Home Art Magazine MeetMe#23 | In conversation with Catinca Tabacaru

Art Fairs are always special opportunities not only to get close to the latest trends but most of all for networking, meeting people, building durable relationships. During Artissima Art Fair 2019 we had the chance to meet Catinca Tabacaru and talk about her gallery in relation to the art system and her precise attitude to a certain kind of art.


Catinca Tabacaru New York/Harare during Artissima 2019


Catinca Tabacaru Gallery was born few years ago, in 2014. For a gallery pathway, five years usually still represent a young reality. But this is not your case: you are the director of a young gallery, but so vivid with your projects that you already have a certain kind of history. Do you think that the brave and precise choice to work from New York with artists from all continents, was well understood and rewarded?

Well understood and rewarded… that’s an interesting choice of words.  I think we all seek to be understood. An artist’s maturity is measured by how well she can communicate her intentions, her concepts, her voice to and audience. In that way, I too, as a gallery, seek understanding. And understanding works here as it typically does everywhere: the translation is successful for some, but not others. There are those who really drink the juice: they have put in time and thought into what we are doing with the gallery and so are able to follow and support in a fulfilling way. These are the magic ones, our cohorts in this crazy journey. On the other hand, there are those who don’t care about what either the artists or I are doing… and that’s ok too. In time there will be enough record, enough energy, and supporting facts to prove the importance of this work, and so more people will be able to catch up and pay attention; even if they are not watching now.  

As far as rewards… every day is an award. Running around the world make and discussing art is a true gift. I am thankful every day and when the challenges come, I’m like a little yoga baby… “breath through it girl…”

How was, at the beginning, the response to your radical choice of artists in the International art fairs or shows?

Is it radical? It’s a good word nonetheless. My relationships with the artists are so natural, that it’s difficult to tell if what I’m doing is so different from other galleries.  I did not start wanting to be different, I started wanting to be authentic. Over the past five years, I’ve tried to make every choice from the gut… that said, I feel myself growing up. I am making this sixth year of the gallery about slowing down and shaping our identity while developing the strategy that will best support the whole system as we step into this next era.  

That said, there is one response that I sometimes get from experienced collectors and curators to the African artists I exhibit:  “I don’t know anything about African art, I have no basis for considering this work.” I’ve been trying to re-set the terms of this conundrum with my conversations. While deep and educated understanding is something we should strive for, the exclusion of the unknown is a mistake. The good African artists are producing works that can be assessed within the context of the good artists working anywhere else in the world.  Ethnic and national roots are the color, the flavor, but the basic ingredients are the same: identity, politics, pursuit, etc.. While upon first look there may be pieces missing (a political context we’re not familiar with; or a traditional mark we haven’t come across); in time, historical and aesthetic layers reveal themselves; and those moments are thrilling!


Gail Stoicheff, Little Miss Strange, Installation View, Catinca Tabacaru, New York, 2018.


“Catinca Tabacaru” is an interesting and strong reality that reflects you as a founder, and as a woman who studied with a precise focus on human rights. Why did you choose your own name for the gallery?

I think a strict adherence to authenticity played a role here. I’m Romanian by birth, and I lived among the valleys and wolves of Romania until the age of 9. I cherish those years. They defined my spirit. While my socio-political views were shaped in Canada and at UC Berkeley, and my geopolitical stance continues to develop through travel and the human rights work I’ve contributed over the years, the source I pull from is still that beginning. As part of my identity, it felt right to birth this art baby and let it live with the same name that helped shape me as a person. Today I find new reasons for keeping the name (admittedly a mouthful even for the bravest orators). Tabacaru is unmistakably Romanian. There are very few of us in the diaspora who have opened contemporary art galleries; less than one handful in the USA; and, maybe not surprisingly, just one in Zimbabwe.  

Romania has had the largest contemporary emigration besides Syria, with many of the brightest and most ambitious leaving in the early 1990s and others continuing to leave today.  But, it’s also a time of growth and modernization. There is a call for repatriation, and a resistance to the pessimism that has plagued the country throughout its post-Communism years. Today, it donnes a bourgeoning and energetic contemporary art scene, and I’m fascinated to dig deeper into the practices of the Bucharest-based artists. It’s another of my sixth year projects.


Rachel Monosov, The Blind Leader, Installation View, Catinca Tabacaru, New York, 2018.


In 2017 you opened a second venue in Zimbabwe. Why you chose such a peculiar place for contemporary art?

Is it peculiar? Some of the most exciting young artists on today’s contemporary art scene have come out of Zimbabwe. I founded the CTG Collective with Rachel Monosov and Justin Orvis Steimer (two gallery artists), and we first went to Zimbabwe in 2015 to begin working on collaborations between Zimbabwe-based and foreign artists. As the project developed, it felt like a no-brainer that we would embed deeper into the art community on the ground there. Today, like any place one has become seasoned with, it poses its own unique set of benefits and challenges. There’s been quite a bit about this written so I invite interested readers to google the Gallery and our activities in Zimbabwe with the CTG Collective.

What recommendations would you now give to an emergent gallery?

Oh goodness!  I have no idea.  My way is only one way.  There are so many paths to advance in the art world and it’s not even a vertical structure.  There are many seams and nooks to explore…. I think the most important is to remember what your role is as a gallery – you exist to support the artists you worship… and if you don’t worship any artists, you’re in the wrong business. 

Cover image: Catinca Tabacaru New York/Harare during Artissima 2019, works pictured by Shinji Murakami, Terrence Musekiwa, Justin Orvis Steimer, and Gail Stoicheff.


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