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(Fragment) Šarūnas Sauka. Self-Portrait No 4., 1985. Oil on canvas, 110x110. Artist's property

Core Baltic Art Events Taking Place In the First Half of the Year 0

What is there to see in the art spaces of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia this last month of winter and in the coming spring? Tallinn's KUMU art museum is marking its first decade with a hit parade of its contemporary art collection, while Vilnius' VARTAI gallery is celebrating its 25th anniversary by inviting to the party the people responsible for some of its greatest exhibitions – artists who have gained recognition beyond Lithuania's borders. A stimulating architecture exhibition featuring the creative transformations of one of Estonia's greatest postmodernist architects – Vilen Künnapu, designer of Tartu's Snailtower – is being held at the Museum of Estonian Architecture; while in Lithuania, the public will be able to look upon the many faces of rebel painter Šarūnas Sauka – through his depictions of female nudes and images of Jesus Christ. Beginning with April, the Latvian cultural space will be run over by photography, but in May, the Latvian National Museum of Art will reopen its newly-renovated doors with an exhibition on the painter Miervaldis Polis, the official portraitist of Latvia's presidents.


NSFW. A Chairman’s Tale
Museum of Occupations, Tallinn
From April 14, 2016 

Jaanuss Samma. Public Toilet. A Chairman’s Tale. 2015

This April, Estonia's Museum of Occupations will be hosting the piece that Estonia presented at the 56th Venice Biennale – Estonian artist Jaanus Samma's expansion on the story he first broached in “Chairman. The Opera”, a work which received both the Köler Prize and the People’s Choice Award in 2013. Taking the real-life biography of the “Chairman”, a name given to a notorious gay man in Tartu, Samma created “NSFW. A Chairman’s Tale”, a piece that combines installation, documents, archival photos, film and photographs.

Read in Archive: A Chairman’s Tale in Venice. Jaanus Samma on his “NSFW. A Chairman’s Tale”

The “chairman” of Samma’s tale is Juhan Ojaste (1921-1990), a war hero and “family man” whose nickname was derived from his position on a kolkhoz (a collective farm) in Soviet Estonia. In 1964, due to his involvement in homosexual acts which were criminalized during this period, he was arrested and expelled from the Communist Party, enduring a degrading trial followed by a prison sentence. In the exhibition, Samma places the visitor in an active position that requires him or her to play a multitude of roles that simultaneously spy upon, judge, condemn and empathize with the “Chairman”, making for uncomfortable, but necessary, viewing. 

Vilen Künnapu. Art, Architecture, Revolution
Museum of Estonian Architecture, Tallinn
Through April 17, 2016

Publicity image

Vilen Künnapu (1948) is seen as a cornerstone of Estonian architecture, one without whom the country's latest architectural landscape would be unthinkable. Alongside his architectural achievements, Künnapu is also known as an artist, as well as for being the father of August Künnapu – himself a master of figural painting and an architect. A spiritual awakening experienced at the start of the 2000s strongly influenced Vilen Künnapu's view of his own body of work, and caused him to reevaluate these past projects. Since 2004 he has turned his efforts towards sacral architecture, working on projects for churches, temples, meditation centers and so forth.

The Elephant House (Villa Kristi) / Vilen Künnapu. Photo: © Arne Maasik

Ten years ago Vilen Künnapu allowed himself to be taken over by a passion for painting, subsequently transferring aspects of it to architecture; as a result, the colors and forms found in his latest projects have brought a slightly eccentric accent to Estonia's newest architectural structures.

This exhibition follows along with Künnapu's creative metamorphoses, with architecture not even at the center of attention. Instead, it is the artist's drawings, collages and paintings that have been put on view here which, perhaps, will bring the viewer a better understanding of Vilen Künnapu's creative meanderings and maturation.

Every Letter is a Love Letter
Tallinn Art Hall, Tallinn
Through March 6, 2016

Gerard Byrne. New Sexual Lifestyles, 2003. Video installation. Courtesy of the Irish Museum of Modern Art

Curated by Estonian artist Marge Monko, the concept for this international exhibition has been based on the book “I Love Dick” (1997), by American author and filmmaker Chris Kraus. The book focuses on the point of contemporary love, while the exhibition stands to answer the following questions: What has happened to poetic love in the world we live in? Is there any possibility of reinventing the romantic love depicted in chivalric novels?

Among the artists participating: Gerard Byrne (IE), Heman Chong (SG), Hamza Halloubi (BE), Egon van Herreweghe (BE), Minna Hint (EE), Erika Hock (DE), Johnson & Johnson (EE), Anu Põder (EE), Meggy Rustamova (BE), and Anna-Stina Treumund (EE).

Kris Lemsalu and Tiit Pääsuk: Beauty and the Beast
Tallinn Art Hall, Tallinn
March 19 – May 1, 2016

The joint exhibition of two artists – Tiit Pääsuke (b. 1941) who established himself forcefully and firmly among Estonia’s top painters in the 70s and Kris Lemsalu, (b. 1985), who was educated as a ceramicist, developed into a nomad and is now marking the art landscape as a powerful crustacean, is called Beauty and the Beast.  This alludes to the relativity of assessments that come to light in the familiar fairytale, which Tiit and Kris use to erase the span of 40 years that separates them, with all the contextuality that entails.

Visually the two have much in common: an intensity and synchronicity of colours, subject matter with a taximdermic quality that includes a substantial number of animals and women, dramatic theatricality and more or less subtle symbolism. The content of the latter includes pure artistic power and self-opulence in the case of Tiit Pääsuke, and a trust in the archetypal meaning of tribal rituals in the case of Kris Lemsalu.

Kris fills a gap in Estonian art history, with its dearth of “primitive energy” that works with real, wild and authentic images. Tiit is a sensitive master and professional, who has recognised the power of this immediate and raw energy and who, without betraying his erudition and resources, is moving towards her.

KUMU Hits. Contemporary Art from the Collection of the Art Museum of Estonia
KUMU, Tallinn
April 8 – August 28, 2016

Jass Kaselaan. Square of Dolls, 2014. Exhibition view at EKKM Köler Prize 2014

Being the largest art museum in the Baltics, and one of the largest in Northern Europe, the KUMU Art Museum is seen as the region's most notable buyer of contemporary art, as well as the owner of the largest collection of such art. In celebration of its 10th anniversary, KUMU is presenting its visitors a hit-parade of its collection, through the middle of August. Read more...

RAM. Early Estonian Computer Art
KUMU, Tallinn
February 16 – September 4, 2016

The FARM / BlueMoon Software. Jaan Tallinn, Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu, Juhan Soomets, Kaspar P. Loit, Ott Aaloe. ROKETZ, 1995

By now, enough time has passed since the invention of personal computers to find it interesting how, and what kind of, visuals were made on them when they first became available. The exhibition RAM is a kind of history of computer use in Estonian visual culture. A lot of the works are on display in a museum for the first time. Never before have Estonian exhibition halls shown the most famous demo in Estonia from those days, or computer games from the early 1990s, some of which were created by the same programmers who later brought us Skype. Read more...

The International Art World Meets Tallinn program
Center for Contemporary Arts, Tallinn

 Orit Gat
February 18 (6.00 PM) Estonian Academy of Sciences (Kohtu 6, Tallinn)
February 19 (10.00 AM) Estonian Academy of Arts (Suur-Kloostri 11, Tallinn)

As part of The International Art World Meets Tallinn program, Orit Gat, the New York-based art publicist, will lead a seminar and workshop on internet culture and online art publicity. Gat's articles have been published in the new-media online magazine Rhizome, as well as in leading contemporary art and culture publications such as Frieze and ArtReview.

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. Photo: Marco Ventimiglia

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
March 31 (6.00 PM) Estonian Academy of Sciences (Kohtu 6, Tallinn)
April 1 (10.00 AM) Estonian Academy of Arts (SuurKloostri 11, Tallinn)

A lecture and seminar on the problematics encountered by today's curators, given by American curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev (who was born into an Italian-Bulgarian family and raised in both Washington and Italy).

Christov-Bakargiev held the position of Senior Curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, an affiliate of MoMA, from 1999–2001; in 2008 she was appointed artistic director of the 16th Biennale of Sydney, entitled Revolutions – Forms that Turn. Christov-Bakargiev is only the second woman, and the first American, to have directed dOCUMENTA. Just recently she was appointed director of the Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, and starting with January 1 of this year, she is also the director of Turin's contemporary and modern art gallery, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea. In 2015, Christov-Bakargiev curated the Istanbul Biennale. Read in the Archive: The Transformation of Material. A conversation with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev about the 14th Biennale of Istanbul


The Man with Sauka's Face. Paintings by Šarūnas Sauka. 1978−2015
National Gallery of Art, Vilnius
Through March 6, 2016

Šarūnas Sauka. Bathing II. 1985

This retrospective of the eminent Lithuanian artist Šarūnas Sauka (1958) features more than 100 paintings. Saukas appeared on the Lithuanian art scene in the 1970s, when artistic expression was still under the massive thumb of Soviet censure. Nevertheless, that fact did not deter Sauka from expressing his unbreakable spirit of rebellion, thereby challenging both society and the system. In 1989, at age 31, he was awarded the country's most prestigious award for artists, the Lithuanian National Culture and Art Prize. His works are often said to have a similar signature to that of Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch. The works of both men often depict complex, worrying, and very unusual apocalyptic visions, but Sauka adds references to mythology, literature, and film- and art history. Sauka gives his precise attention to every small detail; unsurprisingly, his large-format works sometimes take years to complete.

One of the most prominent motifs in Saukas' paintings is his own face; it is regularly featured in all of his works. “This face is a mask worn by the most diverse characters, ranging from a female nude to Jesus Christ,” says Monika Saukaitė, the curator of the exhibition. “These characters with the same face connect all of the paintings into a coherent whole, in a weird and integrated world based on its own peculiar logic.” 

The Painting Show. Recent Painting from the United Kingdom
CAC, Vilnius
Through March 13, 2016

Dawn Mellor. Claire as Madame as Queen Elizabeth II, 2013. oil paint on canvas, 122 x 152,5 cm. MOT International, London

Presenting a selection of works by fifteen British artists, this group show is a good representation of the energy and diversity found in today's contemporary British painting. Included are such artists as Merlin Carpenter, Stuart Cumberland, Dexter Dalwood, Kaye Donachie, Michael Fullerton, Celia Hempton, Morag Keil, Fiona MacKay, Lucy McKenzie, Dawn Mellor, Alan Michael, Michael Simpson, Sue Tompkins, Neal Jones, and Pádraig Timoney.

Galerija Vartai, Vilnius
February 19 – April 2, 2016

Deimantas Narkevičius. The Role of Lifetime. 2003. Video. Exhibition Sounds Like the XX Century at Vartai in 2014. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis

To celebrate its 25th birthday, Vartai gallery has assembled the artists with whom it has not only collaborated the most with over these two and half decades, but also those who have gained international recognition. Included in this lucky group are Žilvinas Kempinas, Deimantas Narkevičius, Svajonė and Paulius Stanikas, Julijonas Urbonas, Andrius Zakarauskas, Jurga Barilaitė, Laura Garbštienė, Ugnius Gelguda, Robertas Narkus, Linas Jusionis, Rūtenė Merkliopaitė and VytautasViržbickas. Enhancing the exhibition are installations that were specially made for the event by the art critic Danutė Gambickaitė and the artist Arnas Anskaitis.

Visitors will have the opportunity to discover the vibrant diversity present in Lithuanian contemporary art: from minimalistic objects that flip upside down one's senses of place, time and movement, to visually stunning and erotically charged painterly works and depictions of personal existential experience. From scientific projections on quality of life, to escapist attempts at breaking out of the magic circle. From contemplation of serious contradictions in contemporary art, to the reviewing of basic values. From meditative ecological quests to the consonance of synthesizers and critical texts.


Romans Suta and Sigismunds Vidbergs: Creative Dialogue Between Two Artists
Museum of Romans Suta and Aleksandra Beļcova: Exhibition Room
Through April 23, 2016

Romans Suta. Self portrait in studio, 1929. SBM collection

2016 will be the 120th year since the birth of Romans Suta, the notable Latvian artist and vividly striking disciple of classic modernism. In honor of this occasion, the Museum of Romans Suta and Aleksandra Beļcova will be organizing a host of exhibitions that will explore Suta's body of creative work, as well as other artists who played meaningful roles in Suta's creative life; one of these persons was Sigismunds Vidbergs (1890-1970).

The lives of Suta and Vidbergs flowed parallel to one another for quite a while: both were members of the Riga Artists Group; both organized and worked in the porcelain painting workshop “Baltars” (1924); and both were among the founders of the Riga Graphic Artists Association (1928). Being excellent graphic artists, Suta and Vidbergs each had their own individual style and artistic language even though they both used the same technique – ink drawings. It wasn't unusual for them to draw similar images and scenes – café customers, the city's night life, circus artists, erotic tableaux. Nevertheless, their works were always very different from the others, both in terms of execution and in artistic vision.

This exhibition is a virtual dialog between the two artists – one that emphasizes character, temperamental features, and the succinct individuality of each man's outlook on life. 

Lost in the Archive
Exhibition Hall Riga Art Space, Riga
Through March 27, 2016

Taus Makhacheva. Tightrope, 2015. Publicity image

In the exhibition “Lost in the Archive”, the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art has turned to its expansive archive, an entity that not only collects and collates important information, but which also creates a thoroughly individual history, present and future of a place. Documentation on exhibitions, events and people – the testimonies found in the archives have become the foundation for the creation of stories, and the exhibition will reveal new links between events that have taken place in the recent past. In order for the exhibition to take on a broader context, both Latvian and international artists have been invited to participate: Babak Afrassiabi and Nasrin TabatabaiAlberto Baraya, Jānis Borgs and Laura Feldberga, Ivars Drulle, Aiga Dzalbe and Kristaps Epners, Maryam Jafri, Viktorija Eksta, Inga Erdmane, Kristaps Grundšteins and Līga Lindenbauma, Žilvinas LandzbergasTaus Makhacheva, Haralds Matulis and Ieva Saulīte, Agnieszka Polska, Laura Prikule, Mammu and Passi RauhalaTanel Rander, Traģisko pētījumu centrs (Kaspars Groševs, Ainārs Kamoliņš, Daiga Kažociņa), Raden Saleh, and Jevgeni Zolotko. The works of these artists will reveal essential questions surrounding the construing of historical facts, as well as on the relationships linking culture, politics and ideology in specific historic time periods and today.

 Aboriginal and Papuan Art
Art Museum “Riga Bourse”
February 13 – April 17, 2016

Exposition view.  The Australian Aborigine and New Guinean art exhibition at the Lithuanian Art Museum. Publicity photo

Having come directly from the Lithuanian Art Museum, this exhibition at the Riga Bourse allows its visitors to become acquainted with artifacts created by the indigenous peoples of Australia and New Guinea – paintings, figures of gods, ritual objects – that deal with these peoples' spiritual traditions and that have been used in various ritual ceremonies. Thousands-of-years-old symbols that have been preserved on rock walls, eucalyptus bark, and the sands of the dessert tell the tales of the Australian Aborigine “Dreaming Stories”; these, in turn, tell of their ancestors' tenets for life. Most of the statues in the exhibition have been used as proxies for gods at sacred ceremonial sites, or were placed in the sterns of ships to serve as protection from evil spirits. The Papuan people regarded the figures as mediators between the living and the dead, entities who had supernatural powers that could help them gain victories, have successful hunts, and aid in fertility. 

The Riga Photography Biennial (RPB) 
April-June, 2016

Andrejs Strokins. From Cosmic sadness series, 2011–2015

This will be the inaugural year for the Riga Photography Biennial, an international contemporary art event. Conceptually, the Biennial will focus on geopolitical issues specific to the Baltic, Nordic and Eastern European regions – memories, dreams, reality.

Numerous exhibitions will take place under the wing of the Biennial in the cities of Riga, Jūrmala and Kuldīga: the Riga Art Space, the Latvian Museum of Photography, the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, the “Alma” art gallery, “Art Station Dubulti”, the Kuldīga Art House, public spaces throughout Riga, and elsewhere. A major event of the Biennial will be an interdisciplinary symposium in which participants will speak, analyze and discuss the role of photography in a post-digital era. The Biennial will also bring attention to young artists with the presentation of the award titled “Look For the New In Photography!”

Participants: Jennifer Allen (CA/DE), Ivars Grāvlejs (LV/CZ), Amalia Ulman (AR/USA), Alise Tīfentāle (LV/USA), Agnieszka Polska (PO/NL), Eva Stenram (SE/UK), Natasha Caruana (UK), Zane Mellupe (LV/CH), Uldis Briedis (LV), Isabelle Wenzel (DE), Stefan Sava (RO), Alexandra Navratil (SW/NE), Viktorija Eksta (LV), Andrejs Strokins (LV), Katrīna Teivāne-Korpa (LV), Sarker Protick (BD), Alexander Ugay (KZ), Camille Laurelli (FR/EE), Isabelle Wenzel (DE) and others.

Opening week of the Riga Photography Biennial: April 14 – 24.

Riga Photomonth
May 2 – June 23, 2016

Heikki Kaski. From 
Tranquility series. Publicity image

Through May and June of 2016, Riga Photomonth events will be taking place in various venues throughout Riga. The program's central happening will be an international photography exhibition at the Latvian Railway History Museum, curated by JH Engström, one of today's most celebrated contemporary photographers. Engström is known for his unique style which is often described as “visual poetry” – eclectic images with a snapshot-aesthetic, frequently arranged in collages. His works have been exhibited several times in the world's largest photography festival, Rencontres d'Arles, as well as at the Saatchi Gallery in London and in Amsterdam's FOAM museum of photography. For the last two years, Engström has been the curator for the Landskrona Foto Festival in Sweden.

More than 30 different events will take place during Riga Photomonth, including photography exhibitions, lectures, and the self-publishing series of events called “Riga Self Publish”. The main opening events for Riga Photomonth will take place from May 12 – 15.

Miervaldis Polis. “Illusion as Reality”
Latvian National Museum of Art
May 4 – July 24, 2016

Miervaldis Polis. Reverie, 1982. LNMM colelction. Photo: Normunds Brasliņš 

A solo show of the works of one of Latvia's living art legends, Miervaldis Polis, is how the Latvian National Museum of Art has decided to mark the official reopening of its main building this May. Taking place in the Museum's Great Hall, the exhibition “Illusion as Reality” will be the first exhibition to represent all of Polis' periods of creative activity, featuring pieces on loan from many notable museums both inside and outside of Latvia, as well as from private collections.

Miervaldis Polis' (1948) creative body of work is characterized by conceptual ruminations on the illusory nature of reality, searches for one's identity, and individual and societal self-reflection. This intellectually restless and venturesome artist has powerfully impacted Latvia's visual culture, being both a part of its avant-garde and strengthening the understanding of classic values. His technically impeccable paintings, postmodern collages and performances have become widely recognizable signs of the era's aesthetic and socio-political changes, bringing a new paradigm of thinking into the art of the socialism period. Having consciously distanced himself from engaging in the public art scene in the last couple of decades, Polis continues to paint representative commission-portraits in his skillfully photo-realistic manner.