In little more than a week from 16 December 1989, the Romanian Revolution finally brought to an end the 24-year Communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceauşescu. On Christmas Day the Romanian people watched transfixed as Ceauşescu and his wife, Elena, were subjected to a televised two-hour trial before the pair were publicly executed by firing squad.
In 2008, Romanian video-artist Ciprian Mureşan approached his friend, painter Adrian Ghenie, with an unusual commission: to paint a ‘good’ portrait of the late dictator. Mureşan was fascinated by the question of whether it is possible to produce a good painting of such a despised individual. Despite thousands and thousands of paintings of Ceauşescu being produced for the Party during his regime (most of which are now stored in the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest), few were more than sycophantic propaganda depicting the leader and his wife in a glowing light. Doubly problematic was the fact that, since his demise, Romanians were automatically inclined to reject any painting of Ceauşescu as bad because of their hatred for the subject of the portrait.
Adrian Ghenie’s painting, The Trial, is now held in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. You can watch the artist tell the story of his painting in this interview, where he also recounts his experience of witnessing Ceauşescu’s trial and execution as a boy:
Image: Adrian Ghenie, The Trial, 2010. Oil on canvas, 200.66 x 363.22 cm. Collection SFMOMA, Gift of artist and Mihai Nicodim Gallery, Los Angeles © Adrian Ghenie