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Žilvinas Kempinas. Illuminator XXV, 2015. Exposition at Vartai Gallery, 2016. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis

Art Agenda 2017: the Baltic countries 0

A selection of the most significant exhibitions for the first months of the year 2017

Elina Ije,

What can one see in the exhibition spaces of the Baltic States – Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia – in the first part of the new year? The Panevezys Ceramic Art Pavilion is beginning a series of solo shows featuring the artists in its collection with an exhibition of vibrant works by the Latvian duo SkujaBraden. At the Tallinn art gallery Temnikova & Kasela, Estonian artist Jaanus Samma studies the behavior and movement trajectories of people using men’s public restrooms, while in the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga, we will soon be able to view the works of the finalists for the 2017 Purvītis Prize, Latvia’s most substantial art award.


Žilvinas Kempinas
Galerija Vartai, Vilnius
Through 03.02.2017

Žilvinas Kempinas. Illuminators (2015), White noise (2007), and Bearings (2015). Exposition at Vartai Gallery, 2016. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis

The works of New-York based Lithuanian artist Žilvinas Kempinas (1969) are often filed into categories such as “minimalistic”, “abstract”, and “kinetic”. Kempinas avoids labeling himself in that way, and emphasizes that movement, space and light – in combination with the viewer’s perception – is what interests him; consequently, his works can be fully experienced only in person. Another one of his traits is experimentation with a variety of mediums and materials, such as the magnetic tape from VHS cassettes, with which he likes to create his visually intense installations, such as: White Noise, his work from 2007 which brought to mind the white “snow” one sees on a TV screen when it’s not tuned to a channel; or the piece Columns, (2006); and, of course, Kempinas’ large-scale installation Tube (2008) – a twenty-five-meter-long tunnel made from videotapes. This literally-vibrating piece, which was exhibited at the Lithuanian pavilion at the 53rd Venice Art Biennale in 2009, also hinted at the waters of Venice, and created a visual and physical experience so strong that it very nearly obscured its viewers’ reference points in time and space.

In his exhibition at Vartai gallery, five of Kempinas’ Illuminators brightly glow in the darkened space of the gallery, and not too far away one can hear White Noise; after strolling through the hypnotizing Forest, you arrive in one of two lit rooms where you are faced by Oasis – a magnetic tape undulating in the center of the room with the help of a fan – and the shapes it generates are seemingly recreated in two huge paintings that hang on the wall.

Tomas Martišauskis “Meadow Guesses”
Project space “Sodų 4”, Vilnius
Through 28.01.2017

Tomas Martišauskis. Meadow Guesses. Publicity image

Starting with 28 January, the works of Lithuanian artist Tomas Martišauskis will be on view at the “Sodų 4” project space.

A sculptor, installation artist and photographer, Martišauskis has been actively working in the field of new media since 2011. The digital parallel world – the Internet and new technologies – serve as the raw materials for his creative experiments that define from anew the possibilities and limits of contemporary sculpture.

The exhibition “Meadow Guesses” has been created as a static journey into time where, at the speed of light, the pages of history have been turned from the ancient world to the digital present. Created in several mediums, the objects and installations have brought back to life the ancient Greek legend of a mythological titan – Prometheus. According to the myth, Prometheus stole fire from the gods of Olympus, brought this fire to Earth, and gave it to humans. By presenting civilization with various practical skills, he poured the foundation for humanity’s unending quest for technical completion and independence from Nature’s base conditions.

Visitors to the exhibition are given the opportunity to be “present from afar”: come face to face with reanimated myths, take in the microscopic quality of gigantic forms, and experience the materiality and plasticity of digital information.

Citynature: Vilnius and Beyond
National Gallery of Art, Vilnius

Citynature: Vilnius and Beyond. Allium Sativum. Courtesy of Life Sciences Center, Institute of Biosciences. Photo: Mindaugas Rasimavičius

From 3 February to 19 March, Lithuania’s National Gallery of Art will be presenting the urban-environment-themed exhibition “Citynature: Vilnius and Beyond”, in which the territory of Vilnius plays a special part.

In this exhibition, the city is viewed as not just a discrete, human-created entity, but as a specific ecosystem in which the presence of humans is in a state of constant interaction with both living and non-living natural processes.

Featured in the exhibition are works by internationally recognized artists – Kader Attia, Julius von Bismarck, and Kuai Shen, as well as Lithuanian artists: the artist duo Pakui Hardware, Julijonas Urbonas, and Rimantas Jankauskas. The visual material on view has been created in cooperation with an urban planner, an architect, and an engineer; namely, together with these experts in their respective fields, the artists have chosen to look upon the city from the perspective of a bat – they searched for parallels between a modern-day city and an ant hill. Also notable is the project’s acceptance of robots as an integrated part of society.

Along with these new works, the exhibition also presents research done on urban centers in the last ten years by archaeologists, botanists, meteorologists, and other urban specialists.

SkujaBraden “Curve Increased”
Panevezys Civic Art Gallery, Panevėžys
Through 26.02.2017

SkujaBraden. Life and Death, 2016 (porcelain)

The Panevežys Ceramic Art Pavilion houses the permanent collection that has been created over the last 21 symposiums, and in 2017 the space was opened up for working artists to create solo exhibitions within the main collection. The idea for this came from the Latvian artist duo SkujaBraden’s brilliant conceptual works.

The intentions of SkujaBraden are found within the forms, and can be attributed to the drawings on them and the acute attention to detail – such as the color and design that play off of a sleek form that combines the aesthetics of ugliness and beauty, all in one. Their large porcelain vase, Life and Death, highlights a centrally-placed skull that sprouts flowers like Mickey Mouse ears as it floats on a collar of hand-sewn sacks resembling voo-doo dolls; also illustrated on the vase are juicy female genitals with fingers in them, feathers, and a springy worm that (like a Jack-in-the-box) props the image up above a foreground of black flower silhouettes. The piece suggests death, but it is more about life. Additionally, it immediately brings into question the outdated perceptions surrounding ceramics – basically, the idea that if something is made from ceramic material, it is a craft. In our modern-day society, a statement like this may seem pointless, but the perceptions among Lithuanians and people from other European countries – regarding artists who work in ceramics – indicate that the break between the fine arts and the applied arts is only gradually diminishing; in addition, a sense of discrimination against ceramic art is still the norm in fine arts’ communities. In this case, SkujaBraden believe that contemporary ceramics (and their own works) are conceptual art, and they do not dive headlong into denial. The motif of a vase, which appears often in their works, is a statement of the idea that conceptualism and pragmatism can form a useful symbiosis. Upon first look, pieces like Flower Face Vase, Life and Death, and Latvian Austerity do not resemble or remind one immediately of a vase –sometimes just the title, or the flowers placed in it, speak about the work’s true function.


Vladimir Tarasov “Water Music and Other Pictures of Sound”
KUMU Art Museum, Tallinn
Through 12.02.2017

Vladimir Tarasov. Water Music, 1992. Sound installation. Photo: courtesy of the artist

American avant-garde composer John Cage once said that an empty space and free time are things that don’t last for long. There’s always something to see and hear. Basically, it is not in the power of humans to create silence.

Through 12 February, the KUMU art museum in Tallinn is presenting a synthesis of music and sculpture by way of installations created by Lithuanian composer and sound artist Vladimir Tarasov.

Read in the Archive: An interview with Vladimir Tarasov, jazz musician and artist - “If someone tried to play like Jimi Hendrix now – they wouldn’t get anywhere!”

The show consists of a series of Tarasov’s most well-known sound compositions, including his joint project with Ilya Kabakov, “Water Music” (1992), which was also the inspiration for the name of the exhibition. “Water Music” is an elegant collection of the composer’s creative oeuvre. Using minimalistic sound compositions and the dramaticism of the exhibit, Tarasov creates a space that is filled to capacity; in addition, the viewer’s personal experience and memories of paintings become essential in the artwork’s final phase – namely, sound becomes visible. In this case, one must agree with John Cage’s idea that to hear, one must first be able to see.

Making Places: Fieldoffice Architects
Museum of Estonian Architecture, Tallinn
Through 26.02.2017

Fieldoffice Architects. Cherry Orchard Cemetery Service Center, 2005–2014. Photo:

“Making Places: Fieldoffice Architects”, at the Museum of Estonian Architecture through 26 February, is an exhibition presenting the most significant  international architectural designs and models created by the Taiwan-based architectural offices of Fieldoffice Architects.

Inarguably, the firm’s driving force is made up of the human dimension, urban space, and – always in a state of opposition to the first two – nature. Fieldoffice Architects primarily develops projects that are located deep in the city; one could say they perform a kind of acupuncture on the city by working on and improving already existing structures. Many of the firm’s completed projects are in the north of Taiwan, in Yilan, a city of more than half a million. In addition to the stormy relationship with the government of China, the city must also deal with an even greater power – destructive natural disasters and weather events. These are formidable adversaries, and the ability to face these challenges with innovatory solutions is Fieldoffice Architects’ strong side.

Jaanus Samma “Divider”
Temnikova & Kasela, Tallinn
21.01.2017 – 11.03.2017

Jaanus Samma. Divider. Publicity image

Tallinn’s contemporary art gallery Temnikova & Kasela will be presenting the solo show “Divider”, by Estonian artist Jaanus Samma, from 21 January to 11 March. At the exhibition’s center of attention is a space both self-evident and marginal – the public toilet, a place with a rather unstable boundary dividing public space from private space.

The conditions in urban public restrooms (as in any public building or space) are dictated by the rules of use, which, in this case, are determined by the sex of the persons using it.

Jaanus Samma demonstrates a more detailed analysis of these particular spaces through various media; he studies the behavior and movement trajectories of “the visitors” to these spaces, and points out how they are linked to social norms. As in his previous works, Samma continues to play the role of an unconventional historian who studies neglected social phenomena and myths.

In this exhibition, Samma reveals how the masculine side and “social-communication functions” of these spaces designated “only for men” have evolved over time and in various cultures.


2017 Purvītis Prize Exhibition
Latvian National Museum of Art, Riga
18.02.2017 – 9.04.2017

Beginning 18 February, an exhibition featuring the work of the finalists for the 2017 Purvītis Prize will be held in the Great Hall of the Latvian National Museum of Art. The Purvītis Prize is the largest visual arts award in Latvia. Established in 2008, it is awarded every other year to an artist or artist group representing Latvian art who have created excellent work that both reflects current events and embodies links to modern-day life, spiritual ideals, and absolute values. The winner of the prize (in the amount of 28,500 EUR) is decided by a specially assembled panel of international judges and experts. In 2009, the first winner of the Purvītis Prize was Katrīna Neiburga. She was followed in subsequent years by Kristaps Ģelzis (2011), Andris Eglītis (2013), and Miķelis Fišers (2015).

In evaluating the work of Latvia’s artist over the last two years, the following artists have been selected as finalists for the 2017 Purvītis Prize: Arturs Bērziņš, Ivars Drulle, Kristaps Epners, Atis Jākobsons, Voldemārs Johansons, Maija Kurševa, Anda Lāce, and Krišs Salmanis together with Anna Salmane un Kristaps Pētersons. The winner of the 2017 Purvītis Prize will announced on 17 February. 

Jānis Avotiņš. “Laiktelpas klejotāji”/ “Wanderers in Spacetime”
Mūkusala Art Salon, Riga
3.02.2017 – 11.03.2017

Jānis Avotiņš. Penumbra IV, 2016. Oil on canvas. 111 x 103 cm. Publicity image

In the upcoming months, we encourage you not to pass up the opportunity to see the works of internationally-recognized Latvian artist Jānis Avotiņš – From 3 February to 11 March, his solo exhibition of paintings, titled “Wanderers in Spacetime”, will be on view in the Great Room of Mūkusala Art Salon.

Winner of the prestigious 2016 Jean-François Prat Prize, Jānis Avotiņš’ works can be found in notable private collections ithroughout Europe, the US and Japan, including those of well-known collectors François Pinault, Charles Saatchi, and Sandretto Re Rebaudengo.

Avotiņš received his master’s degree from the Latvian Academy of Art. Since 2004 he has had more than 40 shows in Germany, Italy, the US and Great Britain. He is represented by the Rüdiger Schoettle gallery in Munich, the Vera Munro gallery in Hamburg, Akinci gallery in Amsterdam, and IBID Projects (London/Los Angeles). Avotiņš’ last solo show in Latvia took place in 2004.

Kristians Brekte. “Arsenāls”
ARSENĀLS Exhibition Hall, Riga
Through 12.02.2017

Kristians Brekte. “Arsenāls”. Exposition view. 2016. Photo: Modris Svilāns

Up through 12 February, the “Arsenāls” exhibition hall of the Latvian National Museum of Art is presenting the solo show of artist and scenographer Kristians Brekte.

This is Brekte’s largest solo show to date, and features new works – large-format paintings, ready-made objects, and multimedia installations – all on the theme of the military. Brekte has transformed the space of the armory into a contemporary narrative on human nature when placed under real or perceived threat. Found photographs, vernacular objects, screen-prints, sculptural objects, oil paintings, and “noise” music embody Brekte’s understanding of the armory’s basis and significance today. “Armory/arsenal” has become the main key-word of the event, in terms of the “Arsenāls” exhibition hall’s function as an armory building over the centuries, as well as in relation to the topic of arming oneself militarily, both historically and today.

Read in the Archive | A selection of the most significant exhibitions for the first half of the year 2017: the Nordic countries