The Strange Art Of The Naïves. The Dr. Puiu Anceanu Collection

Alongside collectors of art works, of minerals, of butterflies, of match-boxes, of vintage automobiles, there appeared, in the early 20th century, collectors of naïve art. Daring, of good taste, discoverers by vocation, they granted civitas rights to a field as old as the hills, most probably, but neglected. Who are the naïve artists? Modest, uneducated people, living mostly in villages and isolated communities. They began to discover themselves, husbandmen or housewives, some in their youth, others at an age that allowed them more spare time, while whitewashing a house or painting a fence, playing with remains of colours. Some got carried away by the game, discovering not only a calling but, more often than not, the justification of an existence that, socially speaking, had failed in offering satisfaction. As long as they did it for sheer pleasure fun they where truly in the sphere of naïve art. Once they were discovered by critics or amateurs, thus receiving suggestions or coming across new models to copy, they perverted their talent and, as a consequence, passed from being naïve artists to amateurs, many a time mediocre. In our century (the 20th century) a lot was written about naïve art; some people even wrote histories of naïve art, which is a nonsense. The particularity of naïve art consists in that every "artist" discovers painting, practices it during his lifetime and with him ends a chapter. Only plastic artists start by taking over the experience of their predecessors, then carry it further and eventually add their own experience to that of their precursors. That is why I do not believe there can be any talk about a history of naïve art, but only of juxtaposed chapters. I do believe, however, that naïve art is living its final years. Television, illustrated magazines, etc, making their way to the remotest places, provide models; people are no longer content with looking around or into their imagination. We can now speak, in the majority of cases, of an art in naïve style, practiced by plastic artists and educated people.All the more important was therefore the passion, materialized in a collection, of Dr. Puiu Anceanu. He travelled across the country, met people and, every time he came across objects whose creator showed an unmistakable artistic vocation, collected them. He saw with his own eyes many naïve painters turn amateurs and become engaged in a world of trade by accepting a piece of advice or resorting to images for inspiration. Impressed by the sight of a black cat a naïve artist exaggerates its dimensions in comparison with everything around it, proving thus that his sense of reality is profoundly personal. With the air of those who possess the ultimate truth they change proportions, modify colours, embellish or deform the model, always ready to swear to the correctness of the image. The walls of the Anceanu residence, laden with naïve art, had a special charm. A portrait diminishing under the profusion of details in the room, a still life dominated by the writing on a jar ("Morello cherry jam"), the mixture of reality and vague recollections – folk tales or customs – often comically incomprehensible (Ali Baba represented by a baba ) make one go amused from one painting to the next. Sometimes, however, the artistic qualities attain unexpected refinement. As one knowledgeable of European naïve art I am convinced that an artist like Viorel Cristea or Nita Nicodim can well outshine all the others. Honest, unaltered by the pseudo-culture offered by images (publications, TV) they possess a perfectly tasteful and balanced artistic expression. Viorel Cristea's landscapes have the accuracy, the piety of the man burdened by his fate (he had a heart malformation) who fights death by his work.A collection of high standing, fruit of a passion doubled by a good knowledge of human nature, filtering away imposture, this delightful assortment represents a new kind of collection assembled, I daresay, moments before the alteration of the notion of naïve art.

by Radu Ionescu