Contemporary art in Cluj-Napoca, Romania

There’s a fascinating contemporary art scene in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

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When I was looking for things to do in Cluj before my trip there, I found all kinds of small galleries, art spaces and cultural projects that seemed intriguing.

It was a nice surprise to discover that the city had such creative, artistic vibes.

I found that a few years ago, Cluj was included on a list called 12 cities that will shake up the art world in the 21st century, so I was looking forward to exploring all the art spaces there.

However, I only had a couple of days to spend in the city. I’m used to slow travel and taking my time getting to know each city, but int this instance, for various reasons, I only came for a short visit.

That’s why I decided to make the most of my time by taking a guided tour of the contemporary art scene in Cluj.

A quick search led me to ArtCrawl, the only art-themed tour in Cluj, and I booked a place on the tour.

Taking a guided art tour in Cluj was a brilliant idea

Having a local guide show me around the Cluj art scene turned out to be a wise decision for quite a few reasons.

Our guide explained right at the beginning of the tour that there are a lot of active artists in Cluj, but the art scene isn’t as accessible as we might like it to be for visitors.

There isn’t enough information in English about the exhibitions (I also noticed that when I was planning my trip); marketing resources aren’t always available; some galleries are closed for the summer, or there may be misleading info online about their opening hours (I noticed that too…plus some galleries hadn’t updated their Facebook pages for months, so it wasn’t even clear if they were still active); in some galleries you have to make an appointment to see the exhibitions.

In other words, too many obstacles… a guided tour is a good way to make the art accessible and my life easier.

I’m pretty sure now that if I’d had to plan a day or two of gallery hopping myself I would have felt quite clueless.

It’s always a good idea to let a local guide show you around their own city. I always prefer to see a place through the eyes of a local and get some insider tips.

The ArtCrawl tour guide is not just a local with an interest in art, but a cultural project manager with an education in the history of art. She knows the city and the local galleries well. She also knows gallery owners and some of the artists personally.

Contemporary art spaces we visited on the Cluj tour

I took the tour at the beginning of September with two other visitors to Cluj.

The tour is personalised, so you can express your specific interests if you like.

A day before, I sent our guide, Helga, a quick message to tell her about my interest in contemporary art, design and crafts.

Helga planned a tour for the three of us that included two galleries, one piece in a museum and a ceramics workshop.

We met in the main square (Piața Unirii) and after a short introduction, headed to our first stop: The White Cuib gallery.

That’s cuib, not cube, and it’s a word play; cuib is Romanian for nest.

It’s a tiny gallery in the centre of Cluj with a focus on contemporary art.

We met the gallery owner who gave us some background about the current exhibition and about the artist. It was a series of paintings by a Romanian artist and the exhibition text was in English as well as Romanian.

She selects and features different kinds of art forms, including installations and photography.

Our next stop was a bit of a hidden gem – a contemporary artwork inside the History Museum. It’s so well hidden that even the locals hardly know about it…

We moved on to a gallery called Matca, run by a group of local artists. You’d normally  need an appointment to view it, but as it’s a part of the tour, Helga took care of that.

It’s also quite hidden and I’m pretty sure I’d never have discovered it myself.

The gallery has two rooms and is quite big for an art space of its kind.

We spent a long time viewing the group exhibition and discussing the pieces. There was a lot to see and a lot to discuss.

Do you know how your standard museum tour is often more like an academic lecture? Helga’s approach in this gallery was very different.

She invited us to interpret the artworks ourselves, so it was totally up to us to take part and come up with our own ideas.

The three of us were fully engaged in this. Helga would sometimes give us hints in the form of the work title or some information that she knew about the artist.

At the end of our visit, each of us picked a piece or two that left a mark or stood out in particular for us.

I really liked the idea of not being just a passive participant on the tour, but actually getting involved and thinking about the ideas behind the art.

It was a very enjoyable and intellectually stimulating afternoon. If you’re visiting Cluj and are into art, I definitely recommend this tour. You can book the ArtCrawl tour here.

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