss into it.
+ But always best to start fresh, as Janco did? To build something beautiful…
× As Iancu wrote: “The beautiful in art is prejudice.”
+ Intelligent?
× “Intelligence is a negative analytic factor…”
+ To build something from nothing, then.
× Nothing? My understanding is that the Ein Hod was built on the ruins of an old Arab village. That its residents were taken prisoner during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 and when released, returned to their village only to find it…
+ Well, there’s never nothing.
× On that, my boy, we agree.
1 Marcel Iancu. “The Bucharest of Accidents.” Contimporanul issue 45, November 1926
2 Marcel Iancu. “Cablegram. The Dialogue between a Dead Bourgeois and the Apostle of New Living.” Punct issue 11, 1925