Sorin Costina Art Private Collection
Sorin Costina’s private collection is illustrative of the visual art that evaded the official aesthetic canons of the communist regime in Romania. The collection is all the more valuable as the artists represented in it, who were marginal in the last two decades of communism, when ideological control became stricter and stricter, received due recognition both nationally and internationally after 1989.
Brad Strada Liceului 8, Romania 335200
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Name of collection
- Sorin Costina Art Collection
Provenance and cultural activities
“The Sorin Costina collection stands out as the most consistent, significant, and representative collection of Romanian art of the 1970s to 1990s. It is a sort of (reified) treatise on the Romanian art of the period after the prescription of socialist realism, a codex of Romanian art created outside (but not so much opposing as ignoring) the dogmas of official art, in which may be recognized almost all the names that made up (then) and make up (now too) the canon of Romanian contemporary art.” Thus Erwin Kessler, one of the most important art critics and exhibition curators in Romania, characterises this private art collection. Sorin Costina’s passion for collecting works of art was a rare pursuit in communist Romania, but one that developed out of his previous practice in gathering objects connected to a certain theme. Long before he began to collect contemporary art, he had exercised his genuine abilities as an archivist and collector in two fields that he was passionate about in his childhood and adolescence: football and stamps. During the communist period, stamp-collecting was the most widespread activity of this kind, partially informal and partially organised in philatelic clubs. The communist state even commercialised stamps and encouraged philately, as long as it did not involve exchanges with collectors in the West. A passion for football was manifested more often in practising the sport than in collecting activity. In Sorin Costina’s case, however, his interest in football led him to develop his skill in collecting publications and systematising information. “As I couldn’t play (because of myopia), I was a fanatical spectator. I followed results, training sessions. I cultivated my knowledge with Sportul popular, with magazines, with everything that was published about sport. I was a sort of walking sports encyclopaedia.”
Sorin Costina’s passion for the visual arts and, as a next step, his passion for collecting works of visual art, came into being by stages. First of all, starting from the age of twelve, he became an assiduous visitor to art galleries; initially only occasionally, but later, in his student years and afterwards, on a regular basis. This direct contact with art made him feel “handicapped” by his lack of knowledge in field, and so he became a self-taught expert. He began to choose more and more specialised reading, as a necessary path towards a professional approach to the field of visual art. “Around 1967, I found in a second-hand bookshop four volumes on the history of art by Professor George Oprescu. They became my favourite books that year,” recalls Sorin Costina about the beginnings of his self-instruction in the field.
Two years later, in 1969, Sorin Costina effectively laid the foundation of his future collection. That year, in two separate phases, he and his wife bought the first objects in the collection. On 16 August 1969, a date that may be taken as the absolute beginning of the collection, they acquired from the Deva branch of Fondul Plastic (the network of shops through which the creations of members of the Union of Visual Artists were commercialised), some engravings by Hans Herman and Ferdinand Mazanek, two Transylvanian Saxon painters and graphic artists originally from Braşov but who more often depicted Sibiu in their work. These two artists were not in the category of the marginalised, but nor was their subject matter, mainly consisting of urban landscapes with historic buildings, the sort that was promoted by the regime. The collection then grew with the acquisition of works by some of the most important Romanian artists, who had already made their name in the inter-war period: “In December of the same year, after we had saved up our salaries for five or six months, we went to Bucharest. We bought a lot: a work by Henri Catargi, a painting by a semi-amateur, in fact a pastiche after [Ion] Andreescu, a 1937 still life by Corneliu Baba, from the Consignation shop, plus two decorative plaques painted on wood by Margareta Stahl.” Such works from before the communist period could be acquired either directly from other, older collectors, who sold them to cover their living expenses, or through the network of shops known as “Consignation”, which legally commercialised various second-hand items.
Something else happened in Sorin Costina’s life in 1969: he took part in an event whose consequences were, in time, to be decisive for his collection. In December of that year, he visited an exhibition that was famous at the time, hosted by the Apollo gallery in Bucharest, displaying painters of a new generation, with another stylistic vision than the traditionalist one, among them Ion Bitzan, Vladimir Șetran, and Horia Bernea. “It was a veritable visual shock; I could understand absolutely nothing about the exhibition.” In fact, the moment of December 1969 marked Sorin Costina’s first meeting with a man who was to prove providential for his destiny as a collector: the painter Horia Bernea, one of the promoters of the so-called Neo-Orthodox tendency in the visual arts. “We didn’t speak at all then. It was just the first time that I saw him in flesh and blood,” says Sorin Costina. Two years later, in 1971, he bought a work from an art exhibition for the first time, a gouache by Octav Grigorescu, and a year later he got to know the latter’s brother, Ion Grigorescu. Also in 1972, he met Horia Bernea again, and tried to buy a painting from him, but the price was hard to produce on the spot: 8,000 lei (equivalent to average wages for three or four months). “At the time, Bernea came across as a grumpy man, quick-tempered and very agitated,” recalls Sorin Costina. A year later, when he returned to Bucharest with the whole sum of money that Horia Bernea had requested for the painting, he discovered that it was no longer available in the painter’s studio on Str. Şelari. “I came upon a calm, benevolent man, quite the opposite of the one I had met a year before. I told him what I wanted. Unfortunately he no longer had the painting. A few years later, as I recalled with him the moment of our first true meeting, he told me that he had had the painting, but that it was one of those that he wanted to keep.” However Sorin Costina did not leave the painter’s studio empty-handed, as in the end he bought a painting that was, in his view, “very violent, expressionist, painted in 1966.” Apart from the acquisition of this first painting by Horia Bernea, a meeting took place then which Sorin Costina has often spoken and written about as being truly memorable, one of those rare meetings that radically change one’s life. “After that meeting, I may say, without any exaggeration, that I began to learn artistic literacy and the job of a collector. My relationship with him developed very rapidly. We became friends, and before long I considered him my older and more knowledgeable brother.” From Horia Bernea, Sorin Costina learned the theory and practice of the visual arts, learned how to “read” a painting, how and from whom to buy works of art. The relationship he developed with Horia Bernea was one of profound friendship and sustained apprenticeship; indeed, in almost all his public interventions, Sorin Costina has insisted on this dimension of apprenticeship, which was fundamental for his vocation and passion as a collector. In connection with this process of long-term learning from masters of visual art, Sorin Costina also identifies another artist who left his imprint on his professional training in the field of art: the painter Paul Gherasim, another famous name in the visual arts of the last few decades in Romania. “All the names that are present in my collection,” says Sorin Costina, “have a connection with Horia Bernea and Paul Gherasim.” He discovered the latter on the basis of a recommendation from the former.
The majority of works of art in Sorin Costina’s private collection were acquired on the trips that the Costina couple made to Bucharest, at least once a year. Moreover, the great majority of these works, over 90%, were bought directly from the artists’ studios. On average, the collection grew by between four and six paintings annually. The sums of money allocated by the Costina family to the acquisition of works of art varied between 5,000 and 7,000 lei per annum; the money for these purchases came exclusively from their personal resources, to be precise, from what they managed to save. “Nowadays, of course, I wouldn’t be able to buy in this way; I wouldn’t be able to acquire these paintings by putting aside money every month. The art market is very different, and the mechanisms of buying and selling have also changed substantially,” says Sorin Costina. By 1989, the collection as it exists today was almost 80% complete. Works of art continued to be added after the fall of communism, but at a much reduced rate than before 1989. In his testimony in the volume edited by Erwin Kessler under the title Sorin Costina: Ucenicie printre arte (Sorin Costina: Apprenticeship among arts), Sorin Costina recalls: “Because of my isolation I didn’t come into contact with other collectors; I wasn’t in competition with anyone. […] This was hard too – my ‘field’ was a lonely one. I like to think that my works art constitute a subjective cross-section of the visual art of the 1970s and 1980s, extending also back into the 1960s and forward into the 1990s and beyond. […] I want to believe that this collection represents me and my teachers.”
Erwin Kessler, who has a more informed knowledge of Sorin Costina’s private art collection than most, is of the opinion that, being “a typical and at the same time atypical collector, Sorin Costina has become, both through his collection and through the methodology in its subtext, not to mention the conditions that led to its appearance, a veritable case for study from the point of view both of art history and of the sociology of Romanian culture” (Kessler 2017, 8). As regards the type of collector illustrated by Sorin Costina, Kessler considers that “his structure is that of a disciple, not of an inventor – without himself being an artist, he has always preferred to have a master of renown, just as artists do” (Kessler 2017, 14). As regards the content of the collection, the same art critic is of the opinion that “this case, that of the collector Sorin Costina, is all the more relevant in that, over time, he has proved a veritable conductor of tradition. His resistance to innovation, in the very exercise of destruction and accumulation of the new, is remarkable. In time, his aesthetic judgement, initially cultivated in timid discipleship, has become infallible – he detects with acuity that which does not have a place within the limits (not formulated as such) of the canon that he carries in his own eye. It is a conservative canon, anthropologically relevant also in the present time, in the context of the interested recuperation, postcommunist consumerist, of times that have been intensely mystified, along the lines of the global exploitation of local historical exoticism” (Kessler 2017, 30–31).
Why did Sorin Costina choose to collect works of visual art? That is the question that he answers explicitly at the end of his testimony in an as yet unpublished manuscript that is also kept as part of the collection. He sums up his answer as follows: “The answers are many. At first, the desire to desire to decorate our home decently (short term, a year at most), to have in possession authentic art objects and not least to create for our daughter an atmosphere of intellectual development more favorable than I had had. But if I am more honest with myself, the motive is a more selfish one: to create (for me, in the first place, but also for my family) a personal universe, an enclosure within oneself in the face of bad taste, imposture, and vulgarity (in intellectual matters, but not only). The collection is a means of defence in the face of the intellectual isolation I experienced in Brad, a possibility of living daily in contact with leading lights of contemporary Romanian spirituality.”
Description of content
The updated inventory of the Sorin Costina collection of contemporary Romanian art has the following coordinates: paintings – 230; sculptures – 28; graphic works – 687; decorative art and other objects – 132. The collection thus numbers in total more than 1,000 aesthetic objects. To be more precise, by 2018, the Sorin Costina collection consisted of no less than 1,077 items.
Among the most representative contemporary Romanian artists who can be found in the Sorin Costina collection may be mentioned: Henri Catargi, Corneliu Baba, Horia Bernea, Ștefan Bertalan, Paul Gherasim, Ion Grigorescu, Florin Mitroi, Paul Neagu, Florin Niculiu, Ion Dumitriu, Constantin Flondor, and Sorin Dumitrescu. Alongside these, the following are also present in the collection either with paintings, sculptures, graphic works, or decorative art: Alexandru Antonescu, Ioana Bătrânu, Gheorghe Berindei, Ilie Boca, Andrei Chintilă, Alexandru Chira, Andrei Ciubotaru, Florin Ciubotaru, Aurel Cojan, Miron Duca, Șerban Gabrea, Ion Gânju, Ion Alin Gheorghiu, Ruxandra Grigorescu, Mihai Hora, Ion Iacob, Gheorghe Ilea, Mircea Ionescu, Istvan Kancsura, Iosif Krijanovsky, Matei Lăzărescu, Marcel Lupșe, Gheorghe Mircea, Teodor Moraru, Georgeta Năpăruș, Sorin Neamțu, Ion Nicodim, Barbu Nițescu, Ion Pacea, Christian Paraschiv, Horia Paștina, Ciprian Radovan, Andrei Rosetti, Simona Runcan, Teodor Rusu, Mihai Sârbulescu, Ștefan Sevastre, Liviu Stoicoviciu, Eugen Tăutu, Vasile Tolan, Dorel Tulcan, Elena Tulcan, Vasile Ulian, and Vasile Varga. The largest number of works by a single artist in the collection are those of the painter who played a major role in Sorin Costina’s career as a collector: Horia Bernea. In Sorin Costina’s house there are over seventy pieces bearing the latter’s signature.
Most of the works making up Sorin Costina’s collection are to be found stored in various rooms of his house in Brad, Hunedoara county. However some of the items are on long- or short-term loan for various static or travelling exhibitions. “I don’t believe in the last twenty years there have been more than just a few weeks in which I have had all the works on my wall at home,” says Sorin Costina.” And he explains that “the works are not arrested in the collection. I have never refused to lend them. I believe they must circulate and be known. My house is open to anyone who wants to see them and study them.” He adds: “They must be seen, and each time different selections can be made for possible exhibitions. They are all available to curators who want to make good use of them.” All the works in Sorin Costina’s private collection are recorded twofold. They are entered in a notebook in which they are listed by number, and also in a series of files containing details of the historical coordinates and the content of each of them.
- applied arts objects (folk art, decorative arts, etc.): 100-499
- graphics: 500-999
- paintings: 100-499
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- visits by appointments
- Kessler, Erwin. 2017. Sorin Costina: Ucenicie printre arte (Sorin Costina: Apprenticeship among arts). Bucharest: Vellant.
Author(s) of this page
- Petrescu, Cristina
- Pătrăşconiu, Cristian Valeriu
Bernea, Horia. 2001. “Câteva gânduri despre muzeu, cantități, materialitate și încrucișare” (A few thoughts about the museum, quantities, materiality, and entanglement). Muzeul Ţăranului Român. Accessed October 13, 2018. http://www.muzeultaranuluiroman.ro/horia-bernea/cateva-ganduri-despre-muzeu-cantitati-materialitate-si-incrucisare-en.html
Kessler, Erwin. 2017. Sorin Costina: Ucenicie printre arte (Sorin Costina: Apprenticeship among arts). Bucharest: Vellant.
Nouril, Ksenia. Ion Grigorescu. MOMA. Accessed October 13. https://www.moma.org/artists/39193
Popa Buluc, Magdalena. 2011. Pictorul Horia Bernea: “Am simţit că trebuie să mărturisesc prin credinţă, turle, cruce, pin prapori şi lumină” (I felt that I had to confess by faith, towers, cross, church banners and light). Cotidianul, October 21. Accessed October 13, 2018. https://www.cotidianul.ro/pictorul-horia-bernea-am-simtit-ca-trebuie-sa-marturisesc-prin-credinta-turle-cruce-pin-prapori-si-lumina-si-sculptorul-ion-irimescu-timpul-aluneca-in-clepsidra/
Popescu, Diana. 2017. “Antivedetă, antisistem: Interviu-document cu cel mai important plastician român al ultimei jumătăți de secol – Ion Grigorescu” (Anti-stardom, anti-system: Interview with the most important visual artist of the last half century – Ion Grigorescu). Digi24, September 30. Accessed October 14, 2018. https://www.digi24.ro/magazin/timp-liber/cultura/antivedeta-antisistem-interviu-document-cu-cel-mai-important-plastician-roman-al-ultimei-jumatati-de-secol-799193
Popica, Radu. 2013. “Şcoala de la Poiana Mărului – o experienţă fundamentală a picturii româneşti postbelice” (The Poiana Mărului school – a fundamental experience of postwar Romanian painting). Muzeul de Artă Brașov. Accessed October 13, 2018. http://www.muzeulartabv.ro/Expozitii_Temporare/2014-2011/Expozitia_Scoala_de_la_Poiana_Marului___31_mai_-_21_iulie_2013
Radu, Magda. “Art and Politics: Considering some of Ion Grigorescu’s Films and Photographs.” Accessed October 14, 2018. http://www.2020.ro/resources/files/ArtandPolitics.pdf
Romoșan, Petru. 2000. “La plecarea lui Horia Bernea” (On Horia Bernea’s passing). Formula AS 443. Accessed October 13, 2018. http://www.formula-as.ro/2000/443/cultura-9/cultura-1908
Rosetti, Andrei and Grigore Roibu, 2011. “Colecţia de artă al lui Sorin Costina” (Sorin Costina’s art collection). Artavizuala21, May 27. https://artavizuala21.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/povestea-colectiei-de-arta-al-lui-sorin-costina/
Costina, Sorin, interview by Pătrăşconiu, Cristian Valeriu , August 10, 2018. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection