“Rugina & Co.” – A Legal Memo on the History of the Dispute

The Open-Air Sculptural Complex RUGINA & CO/XX CENTURY (Created by Nicolae Ischimji and Valeri Moshkov, 1985-2011)

In the beginning of the 80-s (1982-83), the former plant building of the local toy manufacturer, along with some adjoining storage space, belonging to the landscaping company Zelenstroy, are gradually leased to the artists, according to their request. The tenants include artists and sculptors, many of who became an important part of Moldovan art history. Each art studio is created by separating the inside space of an existing building (barrack-style) with walls. The walls are erected to separate the terraces and the entryways as well. The tenants, namely, V. Moshkov, N. Ischimji, Y. Khorovsky, R. Manevich, Y. Terekhov, D. Shevchenko, V. Doykov, A. David, V. Rodionov, and L. Nedov, sponsor all the renovations. N. Ischimji comes up with a never-to-be-used architectural design of the communal façade of the studios’ building. N. Ischimji also zones the land, creates a general design plan, as well as designs the interiors of the two studios belonging to Moshkov and Khorovsky. In addition, he consults the rest of the artists regarding renovations in their own studios. Apart from Mr. Ischimji, Grigory Bosenko also participates in the renovations. In particular, Mr. Bosenko creates a renovation design of a studio, belonging to Roman Manevich. The condition of the makeshift art studios lease is the following: using their own finances and forces, the artist tenants help create part of the sculptural garden, tentatively called “children’s fairytale village”, to be displayed inside the Sculeani Park and some of the land adjacent to the studios.

1984 – Communal reconstruction of the studios’ interiors take place, parallel with the above-mentioned lease conditioned project for the city’s benefit. N. Ischimji and V. Moshkov work in the studio, officially leased to V. Moshkov.

Spring 1985 – The first Rugina’s sculpture is made, created by N. Ishimji and V. Moshkov out of junk metal. They call it The Bureaucratic Apparatus. This sculpture, as well as other sculptures that appear later on, are created solely with the artists’ funds. Therefore, a precedent of a city land being used as an expositional space is set. N. Ischimji’s zoning project is being approved by the city authorities and carried out to life on the studios’ premises, which soon become entirely expositional, free for the artists’ communal use to exhibit their creations. The whole artistic commune participates in the renovation of the premises during their personal time. The renovations include the following: getting rid of huge amounts of construction waste, building of roads and walkways, introduction of top soil, planting of trees and shrubbery. In addition, the city’s first open-air sculptural exhibition takes place in a specially prepared area. The entire Sculptural Section of the Moldovan Artists’ Union participates in the following exhibition. By this time, after a few years of hard work, the initial barrack-style building, transforms into what we now call “The Art Studios.” As a result of the artists’ initiative and after submitting their petition to the appropriate authorities, the building acquires the name of the Sculptural Art Studios. The land adjacent to the Studios is now to be used for open-air expositional purposes.

1986-1990 – The management of Zelenstroy company, the owner of the studios’ building, and Valeri Moshkov sign a new lease: Mr. Moshkov to rent a space of 50 sq. meters (164 sq. feet.) Approved by the landlord, further renovations of the building take place, all funded by Mr. Moshkov and Mr. Ischimji. In particular, the building expands and now has a “back office” on the side of the main entrance. The total rented space becomes 76.2 sq. m. (250 sq. feet) large. During these years, the sculptural exposition grows, new sculptures are being created: Democratic Centralism, Park of Pioneers, Formula of Socialism, Tempted by Revolution, A Gazing Forward Pastor, Not for Airing on TV. In 1987, the first part of exposition forms, called «РЖА В ЧИНАХ» (pronounced RZHA-vchi-NAAKH) or Rugina & Co. In 1989, for the first time, the authors and their supporters, publicly promote the exhibition citywide.

1990-2000 – The studio is hard at work with artistic and teaching projects. The adjacent land is being used as an expositional space, also as a space for concerts and other activities, open to the public. The exposition becomes known abroad. N. Ischimji and V. Moshkov now work on a variety of new expositions. At the same time and due to the fact that some of the artists immigrated to other countries, new tenants appear. Some of the new tenants appear to be related to production operation, trading, construction, etc.

1998 – Mr. Ischimji and Mr. Moshkov begin working on their new sculptural project, The Humankind, Century after Century.

2001 – Mr. Moshkov leaves Moldova for permanent residence in Germany. During the process of signing the new lease, one of the new tenants, behind Mr. Ischimji’s back, contacts Zelenstroy to influence the company’s decision to evict Mr. Ischimji. The basis to the above is that Mr. Ischimji was never the principal tenant (Mr. Moshkov was), and thus, Mr. Ischimji does not have the right to occupy any part of the building. Notwithstanding, Zelentstroy signs the 5-yearlong lease with Mr. Ischimji. Mr. Ischimji begins to work on his new sculptural project, XX Century, solo.

2002 – Part of the city land, adjacent to the art studios and previously designated for expositions, planned to hold the new project exhibition, is suddenly cut off from the studios and separated by a fence. Somehow, without the approval of the rest of the tenants, an unknown person/party obtains the mayor’s permission to rent the above-mentioned part of the land for 4 years, with the idea of building a so-called “Art Center for Handicapped Children.” Since then and to this day, a half-built villa occupies the land with no prospect of being finished in construction. Some of the neighbors/tenants, without having a legal right to do so, initiate a division of the remaining land into small lots, facing each studio’s main entrance. As a result of that, some of Mr. Ischimji’s new sculptures are being scooped up and deposited directly in front of his studio entrance, therefore breaking the integrity of the artistic space, thought through by the author, and barbarically converting the author’s idea into a sculptural junkyard.

2003-2004 – The studios’ privatization process starts. Based on the initiative of the Artists’ Union, the Moldovan Republic Privatization Committee allows for the privatization of all of the art studios. In the end of 2003 – the beginning of 2004, Mr. Ischimji pays 25% of the calculated cost of privatization. During this time, he becomes aware of the fact that some of the tenants, without his approval, request to privatize the land, adjacent to the studios, with the idea of dividing it into private sectors. Also, as Mr. Ischimji finds out later, that local authorities have already pre-approved the petition privately, having unofficially communicated to the tenants who submitted the request the following: wait for the studios’ privatization to come through. Mr. Ischimji realizes that the unfortunate set of events will result in the destruction of the entire group of expositions. He decides to stop his studio’s privatization process until the sculptures and the land they stand on acquire the official status of an artistic/sculptural exposition. In the mean time, he continues to work on his next project, XX Century. Vladimir Bulat writes and publishes a book about Rugina, «Mic tratat asupra RUGINII» or A Short Treaty on Wear, dedicated to the history of the exposition and its value in the contemporary art of Moldova. The Soros Foundation of Moldova offers to buy some of Rugina’s sculptures, but Mr. Ischimji declines the offer, explaining that the relocation of the sculptures will permanently damage the integrity of the artistic idea behind the exhibition. Instead, he creates two new sculptures that are conceptually close to those of Rugina’s originals, specifically made for the Soros Foundation, to be displayed inside the Foundation’s courtyard, where you can still find them at 32 Bulgară Street, Chişinău.

2004 – The non-profit organization Globline is being created. One of the organization’s main objectives is to save and support the exhibitions Rugina & Co. and XX Century. The organization’s representative inquires with the Department of Cultural Affairs of Moldova regarding the exposition’s status of becoming an official object of art, protected by the state. However, he is being led to believe that the following is almost impossible to achieve, due to the extreme bureaucracy. Globline submits a written request to the city mayor, Serafim Urechean, asking to bestow the exhibition an official status of a municipally protected object of art and to do it pro bono. The Soros Foundation of Moldova is ready to finance further creations of Mr. Ischimji for his new series Globline, to be displayed on the municipal land. The letter passes through all of the offices of the city council, being signed and approved. Serafim Urechean, however, refuses to sign and approve the letter for unknown reasons. At the same time, the land, adjacent to the art studios, is being divided by illegally erected fences, breaking the unity of the exhibition’s space and preventing the public from easy accessing the exhibition. The Globline organization sends a complaint to the Building Inspector’s Office of Moldova. However, the Office issues a weak written explanation and unofficially informs Globline of its refusal to deal with such “trivial matters.”

2005 – Rugina celebrates its 20th Anniversary and draws a large crowd of observers and art supporters. Mr. Ischimji reveals his newest project, «Лиственница» (pronounced LIST-ven-nitsa) or Larch Tree, created in collaboration with his now late mother, Nina Ischimji, a famous Romanian language interpreter. Inside the studio, Mr. Ischimji exhibits his graphic series, “ПоказУха” (pronounced paka-ZOO-kha) or Showoff. Also that year – a state water supply company Apa Canal discovers a tenant-induced water theft of epic proportions and cuts off the water supply to the whole building. Tenants, who work with wrought iron and gypsum, who also live in the studios with their entire families, propose to split the cost of debt equally among everyone and pay it off to Apa Canal, to get the water back. Mr. Ischimji declines, as his water use is minimal, compared to others. Also this year, Union Fenosa, a local electrical company, fines one of the tenants heavily for stealing huge amounts of electricity and shuts off the electricity in the entire building.

2006-the beginning of 2010 – The lease runs out, although the landlord-tenant relationships continue. According to Moldovan Civil Code, section 904, under such circumstances, the lease extends indefinitely. Due to the lack of electricity, Mr. Ischimji is unable to work, as welding is involved. On top of that, further development of Rugina becomes impossible, because of the cut offs, created by the “neighbors’ ” fences. Mr. Ischimji is forced to only being able to work during daylight. He concentrates on the series of pastel graphics. In 2007, a new exhibition, called Metodukha, takes place inside the studio. The other tenants, in their illegal attempt to get electricity back, splice into the main line and run new lines for themselves, around Mr. Ischimji’s studio. With the permission of Valeri Doykov, who is one of the tenants, N. Ischimji periodically uses the line for his own electrical needs, particularly to repair and restore the broken by vandals sculptures. Inside the studio, Mr. Ischimji works on his graphic series and sculptures from papier-mâché. During cold months, the art studio is kept warm by a potbelly stove.

25 February 2010 – An anonymous group of people breaks into the studio, spends some time inside, and later on, welds a new hanging lock to the door. There is a witness, who sees the perpetrators and recognizes one of them as one of the studios’ tenants. Mr. Ischimji, together with some of Globline representatives, arrive at the scene, having been informed about what had happened earlier in the day, and proceed to call the police. Following Mr. Ischimji’s request, Major V. Botnaru, representing the police of the Buiucani sector of Chişinău, seals the door. Later on, according to the Criminal Code of Moldova, section # 179, Mr. Ischimji files forced entry and illegal personal property possession criminal charges in the Buiucani State’s Attorney’s Office. To this day, the Attorney’s Office has yet to decide, whether to establish the probable cause case or to deny it: “the facts are being checked out, the results will be communicated accordingly”, as they put it. At the same time, Major V. Botnaru, without any given explanation, refuses to break the seal in order to inspect the studio to further establish if any theft of Mr. Ischimji and Mr. Moshkov’s personal possessions had occurred.

4 May 2010 – Globline sends a petition to the Moldovan equivalent of the Dept. of Homeland Security, which has the jurisdiction over the police, regarding the inactivity of Major V. Botnaru. The next day (5 May 2010), Mr. Ischimji receives a phone call from Nicolae Bolea, a Mayor’s Office Department of Municipal Property associate. N. Bolea proceeds to ask Mr. Ischimji to accompany him to the studio “to find out what’s going on.” Mr. Ischimji complies and comes to the studios, accompanied by a reporter with a video camera. Among the people gathered are: Major V. Botnaru, N. Bolea, Y. Rusnak, Bolea’s colleague, and Ruslan Strelets, who introduced himself as N. Bolea’s friend. As soon as the above-mentioned people see the video camera they decide to no longer participate in the discussion and promptly leave the premises, without giving Mr. Ischimji any reasonable explanation. (Watch the video of the above: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIBnZfmaQMU) As a result of this démarche, on 6 May 2010, Globline sends petitions to the Mayor’s Office and the Dept. of Homeland Security. These petitions remained unanswered. A. Khokhlov, a Globline representative, meets with Mariana Ambros, Director of the Department of Municipal Property, where N. Bolea is employed. Ms. Ambros informed Mr. Khokhlov that in order to resolve the problem, N. Ischimji needs to send the Mayor’s Office a written request, where he should ask to renew the lease. After meeting with the Vice Mayor, Nistor Grozavu, N. Ischimji sent the suggested petition on 9 June 2010. He also met with Ms. Ambros and made it clear that he was ready to pay off his past lease payments, if they exist, according to the Mayor’s Office calculations. M. Ambros promised to arrange for the necessary calculations and call Mr. Ischimji personally upon getting them.

A. Khokhlov was also able to talk to Nicolae Bolea in person. This Mayor’s Office associate confessed that he indeed participated in the studio break-in on 25.02.10. He admitted that he did indeed have the new key. Bolea also mentioned that he knew of other people who would use the municipal land more wisely than Mr. Ischimji. In addition, Bolea, following his supervisor’s orders, showed Mr. Khokhlov the official memo, where it was written that on the date of the break-in on 25.02.10, Mr. Ischimji appeared to be out of town and therefore rendered inaccessible at the time when “the committee” decided to break the door.

Because the Mayor’s Office never replied to the June 9th petition, and M. Ambros never called back, Mr. Ischimji sent the Mayor’s Office a new letter on 9 December 2010. This time, the letter consisted of the new lease request and the attached petition from the Architects’ Union of Moldova. On the 21st of December 2010, Globline Association sent the Mayor’s Office a repeat request to relieve Mr. Bolea from handling the case of Mr. Ischimji, because N. Bolea seemed to be personally motivated in making sure the property passes in someone else’s possession, and not that of Mr. Ischimji, and also because of his extreme incompetence. As usual, the Office ignored the letter.

During that time, The Dance of Hope (one of the sculptures) is stolen.

In the beginning of December 2010, N. Ischimji was subpoenaed by the Buiucani Court, as a response to the Mayor’s Office having filed charges of wrongful possession of premises. The subpoena was signed by N. Grozavu, the Vice Mayor of Chişinău, although from the legal standpoint this document has to be signed by the mayor himself. The subpoena has an attachment, a so-called “Certificate of Confirmation”, which is allegedly written on the 5th of May 2010, “in the presence of N. Ischimji” (This is the date when “the committee” ran away from the video camera.) In his turn, N. Ischimji files false pretense in a civil court charges with the State’s Attorney’s Office, according to Moldovan Criminal Code, part 2, section 310.

In addition, there is a document that shows the following. Sometime in September 2010, the police seal on the door to N. Ischimji’s studio was broken and switched to the Mayor’s Office seal. This took place without Mr. Ischimji’s knowing and without the presence of Buiucani Police Dept. It is thought that the new seal was applied by the now-famous-to-the-reader N. Bolea. From this moment forward, all of N. Ischimji’s possessions that were inside the studio, including his paintings, sculptures, materials, tools and books, are locked and under full control of N. Bolea.

On 18 January 2011, a Globline representative tries to schedule an appointment with mayor Dorin Chirtoacă, hoping to discuss Rugina’s crisis, as well as the possible corruption problem inside the Mayor’s Office. (Some of the city council employees spread rumors of the mayor’s personal involvement in this case.) However, having found out the purpose and the context of the potential meeting, the scheduling associates, Popa and Frunză to be exact, refused to schedule the appointment, while Popa crudely remarked, “that Ischimji doesn’t have any right to occupy that studio.”

The lawsuit of the Buicani section continues to this day. The Mayor’s Office is represented by TWO attorneys. In the beginning of April 2011, the Mayor’s Office representatives tried to discredit Rugina and its authors: unflattering pictures are shown, featuring blacksmith and gypsum waste in the foreground and Rugina in the background; two witnesses testified of N. Ischimji’s incompetence as an artist, etc. All of the above materials are included in the case, along with the more realistic photos of Rugina and reviews of its expert critics from the Artists’ Union of Moldova, the Architects’ Union of Moldova, the Contemporary Art Center of Moldova, written reviews of critics from Moldova and Europe in general, all of which agree on one common notion – Rugina is a unique and invaluable object of art.

Still, N. Ischimji doesn’t have any access to this studio. His private possessions, along with those, belonging to Valeri Moshkov, are locked inside. N. Bolea and one of the studios’ tenants still have the keys to Mr. N. Ischimji’s studio. The State’s Attorney’s Office makes no attempt to resolve the dilemma.

Globline association decides to publicize the above-described out-of-control situation through different media. The association challenges the city, as well as the country authorities, to grant Rugina the official status, to stop bullying N. Ischimji and to facilitate a comfortable work environment for the artist. A Web site to help save Rugina was launched on 12 April 2011: www.rugina.org.


Rugina’s significance is obvious to us. All of the people who sign Rugina’s petition are also positive of the unquestionable need to preserve this unique object of art.

However, we realize that opinions vary.

How to make the right decision in this situation, considering the country’s best interests in its cultural development?

The dilemma of Rugina and its authors became far wider, more complex and out of the city council’s realm.

We believe that a MULTILATERAL COMMITTEE has to be set up, which will comprise of the local authorities, representatives of the Department of Cultural Affairs of Moldova, Department of Tourism and Recreation of Moldova, Parliamentary Committee for Culture and Education of Moldova, the Academy of Sciences of Moldova, and last but not least, the independent experts on contemporary art and representatives of non-governmental organizations.

The Committee will accomplish the following:

Determine the cultural and historic importance of Rugina/XX Century, the opportunities of its further development and the potential to attract tourists.

Grant this exposition and the land it stands upon the official status. What will it become? A private museum? A cultural historical municipal object? A national monument? A section of a state museum or an exhibition hall? … We let the professionals determine that. We believe this status should:

Facilitate the preservation of the existing exposition;

Provide the public with easy access to the exhibition;

Make it possible for the authors to support and develop the exhibition;

Provide other eager artists with opportunities to participate in this open project;

Prohibit zoning and division of land on which the exhibition is located;

Confer with the personal interests of the tenants and those who reside around the studios in individual homes and apartment buildings.

Until the Committee reaches a reasonable decision, we believe that all actions regarding the studio and its adjacent land should be stopped.

We are ready to accept the possibility of Committee’s disagreement with our ideas to find a more suitable use for the municipal land that Rugina is currently occupying.

We will have no choice but to come to terms with this decision.

At least then, the public will be aware of who was responsible for making such a decision.

Globline Association Group Initiative Save Rugina

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