Serban Savu, author of Romania’s Venice Biennale project: I attempted a look at reality beyond propaganda

Serban Savu, the artist who authored the project “What Work Is”, that will represent Romania at the 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, confessed that, prompted by the title of a poem by Philip Levine, he attempted a look at reality beyond propaganda, through the eyes of the worker, a character hanging “between two systems”.

“‘What Work Is’ is actually the title of a poem by Philip Levine, a great American poet I came in contact with by reading his body of work, and I was immediately fascinated by his poetry. So, the theme of work is an older concern of mine, and in, say, the mid-2000s, I was very interested in researching a bit of pre-’89 art, the official art. And I felt that the matter needs to be more minutely looked into and I delved into the themes approached by the socialist realist art of the time, and transposed them into current actuality. So, I looked a little at the world around me, through the perspective of art history, and inevitably, the theme of the worker appeared as the most meaningful. The worker was the pillar of society, he was the pillar the utopian society was built around,” Savu said at the press conference organized on Wednesday at the National Library in Bucharest and dedicated to the project that will represent Romania at the Venice Biennale.

He explained that, looking at the world around him, he no longer saw “the same heroism and the same pathos evoked by the realistic-socialist images”.

President of the Romanian Cultural Institute (ICR) Liviu Jicman emphasized that Romania has the privilege of two exhibition spaces, one at the National Pavilion in the Giardini della Biennale – which will accommodate the main part of the project – and another one at the Gallery of the ICR Representation in Venice, with a section that references the project. Liviu Jicman emphasized that Romania’s Biennale project very adequately represents the country, as well as ICR’s cultural diplomacy strategy for the period 2022 – 2026.

The event was attended by Ioana Ciocan, the Commissioner for Romania’s participation in this year’s edition of the Venice Art Biennale, Secretary of State with the Ministry of Culture Diana Baciuna, and the Foreign Ministry’s Secretary of State for liaison with the Romanian Cultural Institute and for cultural policies Andrei Novac, who all expressed the support of their respective institutions for the Romanian artists present at “one of the most emblematic international art events”. They acknowledged with satisfaction the cooperation with artists from the Republic of Moldova, in a natural gesture of cultural diplomacy connecting two spaces with common preoccupations.


Romania will be present at the Biennale from April 20 to November 24, with the winning project “What Work Is” by Serban Savu.

Organized by the Culture Ministry, the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Romanian Cultural Institute, the exhibition will be housed by the National Pavilion in the Giardini della Biennale, and the New Gallery of the Romanian Institute of Culture and Humanistic Research in Venice.

Serban Savu’s project “What Work Is”, having Ciprian Muresan as a curator (who in his turn represented Romania at the 57th Venice Biennale), is an intricate reflection of the complex iconography of work and leisure, inspired from historical realism, its ideology and from the Eastern Bloc propaganda art, the organizers say.

At the Romanian Pavilion, Savu’s paintings are put on display “in a vast polyptych populated by disoriented protagonists and lethargic extras, caught in the lull between work and rest; the ensemble is completed by a bench-installation that includes the pedestals of four architectural models decorated with mosaics.”

The Brussels-based graphic design studio Atelier Brenda (Sophie Keij and Nana Esi), which was invited to respond to Serban Savu’s project, proposes a site-specific intervention on the facade and in the lobby of the Romanian Pavilion, their large-scale design message representing “a study of non-ideological propaganda, functioning as an advertisement for a new type of social factory.”

The New Gallery of the Romanian Institute of Culture and Humanistic Research in Venice will be transformed into a mosaic workshop for students of the Iasi and Chisinau art universities, in a continuation of the manufacturing tradition of small Venetian workshops.

“There will be teams of two mosaic artists from each the Iasi Art University and the Art University in Chisinau, who will create over the course of seven months (…) a large-scale mosaic with a relaxing, picnic scene we plan to donate to the city of Chisinau,” said Serban Savu.

Based in Cluj-Napoca, where he lives and works, Serban Savu is interested in the multiple meanings of visible reality, depicting the image of the surrounding world through the filter of art history. His works were exhibited at Centre Pompidou – Paris; Fondazione Nicola Del Roscio – Rome; Rudolfinum Gallery – Prague; Museo Pietro Canonica of Villa Borghese – Rome; the Bucharest National Museum of Contemporary Art; Le Lait Centre D’art Contemporain – Albi; PLATEAU, Samsung Museum of Art – Seoul; Arken Museum of Modern Art Ishoj; Mucsarnok Kunsthalle Budapest.