GHEORGHE CODREA: SET DESIGNS

The Quadro Gallery is planning, through a number of research projects and a series of exhibitions, to draw attention to such oeuvres from the fields of decorative and applied arts also, the results of which have frequently been passed over by art critics and historians, even though the fresh and sustained approaches we meet here are relevant both for the history of art and in the pursuit of a better understanding of the period in which the works were produced. Gheorghe Codrea’s set designs – as the designer of the Romanian Opera in Cluj (1956–1989) were often characterised in the records of the period as modern or contemporary. Opera, a genre in crisis, was seeking for its identity, and scenography was one of the most important tool for redefining and modernization of the opera performance. Therefore, we need to see Codrea’s activity in this specific context.

Gheorghe Codrea had a twofold formation – as a painter who began his studies in Cluj at the Ion Andreescu Fine Arts Institute in 1949; and as a scenographer who studied this subject in depth at the Nicolae Grigorescu Fine Arts Institute in Bucharest between 1952-1956. Although Codrea was assigned to the Oradea Opera after he finished his studies at the Institute, he entered the contest for a similar position at Cluj and was appointed there in 1956, where he had been working until his retirement in 1989. Codrea’s debut as a set designer in the second half of the 1950s is characterised by a realistic and narrative vision, but from the middle of the ’sixties onwards we can see Codrea moving towards a new visual language in which the space of the stage becomes essentialized. He gives up elaborate decors, a large part of the furniture and the papier maché props in a development that ends in stylised silhouettes and simplified stage flats which are strongly graphic in nature. Codrea’s designs for stage sets display his talents as a painter and are in fact works of art in their own right. The big majority of these projects are exhibited now for the very first time at the Quadro Gallery. At the start of the 1970s a whole series of performances – culminating in the double show of Zamolxe and Ulysses by Liviu Glodeanu – gave Gheorghe Codrea the opportunity to make innovations in many areas of scenography. Painting and drawing are united in a generous vision of space, in which the artist uses elements that direct the gaze in such a way that the acting space is visually amplified in terms of stage depth or along the vertical axis, as required, and thus succeeds in rescuing the stage and with it the theatre piece too from any rigid localisation. Codrea uses only a few elements to suggest the time period in which the action is set (an example would be the way he shapes the tops of the stage flats). In this way the scenographer found a fitting balance between the historical setting of the performances and their being staged in an atemporal or contemporary space. Gheorghe Codrea frequently introduced projected images, which emphasized the contemporary character of these performances.   The set designs and the photographs of the performances, as well as the richly illustrated volume of 150 pages represent a cultural supplement, highlighting an important oeuvre dedicated to the modernization of scenographic language during the difficult decades of the Romanian communist era.