A stepping stone for the art scene in Romania

Conversation with Demetra Arapu, the managing director of MoBU - International Art Fair of Bucharest

Madara Enzele

arts and business development manager

Interview Jun 21, 2023
Demetra Arapu. Photo by Catalin Soto

Conversation with Demetra Arapu, the managing director of MoBU - International Art Fair of Bucharest

Madara Enzele: A few weeks have passed since the end of the first edition of MoBU. How do you feel? What has been the feedback so far? 

Demetra Arapu: I keep getting positive feedback and reviews, and I'm very happy for that! For our team, being there every day… it's sometimes hard to see the fair from an outsider's perspective. We have a new exhibition at the gallery (Gallery Kulterra), and we had a lot of exhibitors from MoBU coming in, and they said they already miss the MoBU experience. And you know, there were moments when we were questioning if holding the fair for 10 days won't be too long… Madara, you and I, we also had the same talk, and you said that it might be a bit crazy to do it for 10 days. And yet, in the end it turned out to be the biggest asset of it. 

M: Really? Why? What was the exhibitor's perspective on it? 

D: Because of the networking. If you hold the fair for three, four days, then everything is happening in such a short time, you have to arrange and dismantle everything…  While for us during these 10 days - you also had time to step back for a second, have a coffee with your co-workers, other gallerists, visitors and actually build relationships. 

M: Since you already mentioned Kulterra - you are not only the managing director of MoBU, but also Gallery Kulterra. What was the story for you: from running a gallery to coming to a decision of creating an art fair? 

D: Actually, for me it all started with MoBU. The previous director was leaving, so somebody needed to fill the position, and I joined the team. When I started working for the gallery, we were already brainstorming about MoBU, so I have to say that from the very beginning MoBU was my main focus.  

M: Am I not mistaken that before 2023 there was no international art fair in Romania? I can imagine that creating the fair came with its share of obstacles. 

D: Yes, that's right. About the obstacles - for me the biggest challenge was the sponsorships. Probably for my other colleagues, it would be a different answer, but for me, that was the biggest challenge. It wasn't necessarily the collaboration with artists or galleries - we didn't encounter many issues or difficulties with them. But the administrative part of the project, especially fundraising, was quite tough.

This fair doesn't exist on air or love. We do love it and want it to grow, but to do so it needs power, which is money.

And you know, sometimes I see all of this money being put into random projects, and it's hard. Culture should be supported. 

M: Absolutely, especially since MoBU was not just an art fair. One of the highlights of the fair was the grand retrospective of the master Daniel Spoerri. What was the story of this exhibition and his participation at the fair? I had a short conversation with Spoerri's gallerist and friend Thomas Levy, and he mentioned that this is certainly not the first time when a retrospective of this scale in Spoerri's birth country has been presented to them as an idea, but this was the first time that someone was actually persistent enough to make it work.

D: Actually, it was easy. Really! They believed. We were thinking about the complexity of the fair, wanted to add something extra special. When thinking about an artist to invite, there was another idea we tried - Adrian Ghenie. He's a Romanian artist that holds records for the biggest sales, records over records. This didn't work out though, so we continued to brainstorm and thought about inviting Daniel Spoerri. From this on everything went smoothly. We collaborated closely with Barbara Räderscheidt, his manager. We flew there twice - once to Austria and once to Germany, everything was done together. The architectural plan of the exhibition, work selection - everything. Barbara has represented Spoerri for many, many years now, and you can really see the trust in the relationship. This is also the case with Thomas Levy, who you also met. He has been working with Daniel for years. When Thomas left he went directly to Vienna to show Daniel the pictures from the fair. 

M: And I really felt that Spoerri's retrospective at the fair was a remarkable representation of a significant milestone in the Romanian art scene. Tell me more about the Romanian art market as it is now. 

D: Actually when sharing the idea of MoBU multiple times I heard something along the lines of “But don't you think there's a good reason why there are no art fairs in Romania? There is no market, there is no money, no people to buy art.” They thought we're insane for doing this. But we have to push through that. What I do think is that Romanians don't buy enough of Romanian art. This is not based on any statistic, but I feel Romanians prefer to invest in international art.

The Romanian art market is at the very beginning, to say it in a delicate way. People who collect art can't be very young in age because they don't have the means. And the collectors who are middle age and older - when they were growing up they had a very specific type of art around them. If you ask me, there's a lack of interest about contemporary art.

I see how they prefer more traditional, more academic art. And this was one of the goals for our fair - to bring something fresh. But there is also something beautiful in the position we are currently at. You have to start somewhere. Yes, this is not Paris or Berlin, but I believe that it is possible to develop interest, develop taste, you just have to be curious. And attending such events like MoBU, it can be a stepping stone. I hope for it to be a stepping stone. 

M: Will MoBU be a stepping stone also for next year? What are your future plans for the event?

D: Yes, next year MoBU will return! We are still working on the dates, but it will happen. 

M: Cheers to that! And while looking towards the future: what would be your wish to the art market in Romania? 

D: To invest. And for the public: to trust and educate their eye. Sometimes we think too much about the financial worth of art. I am very passionate about art, and I won't buy a piece simply because in 30 years' time it will be worth a lot. So go for the art that resonates, for the art that brings up a feeling. 

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