Serban Savu: Regolith

Los Angeles

March 25 – May 1, 2021

Press Release

“Memory is the scribe of the soul.” — Aristotle


“Write your injuries in dust, your benefits in marble.” — Benjamin Franklin


Dust is the ultimate inevitability: the origin and final resting place for us all. It serves as a metaphor for age, forgetfulness, and the process of forgetting and being forgotten. It’s dirty, it gets everywhere, but not necessarily uncomfortably so; dusty objects require a bit of a shaking-off, a light dusting. Regolith is the stony material that lies loosely on top of bedrock, the dust before the dust. 


Șerban Savu was born in Sighișoara, Romania, near Transylvania, while the country suffered under the corrupt and brutal pseudo-Communist autocracy of Nicolae Ceaușescu. When the Soviet empire crumbled in 1989, Romania was flooded with western culture, capitalism, and all that comes with it. People were no longer hungry, but a thin layer of dust soon gathered on the collective memory for the way things were. 


Regolith, Savu’s fourth exhibition with Nicodim, continues his examination of sentimentality for a past in which suffering was omnipresent. His palette is muted and dusty, with tones not dissimilar to the way one recalls an old photograph, or a film seen only once. The compositions weave new nostalgias with the old, subverting present desires with those for a time that may or may not have actually existed. In “Renovations,” 2020, two figures either cover-up or restore a 16th century Catholic fresco—in 17th century Transylvania, the Protestants covered up Catholic art in an effort to eradicate ornamentalism, then the Marxist-Leninists eliminated the Protestant imagery in their campaign for an atheistic society, then the capitalists entered and brought their own icons. Whether the painting within the painting is emerging from or returning to the dust depends entirely on the viewer’s mnemohistorical reference points. “Thracian Tomb,” 2020, is set within an archaeological excavation of artwork initially intended for funerary purposes as it is unveiled in service of a new ideology. The excavation site itself predates the Roman history of the Romanian region, and spotlights the relativity of inherited memory; there was a Romania before there were Romanians, and they curated their own cultural history. “Mask,” 2020, and “Concretion,” 2020, both immerse the viewer in their own beginnings and endings, from dust to regolith to dust again, the osmosis of soul from one generation to the next.

The past is a living thing to Savu, not the way it was, but the way it thrives in memory. “Growing up, I had ethnic German neighbors in Transylvania, who managed to flee Romania before 1989. Things immediately became much better for them after they left. Still, they have nostalgia for living under Ceaușescu, when they were poor, hungry. The nostalgia is not necessarily for the bad times—those they have forgotten—but for youth. It is youth they remember.”




Șerban Savu (b. 1978, Sighișoara, Romania) lives and works in Cluj, Romania. He attended the University of Art and Design in Cluj, Romania (2001). Considered part of the group of painters known as the Cluj-school, Savu’s skilfully rendered canvases capture the daily existence of contemporary Romanians at work and leisure. Recent exhibitions include Șerban Savu, Adrian Ghenie, Ciprian Muresan, and Geta Bratescu, La Fondazione Nicola Del Roscio, Rome, Italy (2020); En dérive/Adrift, Centre d’art le LAIT, Albi, France (2019, solo); Șerban Savu and Ciprian Muresan: L’Atelier Sans Fin, Atelier Brancusi, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (2019); The Influencing Machine, Galeria Nicodim, Bucharest (2019); BioPerversity, Nicodim Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2018); Disruptive Imagination - Making Windows Where There Were Once Walls, Gallery of Fine Arts, Ostrava, Czech Republic and the Ferenczy Museum Center, Szentendre, Hungary (2017); Șerban Savu: New Works, Nicodim Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2016, solo); Pictures at an Exhibition, Plan B Gallery, Berlin, Germany (2015, solo); and The Edge of the Empire, David Nolan Gallery, New York, NY (2009, solo).