Vanity and Preciousness

Atelier Patru (Workshop Four) is a small and discreet artist-run space, opened in Cluj-Napoca, that doubles as a studio for four artists – Anca Badea, Cristina Coza-Damian, Laura Prața and Corina Oprea – and an exhibition space that hosts solo shows for young, predominantly Cluj based artists that are at the beginning of their career.

The last show that I had the pleasure of visiting, Et Omnia Vanitas, was Mihai Nuțu’s, a young artist that is relatively unknown to the general public, but manages to put on an electric shows whenever he decides to exhibit new works. He is known in the local art scene and he comes off as a picturesque, magnetic character, always present at show openings and cultural events – he is extraordinarily critical and analytical. Vanity seems to be the common denominator for everything he ever does. It is a trait that he is well aware of and this often shows in his work. The concept for his show is the famous quote Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas (Vanity of vanities, all is vanity).

Although he majored in painting at the University of Art and Design with a portfolio filled with paintings, Mihai Nuțu is more interested in objects and installations and he is extremely creative when it comes to combining materials, reconfiguring volumes and giving meaning. He gets intimate with the matter, or with the “core of things” as he likes to call it, and he makes up objects that go beyond the perceptive limits, pushing the viewer to question the piece both technically and conceptually. The objects in this show have a certain preciousness to them that chromatically centers on black and gold; this highlights the concept of Vanitas. The pieces are made of various materials: wood, plastic, glass, leather, fur, ceramics, metal, organic materials. Each piece in the show represents a symbol of human vanity – they all seem to be in a visually pertinent and exciting dialogue due to the way they were formally and spatially set in the gallery. Although the show is mostly conceptual, I was impressed by its plasticity, by how spectacular it was, the artist definitely operating with a minimal language. The works are not all together ready-made – they were tampered with and reconfigured in a personal way.

Each work was carefully thought through, both formally and idealy, each representing a vanity chosen by the artist. The way everything was conceived turns the whole ensemble into an installation unit that harmoniously articulates within the space. The bullet symbolizes suicide, self-euthanasia and the vanity to grant yourself the right to deliberately choose your own death. The bullet is strategically placed near the mirror which represents narcissism, confronting your own self, your darkness, aspects that presently have an absurd value lacking any depth – thus becoming a wide-spread type of vanity even on social networks. The ball surrounded by fur hanging by a thread suggests the fragility of virginity which can be easily lost/cut at any time.  The ashtray, the spoon and the lid on fur talk about the pleasure of savoring food or other vices – a presentation of domestic micro-vanities. The ram skull is an expression of the baroque era that signifies both abundance and war – a subtle hint at the political and social instabilities of present day. The fur box symbolically describes the vagina as a tomb, while the eggs refer to the beginning, to Brâncuși’s Origin of the world. The stability of the table is compromised by the fact that it only has three legs instead of the usual four. The church is a sort of golden “prison” (this is how some people, especially atheist, formally perceive the church), its combination of materials (wood with plastic and golden leaf) suggesting the meaningless of things. The oval frame with black leather and the gemstone finally becomes a mute mirror for a pact; the artist revealed that this piece was visually inspired by the movie “Devil’s advocate”.

Mihai Nuțu is both visceral and cerebral, alternating between the two according to the current vanity and state of mind. This exhibition is surprising due to its versatility and, dare I say it, originality for using trivial yet precious objects. The trivial objects become precious and the precious become trivial, it all depends on the kind of context the artist chooses. Et Omnia Vanitas is turning out to be a standalone installation, unitary and well put together, shaping the sensitive yet strong effort of a troubled young man who is always searching for the new and the absolute. For him, pushing the boundaries is an endless game and always a challenge.


Et Omnia Vanitas was at Atelier Patru in Cluj between 26 February – 2 March 2015.


Ada Muntean

Ada is a Graduate of University of Art and Design in Cluj-Napoca and has a PhD in Visual Arts (2019), conceiving a research thesis entitled "The Human Body as Image and Instrument in Contemporary Art....

Comments are closed here.