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©Dacia-Romania Palace

Art Safari is undoubtedly one of the most popular art events in Romania today and has the great merit of having brought art closer to the public and especially to young audiences over the last decade. It is the kind of art event that is able to attract audiences of different ages and professions, who may or may not be familiar with the artistic phenomenon.

Ioana Ciocan, CEO of Art Safari and Romanian commissioner at the Venice Biennale d’Arte, explained, “With this project we want to change people’s relationship with art and win them over. Our mission is to promote the visual arts by offering truly special experiences – a very ambitious goal. The public in our country was not used to such artistic events. The number of visits to museums and art galleries, the consumption of culture in general and art in particular was nothing out of the ordinary.
So we took the opportunity to impress with something completely different! All in all, we offered a great but also different experience: exhibitions with original curatorial concepts, organised according to international standards in collaboration with Romanian museums and private collectors (a first at the time!), but also with museums and galleries abroad. People had the opportunity to see prestigious art, but also to spend their time in a pleasant way.
We explored the city by opening symbolic but forgotten buildings of Bucharest. Finally, we organised night tours with live music and prosecco (the best-selling product) and organised fine culinary experiences on site”.

In the beginning, Art Safari was a pop-up museum that travelled throughout the capital city of Bucharest, to various iconic buildings and places full of history and interesting stories that have yet to be discovered by the general public. The journey started in 2014 at George Enescu Square in the middle of the city and then continued at the Ciclop Garage, where a fully functional garage was transformed into a large-scale exhibition space for art, to the amazement of the public (a great marketing move, I might add).The Victoria Tower or the Kretzulescu Galleries were some of the other famous venues Art Safari used for their culturally brilliant events.

From 2021, Art Safari will be held three years in a row at the same wonderful place on Lipscani Street, the Dacia Palace, a building that was closed to the public for decades. Built more than 120 years ago in the classical Viennese style, the building was once the seat of a bank, then an insurance company or a newspaper office, where the famous Romanian poet Eminescu also worked. The palace is an architectural jewel that has been renovated in recent years and brought back to life in a spectacular way through art.

Art Safari modern art © Edm

We must thank the Ministry of Culture for recognising the importance of Art Safari on a national level, and the Bucharest City Museum for giving us the opportunity to live in this emblematic building (the future seat of the Bucharest Art Gallery) and open it to the public through a cultural partnership.” (Ioana Ciocan, CEO Art Safari)

The number of visitors to the Art Safari exhibitions increased year by year, so there was soon a need to accommodate a larger audience and longer periods of time. What began as a short-term art event expanded into a six-month exhibition that increasingly resembled an art and culture marathon. For the first time in the event’s history, Art Safari 2023 will have three major editions of three months each. “It has become a museum for temporary exhibitions of prestigious Romanian and international art” (Ioana Ciocan).

They have also organised an unexpected exchange of exhibits with other museums in Bucharest (Antipa National Museum of Natural History, Technical Museum, Cotroceni National Museum and Romanian Peasant Museum) and brought prestigious international collections of Dali, Picasso or John Constable to Bucharest in collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London or the National Portrait Gallery.

A person looking at a painting on a blue wallDescription automatically generated
The Man with the Blue Hat’ (1430), by Jan van Eyck (1390-1441).

What was new and important for Art Safari from the very beginning was that art was explained in a way that everyone could understand, both in the exhibition spaces and during the guided tours. The temporary exhibitions always offered something attractive for the public (a new exhibition, installations and events), and the scenography was very special and offered visitors an immersive experience.

Through the great effort of an extremely enthusiastic team, but also through an integrated vision of art, the organisers succeeded in explaining the concept of the Art Safari and attracting more and more visitors to their art world.

Visitors were also invited behind the scenes. Besides the spectacular art on display, there is another, unseen show: all the extraordinary machinery behind the Art Safari. From the set-up of the venue to the transport of the artworks to the storage of the works and their exhibition process. All these details wowed the audience in Bucharest and beyond. Importantly, Art Safari also managed to attract visitors from the capital and the rest of the country as well as foreign tourists, representatives of major galleries, museums and cultural institutions from abroad who chose Bucharest for an artistic city break.

In the ten years of its existence, Art Safari also organised exhibitions in more unconventional places such as the Bucharest metro or Henri Coandă International Airport. All these initiatives have contributed to raising Art Safari’s profile, informing the public and also attracting new visitors. The visitor experience that Art Safari offers has always been an important part of the overall marketing effort. Immersive experiences, installations and new media techniques transform art into an exhibition that is accessible to many, one that all people can understand and enjoy.

In addition, each edition has an entire pavilion dedicated to ‘super-modern’ art created by various artists of the younger generation, which is very popular with the very young audience.

‘Courtyard in Seville’ by Pablo Salinas Teruel

An important aspect of the Art Safari concept is that art must be for everyone, regardless of age or cultural intelligence. Children have not been forgotten. They have their own museum within the whole event. Art Safari Kids is a programme of art workshops and guided tours of the Art Safari exhibitions designed especially for the youngest visitors, combining education and art, making full use of the magnificent artworks on display in the Art Safari pavilions to impress the little ones. This is also one of the reasons why the whole art event is so popular with young people and you always see families visiting together. There is something for everyone.

The Art Safari team has proven over the years that they know how to appeal to the general public, what the younger generation wants and likes and how to make art interesting for the more tech-savvy Generation Z. With a strong Instagram content and presence, the exhibitions are a magnet for those who may never have entered a museum in their lives before and might not have done so under other circumstances.

As another unique attraction in Bucharest, but of course also due to the great success that the famous Night of Museums has in the city every year, Art Safari has decided to offer guided night tours for small groups. They promise to reveal the secrets behind the art exhibitions, told directly by Art Safari guides and curators. These events take place every Friday and Saturday between 10pm and 1am and herald a full repertoire of emotions and a complete experience of a perfect evening in the city, with art, relaxation and complimentary prosecco all rolled into one. I’d say it’s a perfect combination for social media success.

A painting of a person and person in a roomDescription automatically generated with low confidence
‘Flirting with the matador’ by Pablo Salinas Teruel

Today, the Dacia Romania Palace is basically a cultural hotspot in Bucharest where you can spend your time visiting the four Romanian and international art exhibitions currently running, see the immersive installations, visit a bookshop or spend time in the on-site café.

In 2023, the main goal of the 11th edition of Art Safari is to organise a major exhibition dedicated to Ion Theodorescu-Sion (1882-1939), an outstanding figure in Romanian art between the two world wars, who experimented with and combined very different styles, from Impressionism, Pointillism, Divisionism, Post-Impressionism to Realism.

The 2023 edition also achieved the historic feat of presenting five world-famous masterpieces from the Brukenthal National Museum in Sibiu (Romanian city, former European Capital of Culture) for the first time in a temporary exhibition on Romanian soil.

The artworks are considered to be the most valuable works of art in Romania. Among them is the famous painting ‘The Man in the Blue Hat’ (1430) by Jan van Eyck (1390-1441). Jan van Eyck is one of the world’s greatest artists and is often considered the father of the Nordic Renaissance and the first of the great European portrait painters. This is a very valuable and rare work, as only 20 paintings by the Flemish artist are known worldwide, and this is the only one in Romania.

It was acquired in the 18th century by Baron Samuel von Brukenthal and was long thought to be a work by the German painter Albrecht Duerer. The painting is one of a series of paintings by the artist such as ‘The Man with the Red Turban’, which is considered a self-portrait and is in the National Portrait Gallery in London, or ‘The Man with the Ring’, which is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

A person pointing at a painting on a green wallDescription automatically generated with low confidence
Opening of the Art Safari exhibition 2023

The Art Safari 2023 temporary exhibition also featured ‘Ecce Homo’ (1543), the famous painting by Titian which, along with seven other important works was stolen from the Brukenthal Museum in 1968. and which was recovered 30 years later by Interpol. A later version of this painting from 1548 is on display at the Prado Museum in Madrid.

The ‘Brukenthal Exclusive’ paintings had to be specially guarded and transported to Bucharest, as the five works of art have an insurance value of 75 million euros.

Another highlight of Art Safari 2023 was the exhibition ‘Masters of Spanish Painting’. For this, the Spanish Embassy in Bucharest and the Cervantes Institute collaborated with Art Safari to present the Bucharest public with a hundred never-before-exhibited paintings by 34 different Spanish painters. The paintings, which come from various private collections, were collected and brought to Bucharest thanks to the great work of C2C Proyectos Culturales, which curated the exhibition, especially through Ms Helena Cosano, and managed the entire operation and related logistics.

Micaela Ossola Revilla, First Secretary for Consular, Cultural and Administrative Affairs at the Spanish Embassy in Bucharest, told me in a telephone conversation that this art exhibition was the largest exhibition of Spanish painting in Bucharest and ‘the perfect way to introduce Spanish art to the Romanian public’. She also said that this is not the first collaboration with Art Safari and C2C: last year they jointly organised the exhibition ‘Picasso, Falla and the Tricorn’, which revolved around the production of the ballet with the same title. C2C is very active throughout Europe, with several exhibitions in different European capitals as we speak.

Focusing on the 19th century and the rise of Impressionism, the exhibition highlights the career of the great Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (1863 – 1923), who excelled in painting portraits and monumental works with social and historical themes, depicting traditional Spanish life of the time, as well as more exotic subjects from North Africa. Most of his works depict people and landscapes in the sunlight of his native Spain. Using bold pigments and techniques that broke new ground in painting and broke with the established and accepted canon of the time, he combined an impressionistic style of painting with narrative and anecdotal themes

José Antonio Hernéndez Pérez-Solórzano, Spanish ambassador to Romania © basilica.ro

‘On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the death of the Spanish master Sorolla, titled ‘El maestro de la luz’, this exhibition shows the connection between Spanish art and the world.’ (Micaela Ossola Revilla)

“Sorolla captured like no other how the light of the Mediterranean can turn everyday scenes into something special. His fellow Spanish Impressionists, whose works we can also admire in this exhibition “Masters of Spanish Painting”, each portrayed a part of Spain in the late 19th century that helped build the romantic idea of Spain that was prevalent in the 1800s” (José Antonio Hernéndez Pérez-Solórzano, Spanish ambassador to Romania)

This is the third year that the Spanish Embassy has cooperated with Art Safari. The aim is to build even closer relations with the Romanian public, strengthen cultural cooperation and promote cultural exchange between the two countries.

Another important item on the agenda of Art Safari 2023 was the ‘Memory Palace’, a mnemonic art practised since ancient times, based on the memory of places we already know, with which we connect in different ways the new elements we want to memorise. The idea of this memory palace is to show how contemporary artists take up the past to reinterpret it in view of a hopeful future.

The exhibition on the second floor of the Dacia Palace, set up like a labyrinth, presents a selection of eight artists and two duos from the French art scene (from different generations and cultural backgrounds) who have participated in the Marcel Duchamp Prize over the last fifteen years. The multi-award-winning Romanian artist Mircea Cantor, who won the Marcel Duchamp Prize in 2011, was also among those celebrated at the event.

Ioana Ciocan, CEO Art Safari and Romanian commissioner at the Venice Biennale d’Arte © Adi Bulboacă

After presenting a major exhibition in partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for the first time in Eastern Europe in 2022, Art Safari is honoured to present the French contemporary art scene through the Marcel Duchamp Prize, a reminder of the close cultural ties and ongoing artistic dialogue between France and Romania’, said Ioana Ciocan at the opening of the exhibition.

For the second part of 2023, Art Safari is planning two new high-profile exhibitions: Love Stories, featuring artworks from the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London, and Bags: Inside Out, an exhibition of iconic bags from the collection of the Royal Victoria and Albert Museum.

Whether it shows Romanian art or internationally renowned works, Art Safari’s mission is to create a dialogue between all the actors involved in the cultural phenomenon: Museums, artists, curators, art collectors and national and international cultural institutions, so that art lovers can embark on a fascinating journey. It is also, as Ioana Ciocan points out, about cultural diplomacy, because all the international exhibitions organised by Art Safari benefit from the support of the embassies and cultural institutes of the respective countries in Romania.

Art Safari is a celebration of art, a powerful product that has brilliantly managed to adapt its offer to the demand and audience of the 21st century. The organisers deserve credit for bringing art closer to the people and making it understandable and interesting for everyone.

alexandra.paucescu@europe-diplomatic.eu

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