Ciprian Muresan

Plague Column #2

2016

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Not on display
Artist
Ciprian Muresan born 1977
Medium
Polyester resin and fibreglass
Dimensions
Object: 2800 x 1000 x 800 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee 2017
Reference
T14912

Summary

Plague Column #2 2016 is a hollow, vertical sculpture made from polyester resin and fibreglass. Measuring nearly three metres in height, the work is displayed directly on the floor and can be viewed from all sides. Its opaque surface is mottled and distressed, revealing hues of red, yellow and brown. From this seemingly chaotic, abstract composition, anatomical fragments and human faces emerge.

Negative plaster moulds, which had lain dormant in the artist’s studio at The Paintbrush Factory, in Cluj, Romania for a number of years, were re-employed by the artist as ‘mother’ moulds for Plague Column #2. Sectional casts were made from these plaster moulds, using polyester resin and fibreglass matting. Once cast, the sections of polyester resin and fibreglass matting were adhered together. The form was built up in layers, using fibreglass as a structure for every layer. The surface colouring is a result of both the way that the resin was mixed in batches with varying proportions of accelerator, and the use of two types of substance, which were used to isolate the casts – one reddish, one yellowish – which detached in some parts from the plaster negative during the casting process and were randomly allowed to adhere to the resin surface by the artist. When reassembling the cast elements, he deliberately merged different elements of the original figurative works together so that, for example, a partial cast of a head is placed near to a foot.

Plague Column #2 was first presented in the artist’s solo exhibition at Galerie Éric Hussenot, Paris in 2017, alongside Plague Column #1 2016 – a similarly created composite sculpture displayed horizontally – which is held in a private collection. The title of both works alludes to the memorial monuments that were created in Central Europe from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, often depicting the images of saints, in gratitude for the end of Plague epidemics. A notable example is the Baroque Pestsäule (Plague Column) in Vienna, commissioned following the Great Plague epidemic there in 1679.

Plague Column #2 relates to the artist’s earlier work Dead Weights 2012, and its subsequent remaking in 2013 in the exhibition The Invisible Clerk in the Feature section of Art Basel. Offered a solo exhibition by the Museum of Art in Cluj, Romania in 2012, Muresan proposed a project that was already ‘displayed’ in his studio: damp engravings being flattened and dried between plywood sheets weighed down by publications on art. The artist adapted the concept of this work for the Museum of Art, selecting twenty-five figurative sculptures from the museum’s collection – including a depiction of the Romanian national hero Mihai the Brave and an iconic socialist worker – as the ‘weights’ for his engravings. These sculptures, which had been created under specific ideological circumstances, both during the socialist realist period in Romania (1948–56) and later under Nicolae Ceau¿escu’s repressive communist regime (1965/7–89), had been long-hidden in the museum’s storage facility. Muresan’s engravings were placed between MDF sheets and the sculptures arranged, seemingly randomly, on top to create roughly equal pressure on each wooden pedestal, in effect ‘producing’ new works. The engravings, never actually seen by viewers of the work, are illustrations of an episode from the story A Bright Personality (Svetlaya Lichnost), written in 1928 by satirical soviet authors ‘Ilf and Petrov’ (Ilya Ilf [1897–1937] and Evgeny Petrov [1903–1942]). The story recounts the misadventures of a monument. Mistakenly thought to be a revolutionary hero, an heroic equestrian statue is erected in honour of the celebrated agronomist Timiriazev. Upon the realisation that Timiriazev was in fact a botanist and scientist, the sculptor replaces the sword with a gigantic iron beetroot. Muresan adopts this same irony towards monumentality and art works in Dead Weights, as he makes visible the sculptures from the museum’s stores and hides his own works.

Following the presentation of Dead Weights at the Museum of Art in Cluj, clay replicas of the original sculptures were made by Muresan with the help of students in the Sculpture Department at the University of Art and Design Cluj, which were then cast and rendered in plaster. These plaster ‘copies of copies’ were exhibited a year later in the Feature section of Art Basel in a solo exhibition entitled The Invisible Clerk 2013, again used as weights to press hidden engravings from the story of the same name. It is the negative mould fragments from this version of Dead Weights that Muresan has repurposed in the anti-heroic monument Plague Column #2.

In Dead Weights, and the related sculptures Plague Column #1 and Plague Column #2, the artist raises questions about how to deal with legacies and artefacts from the past, as well as about obsolescence and the impact that ideology has on culture. Mures¿an has commented:

my work is not connected to history in a classical way. I think a lot about how to negotiate history or deal with heritages and traces of the past. In the catalogues of the Museum’s collections, some periods have been as if purged, for example, Social Realism which disappeared from publications published after the 1990s … even though the works have not been thrown out and are conserved in the reserves. I also like the fact that this Museum [Museum of Art in Cluj] possesses a lot of bronzes and sculptures in stone or wood, but also studies in plaster. Indeed, this is one of the first materials that attracted me.
(Quoted in Marie Maertens, Ciprian Muresan interview, January 2017, http://www.fondationdfguerlain.com/us/intermuresan.html, accessed 24 March 2017.)

The process of making copies from originals and transforming them into other works, shares parallels with Muresan’s conceptual drawing practice, an example of which is All Images from Elaine Sturtevant Book 2014 (Tate T14498). Mures¿an’s traditional art education in Romania, which revolved around copying classical paintings and sculptures from reproductions, has informed his approach to both drawing and sculpture. Writing specifically about Plague Column #2, art historian Riccardo Venturi has commented:

With this work [Plague Column #2], Mures¿an transposed into sculpture a technique he had already employed with drawing, in which he uses reproductions, what he has called ‘low-resolution education, rather than first-hand experiences of artworks’, as a stimulus to reinvention. In his drawings, he appropriates the works of other artists, duplicating the layouts of magazines or art catalogues, focusing his attention on the dialogue between word and image, and superimposing the pages one over another on a single large panel. The result is a palimpsest in which the individual elements are hard to decipher.
(Riccardo Venturi, ‘Ciprian Muresan’, Artforum, February 2017, p.227.)

Further reading
Marius Babias (ed.), Ciprian Muresan, exhibition catalogue, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin 2010.
Mihnea Mircan, ‘Low and Dry’, in Mihaela Lutea (ed.), Ciprian Muresan, Dead Weights, Berlin 2013.
Mihnea Mircan, ‘The Past is a Thickness: A Conversation with Ciprian Muresan’, in Mihai Pop (ed.), Ciprian Muresan Drawings 2015–2004, Ostfildern 2015.

Juliet Bingham
March 2017

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