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Ion Barladeanu

Ion Barladeanu and the Freedom of the Artist Without Fame


The work of this extraordinary artist is just beginning to be known.

Andy Warhol said that in the future, sooner or later, we’ll all have 15 minutes of fame. We’ll all be “stars” in the starry sky of entertainment, distinguished by a faint glow just before we go out. This doesn’t only mean that we’ll all have “our moment of fame.” In this hypothetical Warholian future, one which may well incarnate the celebrity of “liking” and the viral diffusion of today, but such fame will be fleeting and evanescent. Beyond Warhol, there was another artist for whom the Campbell’s Soup can served as a leitmotiv. His work developed, contemporaneously, though far, thousands of miles, from the avant-garde of New York. His name was Ion Barladeanu.

Barladeanu’s fame, rather than fleeting, was merely late. Born in the small town of Zapodeni in Romania in 1946, his vocation was to rebel, and his desire to live outside the system was among the earliest notes to his character. Barladeanu has only recently been able to make his living from painting, thanks to the discovery of his work by curators and at a time when the artist was living in the streets. In his own words, Ion was already an artist, “only that nobody knew me. The only thing that has changed is that now they know me. I like it.”

In his youth, he went through many trades. He was in the army. He worked a gravedigger, and as a security guard, and even within the unqualified personnel under the government of the infamous Nicolae Ceausescu. In addition to his fondness for drawing, Ion had a mania for objects and amateur collecting. The sort of “sacred recycling,” that we see in Max Ernst and Joseph Cornell formed the raw material for many artists in the 20th century. Printed posters, fashion magazines, newspapers, and even official communist propaganda, ended up in Barladeanu’s collages.

Curiously, according to Barladeanu himself, his work is not so much pictorial as cinematographic. An urban legend holds that, at a dinner party, Barladeanu once met actress, Angelina Jolie. He told her he’d worked with some of the best actors and actresses in his films on paper. These included cold war films, in which James Bond was matched against the communist party and models from Western fashion magazines. Hand in hand, they were all challenged in an imaginative and playful territory and confronted the crushing reality – of mass unemployment and a lack of civil liberties, including the severely limited areas of expression and the arts – of the Ceausescu period.

Perhaps the work from the shadows, without the pretense of exhibitions and establishment within an art market, is still due some irreverence and the sense of danger in much of Barladeanu’s work. They’re the impossible film stills that populate the artist’s life. Today, while his work is exhibited all over the world (assimilated as it’s been, into the art market as “pop art” such that his work and Warhol’s will often travel to the same museums), Barladeanu lives in a two-room flat in Bucharest and grants strange interviews. His collection of hats continues to grow, as does his body of work.

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