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From “Movement. Visvaldis Ziediņš (1942-2007). Rewriting Latvian Art History”

What Is the Role of Visvaldis Ziediņš on a Baltic-Wide Scale? A Video of the Exhibition at KUMU 0

“Movement. Visvaldis Ziediņš (1942-2007). Rewriting Latvian Art History”
KUMU, Tallinn
February 21 – June 15, 2014

The exhibition “Movement. Visvaldis Ziediņš (1942-2007). Rewriting Latvian Art History”, opened at Estonia's KUMU art museum in Tallinn on February 20th. It was organized by “Galerija 21”, in cooperation with the Contemporary Art Institute (Riga). It should be noted that this is the first solo show by a Latvian artist to be included in the KUMU program. On exhibit are a selection of works that were first shown in an extensive retrospective at the Arsenal in Riga, in 2012, which is when Visvaldis Ziediņš was presented as a new discovery in Latvian art – unfortunately, posthumously. The curator of “Movement. Visvaldis Ziediņš (1942-2007). Rewriting Latvian Art History” is Ieva Kalniņa, the exhibition was designed by Sarmīte Māliņa, and the project's director is Ivonna Veiherte.

This exhibition introduces the Estonian public and other visitors to the creative inquisitiveness of Visvaldis Ziediņš in the second half of the 20th century. Especially in the 1960s and 70s, Ziediņš worked on developing specific ideas in his art that were based on the study of reality – a reality which he understood as an intertwining of chemical, mechanical and biological truths. It was during this period that he created his paraphrases on pop art, op art, abstractionism and other Western art movements. It is quite interesting that the 1966 manifestation of Ziediņš's pop art-like condensed milk tins were linked to his wish of developing the ideas of cubism, and not, as one might think, a condemnation of the growing culture of consumerism – as was characteristic in the rest of the world at the time.

The creative life of Visvaldis Ziediņš, which ran parallel to the Soviet era, but in his own personal time and space, is proof of the existence of pure non-conformism in the Latvian cultural space, and sheds doubt on the theory of local “semi-non-conformism”, which is used to label phenomena that lie between official and unofficial art, and to justify artists working within both camps. The existence of an artist like Visvaldis Ziediņš also allows for the return to the basic definition of the term “non-conformism” as it applies to the territory of Latvia.

The artist Visvaldis Ziediņš was born on April 4, 1942, and died on January 11, 2007, in the city of Liepāja. From 1959 to 1964 he was a student in the Department of Decorative Design at the Liepāja High School for Applied Arts. He did not continue with studies at the Latvian Academy of Art because he was convinced that he had obtained a sufficient-enough foundation in art to enable him to devote the rest of his life to the cultivation of an independent understanding of art outside of the official Soviet art system.

At the opening of the exhibition, wanted to find out what sort of role does Visvaldis Ziediņš and his art now play on a Baltic-wide scale. We spoke to Eha Kommisarov and Sirje Helme.

Eha Kommisarov is a legendary persona in the field of Estonian art history and, at age 67, is the curator of the contemporary art program at the KUMU museum.

For many years now I have had a special interest in Western avant garde and its related art forms that just happened to flourish in the smaller cities of Eastern Europe. For example, the works of Visvaldis Ziediņš from Liepāja are, in some sense, similar to what happened in parallel in Tartu. An artists' group, headed by Kaljo Põllu, formed in 1960s Tartu. In their works they would comment on Vasarely, pop art, op art. It could also be described as the enjoyment of life, as freedom, as giving yourself over to the joy of experimentation. It is of consequence that the education of these artists was rather limited because, often times, it is precisely the enthusiastic amateurs who have a powerful sense of freedom and which, in my opinion, is especially characteristic of provincial places.

When I saw the works of Visvaldis Ziediņš and heard his life story – about his hometown of Liepāja, that he didn't continue on to the Academy of Art, but rather, after finishing the High School of Applied Arts, worked as a set designer in the theater – all of that, together with his unlimited fantasy and absolutely astounding productivity, reminded me of this provincial art phenomenon, which could also be called “the village crazy-man factor”. I am most amazed by Ziediņš's object art in which, much like in the philosophy of surrealism, everyday objects are endowed with new functions. As well as the fact that he worked at his art systematically, for over forty years, and tried his hand at practically everything that can be done in the profession. His wage-earning job in the prop-filled world of theater was, undeniably, a source of inspiration for him. But the end result is fantastic and stands above Ziediņš as a civilian.

I am so very happy that you have your Visvaldis Ziediņš, and I believe that sooner or later, he could become Latvia's main “export good”. Because, you know, it is never the style in which the artist worked that is at issue, but rather, how truly ardent the artist was in his creativity and productivity, and how much he enjoyed the creative process itself. That is a quality that can be felt when you look at the works after the fact. The viewers' distrust of conceptual and intellectual art is characteristic of our region. But put on a patch of crazy creativity, and the viewers are attracted like bees to honey. And lastly, Visvaldis Zariņš was in possession of a good sense of humor.


Sirje Helme, former Director of the Estonian Contemporary Art Center, Director of the KUMU museum from 2005 to 2008, and since 2009, Director of the Estonian Museum of Art

That is a serious question that cannot be easily answered in short. I'll start with the fact that in Estonian art history, we don't have any blank spots or unknown persons who were rediscovered later on. When I first saw the sizable book about Visvaldis Ziediņš, I was shocked at how uneducated I was! I was later mollified by the fact that in Latvia, as I understand it, he was also largely unknown to most.

The retrospective dedicated to Ziediņš is assuredly a rewriting of Latvian art history. At least compared to Estonian art history, in which we've only had the chance to correct or augment some small aspects, nothing like what you have now – the presentation of a completely new artist. The situation may have developed differently in Estonia because, thanks to cultural funding, we've been actively buying-up works created in the 60s and onwards already since the early 1990s, and so we're cognizant of what was created.

I am convinced that precisely the end of the 1960s was a crucial period in art history because of the changing paradigm in art. Along with the reminiscences of pop art, a new way of thinking was introduced – a turning towards the materialism of art and the questioning of what is art, overall? Those were big changes. Ziediņš also belongs to this period, and that underlines his significance. It is time to write Visvaldis Ziediņš into the Latvian art of the 1960s and 70s; you have to find him his own niche.

In terms of the Baltic region, I have difficulty commenting on Lithuania because Lithuania's art history has gone a different route than Estonia's and Latvia's. One notices more of a Central European influence on their art. Even though there are also significant examples of Lithuanian art from the 60s that we haven't yet had a chance to exhibit at KUMU. I think that's a future  homework assignment for us. Thanks to Visvaldis Ziediņš, now all three Baltic States have excellent examples of art from the 1960s. Placing them alongside one another, it's possible to compare art movements and the spirit of the era. It would interest me to look at this specifically from the aspect of materiality – that the artists have knocked down all fences when it comes to the choice of materials used.

Returning to Visvaldis Ziediņš, I am very taken by his approach to being inspired by art history and keeping only that which interested him the most. That's not even just inspiration – it's more like an alphabet. All of these influences that Ziediņš had are letters in the hands of the artist – with which to write new texts of his own. That's why it's not right for us, as viewers looking at the artworks, to immediately think – where have I seen that already? That's not what it's about.


In June 2015, and under the auspices of Latvia's 2015 Presidency of the Council of the EU, the Visvaldis Ziediņš exhibition will be on display at the Katzen Arts Center at American University in Washington, DC. The exhibition in the US will be curated by: Eleanor Heartney, notable art critic; Jack Rasmussen, art historian and Director of the Katzen Art Center; and Ieva Kalniņa, Latvian art historian.

Requests for funding the exhibition at the Estonian National Art Museum KUMU were submitted several times to Latvia's State Culture Capital Foundation, but were rejected as being “not topical enough compared to other projects” that were also requesting funding, which is why the organizers of this project are especially grateful for the financial support given by Dina and Jānis Zuzāns, and to “Alfor” Ltd. for their decisive support in bringing the exhibition to completion.


Visvaldis Ziedins

Weizenbergi 34 / Valge 1
Tallina, Igaunija