My winter day in Bucharest, Romania’s capital, started unexpectedly well, as I met Russian Ana and Italian Jovani over coffee, at the hostel. My day definitely started with a gallery and a lot more oomph, thanks to them.
Our first stop was a Neapolitan pizza place, where Jovani (who is also from Naples) treated us to delicious homemade Italian snacks and vaguely mentioned the strong Italian community in Bucharest, most of whom he supposedly knew. He kept avoiding my questions about what he does for a living and why he is in Bucharest, so I tamed my curiosity and simply enjoyed spending a few hours with people I knew nothing about, other than the fact that I’ll never learn anything about them. These encounters can be incredibly liberating, so if you’ve never spent the day with total strangers, you should definitely give it a go on your next trip 🙂
Romanian Kitsch Gallery in Bucharest
Address: Strada Covaci 6, București 030094, Romania
Hours: Every day, including Monday, 12:00-8:30 PM
Entrance fee: 30 lei, and 20 on Sundays
The museum Jovani took us to is hidden in the wall but once you spot it, it’s impossible to look away. A narrow staircase, the walls painted in fluorescent colors, leads up to Jesus who waves hello with Mickey Mouse’s hand, in the company of several members of the Seven Dwarfs. There is no mistaking this gallery for anything but perfectly delicious kitsch.
Within the exhibition, there are several themes of kitsch, such as “Dracula”, “Religion”, “Roma”, and “Socialism”. It’s a private collection which gradually grew so large and absurd that it just had to become a gallery.
To be honest, the place is amazing! This is exactly the type of art venue I love because it shakes and shocks you, leaves a fiery trace in your mind’s eye years after you’ve left, even if you have no photos to show for it. Many of the items in the exhibition have been gathered from flea markets, such as Bucharest’s famous Obor. However, the way they’ve been arranged, and the whimsical, yet thoughtful descriptions, make for a personal gallery. Like a proper contemporary museum, you can touch and even wear everything in the exhibition.
The bathroom at the Kitsch Gallery comes with markers and guests are not only allowed but actually encouraged to draw on the tiles and mirrors.
Even though most of the items from the exhibition are light-hearted and silly in their plastic atrocity, they somehow still inspire deeper questions. Such as how living in poverty makes shiny stuff more appealing. Or why religion, which is supposed to be all about the spirit, is so often represented by shiny objects. In the case of the Kitsch Gallery – a neon crucifix that you can plug into the socket.
As we walked past the section titled “Soviet Kitsch” Ana and I talked about her memories of communist Russia. She shared how humiliated children felt when they were brought out in front of the entire school, to be publicly scolded. We discussed her personal experience and the stories I’ve heard from my relatives, to come to the conclusion that the regime back then neglected people’s mental wellbeing.
Still, only 3 decades later, it seems that we, in post-Soviet societies, have made a giant step in the right direction, and I think we should be pretty proud. Ana told me that lots of young people in Russia today define themselves within the communist ideology, even though they have no idea what life was like back then.
After we had soaked up all the kitsch we could handle, we left the gallery to go our separate ways. Mine took me to the ultra-popular Ciorbarie – a soup spot the locals love. You’ll find venues all over Bucharest and it‘s worth a stop cause the soups are delicious and the people working there are super accommodating.
Cobbled Alleys and Another Hidden Gallery
Before I left for Romania, a friend told me: “You have to see Bucharest with locals, otherwise it looks like an uglier Sofia.” Even though I agree that it’s always best to explore a city with locals and I didn’t get to do it this time, I still loved Bucharest. There are many beautiful old buildings and the small, hidden “Orizont” gallery, was a wonderful surprise.
Address: Bulevardul Nicolae Bălcescu 23A
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10:00 AM – 7:00 PM
Entrance fee: Free
The space looks like an old cafeteria was torn out of a factory or a public school building from Soviet times – cheap mosaics cover the floor, the lightning is luminescent, and instead of a gallery curator there is a middle-aged guard who sits in a corner and picks his nose, while flipping through the daily paper. Yet the exhibition I went to had a spectacularly diverse selection of art – from literal depictions of protests to metaphoric, abstract portraits and even psychedelic art. A fascinating assortment of styles and techniques gathered under a Socialist-realism roof.
Unfortunately, the nose-picking guard wouldn’t let me take any pictures inside the gallery, but I was still able to sneak one, hidden behind a column, while he was doing the crossword from the middle of the paper.
I am not sure what kind of art they usually show, but judging by the exhibition I saw, the gallery is worth a stop.
Getting Lost in the Web of Alleys
The tiny streets around the Piata Romana square reminded of me Sofia’s center – beautiful old houses left to their own demise. Once, Bucharest was known as “Little Paris”, but if the city doesn’t pay more attention to its architectural heritage, it runs the risk of being more popular for the typical boring soviet building blocks and its horrible traffic, than its delicate structures.
Piata Romana is reminiscent of Sofia’s Russian Monument Square. The M2 metro line stops here, as well as many buses, including the free shuttle to Therme Bucuresti, which was going to be my next stop in the city, thanks to the advice I got at the hostel. If you want to escape to a tropical paradise, in the middle of Eastern Europe, this wellness Spa in Bucharest might be the way to do it. You can read more about my experience in the Therme here (both the good and the bad).
If you want to know how to get to and out of Bucharest, here you can read more about my day in Romania’s capital.
In the meantime, if you’ve been to Bucharest, it would be awesome if you could share your own experience of Bucharest in the comments below. What did you enjoy, where should I go next time, are there any cool galleries and art venues I should know about, and what are the hidden gems that beat the city’s heart?
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