Every year comes with new experiences, unsuspecting surprises, and often times, disappointments. That's why we decided to query several art-and-culture people from the Baltics, Scandinavia, Russia and other European countries on what they regarded as the surprises and disappointments of 2014, in terms of art and culture.
Art collector Alain Servais (Belgium)
The withdrawal of public authorities from the essential funding of culture as a space for both questioning and the opening of minds.
Mia Sundberg, curator at Spritmuseum in Stockholm
A slight disappointment would be Artipelag’s exhibition, “Here/Now”, which is based on Bruce Nauman’s essay, “The Sublime is Now”, and has been described as “taking a stand for the physical meeting between artwork and the viewer”. The concept of the exhibition itself is OK, and no shadow has fallen on the artists, but overall, the show consists of a number of huge, site-specific artworks that have been crammed-up side by side, in a very poorly curated show. Although the artworks by Sophie Tottie and Jens Fänge, who were fortunate enough to be assigned separate rooms, are brilliant!
My other great disappointment this year was in London. I had big issues with Anselm Keifer’s show at the Royal Academy, largely because of the blatant sexism present in his work. One of the monumental paintings from the show had a vagina detata at the center, made from an old leg-hold bear trap. How is that even possible today?
Dmitry Bulatov, curator (Russia)
If we are talking about surprises, then this year they were not connected to art for me. For me the year 2014 was the year of Russian philosophy of the 19th century, contorted through the recent events in Ukraine. The ease with which Russia broke international law and its own responsibilities was a huge surprise to many of my colleagues. Of course, many of these actions can be viewed as the result of the country’s natural progress, starting with the deconstruction of its liberal principles of the 1990s and the restriction of human rights and freedoms. It all seems almost natural, however it is still surprising with what speed Russia put itself in opposition to the rest of the world, and with what relief it took upon itself the role of the “outsider” country. To quote Ludmila Ulitskaya, “My country is sick”. On the one hand, it seems normal if we take logic as an integral part of Russian life. Nevertheless, I would like to point out that in the 19th century many Russian philosophers (Kireyevsky, Khomyakov, Chaadayev, etc) were arguing that Russia’s existence was drawing the borders of logic and rational thinking rather than reaffirming them. In their work these authors paid extra attention to autism and the soulless Russian life, arguing that these features were the guarantee of the country’s principles. In order to stop getting astounded by today’s phenomenon, I think we should rediscover Russian philosophy of the 19th century.
Olga Temnikova, Temnikova & Kasela Gallery (Estonia)
Surprize of the year... well, it is hard to call it a surprise, but I visited the Architecture Biennale in Venice, and it was an amazing new dimension; I have always enjoyed architecture, but now I am an absolute fan of the white-magic magician Rem Kolhaas and architecture's capacity to change the world. I loved the different type of crowd, too. It was all so familiar and, at the same time, fresh and no random people. Another surprise was the Sao Paulo Biennale. The focus of the curators seemed sweetly optimistic to me – 'contemporary conditions and how art projects can engage with and activate histories, individuals and communities today'. Surprisingly enough, with all of the cynicism that I though is so natural to me, I was pretty much convinced that it had a strong impact on me. But I am sure that the oeuvre of San Paolo itself added a great deal to this feeling, too.
It was a nice surprise how the Manifesta 10 exhibition at the Hermitage turned out to be such an effective exhibition this summer. Although St. Petersburg is an educated city, it is, however, quite conservative in its approach to contemporary culture. The exhibition curated by Kasper Koning became a vocabulary of contemporary art and a well-balanced introduction to Western culture for many local visitors.
Keeping in mind the complexity of geopolitical relations during this last year, Manifesta – as a nomad biennial – fulfilled its aims of establishing a dialogue between particular cultural and artistic situations and the broader, international fields of contemporary art and politics in a changing society.
Estonian artist Jaanika Peerna
The inaugural Rimini Drawing Biennale in Northern Italy was a fantastic surprise! The elegance of combining contemporary drawing with Tinotretto's sketches and Fellini's “The Book of Dreams” was a blessing to witness.
Director of the KAUNAS PHOTO festival, Mindaugas Kavaliauskas (Lithuania)
The world-scale triumph of the Lithuanian photographer/artist, Donatas Stankevičius: winning the Best Gallery title at the Vilnius Art Fair, and holding exhibitions in London, New York, Vilnius, Tbilisi, Budapest and elsewhere.
Disappointment? I will stick to the positive.
Milena Orlova, editor-in-chief of The Art Newspaper Russia
This year I had more disappointments than surprises. The oldest and most successful contemporary art fair “Art Moscow” closed down. Many planned prominent exchange exhibitions, for example connected with the cultural year in Russia and the UK, were cancelled or postponed until better times. And finally, I was very disappointed by individual comments about contemporary art from the Russian Ministry of Culture, which made me think of the ideological and embellished guidelines about “correct” and “incorrect” art from the Soviet times. In this environment I had a pleasant surprise of the opening show at the Olympics in Sochi, where the Russian avant-garde was served as one of the main accomplishments of our culture. Another pleasant surprise was the huge multimedia project by Peter Greenaway and Saskia Boddeke “The Golden Age of the Russian Avant-Garde”, which was financed by the Russian government and shown in Moscow’s Central Exhibition Hall Manege. Also there was the exhibition “Post-Pop. East Meets West”, which opened in Saatchi Gallery in London, where for the first time Russian artists were integrated on a big scale with the art world and shown alongside with American, European and Chinese colleagues.
Estonian artist Raul Keller
I have to say, I have been quite busy and active this year with exhibitions and performances, so I haven't really taken in many of this year's activities. At least, there are no big emotional highs or lows regarding the field of culture for me. That is not to say that the year has been uneventful; it was quite the contrary, I believe.
Stefan Andersson, Galleri Andersson/Sandström (Sweden)
NorrlandsOperan's outdoor version of Strauss´ “Electra” was a fantastic experience, beyond my wildest expectations.
A great disappointment was that the new government gave the Minister of Culture seat to the green party “Miljöpartiet”, which has never been a defender of culture.
Lithuanian graphic designer Povilas Utovka
The biggest surprises and disappointments this year came from Russia, and how it is dealing with domestic and foreign challenges through its policies and actions.
Jānis Taurens, philosopher (Latvia)
There were no surprises, but there were discoveries: Jean Paul's “Introduction to Aesthetics” (1804); and “The Other Side” (1909), written and illustrated by the artist and writer Alfred Kubin, a forerunner of Kafka. Disappointments... Since I started off with Jean Paul, I'll continue with a quote from one of his admirers: “...and so now they make various series of pictures depicting all sorts of scenes from the lives of the common folk. Scenes from school, military service, family excursions, fights; and all of the people in these pictures are made out to be turnips. We see turnip lovers, turnip duels and turnip congresses.”
Jana Kukaine, artist (Latvia)
I was surprised by the censoring of Ivars Grāvlejs' work, “Informatively – A Musical, Visual and Interactive Look Into the Creative Work of Some Latvian Photographers”, in the exhibition “Viewfinders. Contemporary Photography of the Baltics and the Nordics”. Disappointment: the short list of nominees for the “Purvītis Prize 2014”, and the subsequent decrease in the value of the prize.