Vija Celmiņa’s “Double Reality” at Art Museum Riga Bourse
Vija Celmiņa, “Dubultā realitāte” / “Double Reality” The Main Gallery of the Art Museum Riga Bourse, Riga April 12 – June 22, 2014
Vija Celmiņa (1938) is one of the most sought-after artists of the 21st century – two years ago, her drawing, “Untitled #8”, sold at New York's Christie’s auction house for US $1,142,500. Done in graphite on paper, the rendering of a celestial sky being split by the tail of a comet is the artist's priciest piece so far. The infinitely deep worlds that Celmiņa conjures-up on flat planes of paper are highly demanded by collectors – who are more than willing to wait in line for one of her works, since each one takes months to complete.
From April 12 through June 22, the Main Gallery in the Art Museum Riga Bourse will be the one rare place in Europe where one can see so many of Celmiņa's works gathered together in one spot. The exhibition, “Double Reality”, spans fifty years of the artist's creative career – from 1964 to 2014. It is also a sort of “home-coming” to Celmiņa's birthplace of Riga. Celmiņa spent only the first six years of her life in Latvia – in 1944, together with her mother, father and sister, WWII forced the family to flee Latvia. After four years spent in refugee camps in Germany, the family was able to emigrate to America, and Celmiņa celebrated her tenth birthday on a new continent; Celmiņa still lives in the US today.
Untitled (Ocean). 1969. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Collection. Photo: McKee Gallery
Newly arrived in the USA, Celmiņa could neither speak nor write English, and this language barrier led to her spending a lot of time drawing and painting, both at home and in school. Nevertheless, Celmiņa decided to become a painter only in 1961, after having spent a summer semester with a powerful contingent of art students and artists at Yale University in New Haven. She left her parents' home and moved to Los Angeles, staying there until 1980, which is when she moved to New York.
The keys to Celmiņa's success, as she herself states, are hard work and making sure to never stray away from view. And after more than thirty years of following this regimen, it began to pay off. It was specifically Celmiņa's drawings that brought her world-wide recognition – white sheets of paper filled with fragile, gray spiderwebs... with shadowy, undulating oceanic waves... or with an infinite number of constellations on the backdrop of a dark cosmos. As for her methods, Celmiņa draws from photographs. During her thirty-year retrospective in London in 1996, the UK newspaper, The Independent, called Celmiņa “the best-kept secret in American art”.
The works on display in Riga have been assembled from numerous world-class museums and collections: the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the National Art Gallery in Washington, DC; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Frankfurt (am Main) Museum of Modern Art; the Fondation Cartier Contemporary Art Center in Paris; the Tate Gallery in London; the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; the collection of the USA Embassy in Latvia: the Mūkusalas Mākslas Salons collection, the Latvian National Art Museum's permanent collection; and the McKee Gallery in New York, as well as from the artist's own collection of artworks.