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Adrian Ghenie

How one painter’s dark vision exploded the art scene in Transylvania

In ten years following his first solo exhibition in Cluj in 2006, painter Adrian Ghenie, born in Baia Mare in 1977, has quickly evolved from “Transylvanian rising star” to taking first place in Artnet’s ranking of best-selling artists from across the world.


Adrian Ghenie photographed in his studio in Cluj, Romania. Image: Ghenie Studios

Ghenie’s canvases are recognisable for their palpable texture — created using a technique that involves applying paints with dramatic brushstrokes using a house painter’s brush or a pallette-knife. Beyond wanting to create a heavily layered surface, Ghenie explores the textures of history exposing the darkest hours of the 20th century. For the 56th Venice Biennale, for example, he presented an exhibition of paintings dedicated to Charles Darwin, drawing connections between his theory of natural selection and the horrific exploits of the Nazis.

In 2016, his work The Sunflowers in 1937 — a homage to a lost painting from Vincent van Gogh’s iconic Sunflowers series, thought to be destroyed by the Nazi — sold for £3,177,000 at Sotherby’s in London. It was an impressive record for the artist until a few months later, when an earlier work entitled Nickelodeon sold for £6.2 million.

Adrian Ghenie, Pie Fight Study (2013). Image: Tom Barratt / Pace Gallery

Yet record-breaking sales have never been Ghenie’s only achievements. Besides his own work, Ghenie has helped launch the careers of several Romanian artists on the global art scene. In 2005, together with Romanian curator Mihai Pop, he co-founded http://www.plan-b.ro in Cluj — an exhibition space and research centre of Romanian art of the last fifty years — with a second site opened in Berlin in 2008.http://www.plan-b.ro

Alongside Ghenie, the “Cluj School” of artists includes the likes of Marius Berea, Victor Man, Istvan Laszlo and Ciprian Mueran among others. Their distinctively dark collective oeuvre is informed by the experience of growing up under the repressive reign of Nicolae Ceaušescu and the years following the fall of Communism, and it’s this peculiar, pragmatic style that’s attracted more international curators, art collectors and journalists to the heart of Transylvania than to Romania’s capital of Bucharest.


Text: Liza Premiyak

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