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The Baltic Pavilion

Surprise and disappointment of the year 2015 0

2016 is here and we have one more subject to cover – what were the past year’s biggest surprises (...and disappointments)? Since early December, the staff of has been on a mission to find out the thoughts and opinions of people who work in the creative industries. We have already revealed which cultural events, exhibitions and architectural achievements made the most memorable impressions in 2015.

Read in Archive: 
The most intriguing exhibition of 2015
The greatest art or cultural event of 2015
The most surprising new architecture of 2015
The greatest challenge(s) that art and culture are likely to face in 2016 

Andrew Miksys, photographer (Lithuania/USA)

My surprise and disappointment both came at the same time – with the announcement of Daniel Libeskind's design for the Modern Art Center (MMC) in Vilnius. Sadly, Lithuania still suffers from the insecurity that it's not quite “good enough”, and that it needs an international superstar architect to make a mark and have some cultural standing in the world. The MMC will house Lithuanian art, but couldn't they have found a Lithuanian architect to design the building? Disappointing. A great opportunity was missed to make a building with a uniquely Lithuanian voice and to promote Lithuanian architecture. I’m sure Libeskind’s fees alone could fund ten new buildings in Vilnius.

Olesya Turkina, curator and art critic  (Russia)

The greatest surprise and disappointment was the unexpected comeback of the spectre of socialist realism in Russia – not a play version processed through reflection, the way it happened in the 1990s, but in a frighteningly direct way, as if we had gone back in time.

Eugenio Viola, Curator of Estonia's pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale

Biggest surprise: The recent discovery of a new La Gioconda (?).

Biggest disappointment: Important archeological sites destroyed by ISIS.

Dmitri Bulatov, curator (Russia)

Sadly, 2015 was not a year of great surprises for me. In the context of the socio-political obscurantism raging in Russia in recent years, it would be strange to expect some sort of unpredictable breakthrough. As for predictable ones, meaning – based on labour and commitment to one’s work, I just have to mention a number of significant events of institutional nature; the unveilings of the new buildings of the Volga District branch of the National Centre for Contemporary Art and the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow are among them. However, in view of the current situation, I am almost inclined to attach even more importance to the wave of various grassroots initiatives: openings of small exhibition spaces, DIY laboratories, workshops and local art programmes. This is what makes Russia more like any other country – admittedly, with the caveat that in this country, the process is an enforced one, taking place under the pressure of ideology and a new bureaucratic rhetoric. As for disappointment, I was most of all dispirited by the speed with which Russian contemporary art is regressing to conceptual fields that have long since lost their novelty. The problem is that the current Russian rhetoric is rooted in the concept of negation: it does not involve introduction of any new content. Which means that instead of an active ‘live time’, defined as a gauge of innovative processes in a system, ‘dead time’ is used, determined through repetitive events: time for which nothing new ever does or can exist.

Milena Olova, art critic and Editor-in-Chief of The Art Newspaper Russia

For me, a surprise was the opening of the Yeltsin Presidential Centre and Museum in Yekaterinburg. I am also following with great interest the experiment of Marat Guelman – his attempt to turn the Montenegrin town of Budva into a cultural and artistic centre. The numerous exhibitions and other artistic initiatives taking place in Russia despite the politic situation have also been a pleasant surprise. Instead of the apathy that one would expect to find, I see enthusiasm. On the other hand, I have to admit that many projects have been abandoned or ended prematurely due to the sanctions or the difficult political situation.

Dr. Vytautas Michelkevičius, commissar and curator of Lithuania's pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale

The consortium of young architects (Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian) designing the Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016 is the biggest hope and promise of 2015, since it is the first attempt at agreement on, and realization of, cooperative Baltic participation at a Biennale (although there have been some unsuccessful attempts for the Art Biennale).

Inese Baranovska, art historian and head of the Decorative Arts and Design Department at the Latvian National Museum of Art

The wonderful Cooper Hewitt, Simthsonian Design Museum in New York, which reopened to the public in 2015 after reconstruction. In its new inception, it has been able to combine the legacy of its historic building with an innovative approach at telling the story of design.

Good art and good art events never disappoint, and it's not worth mentioning what did. 

Raul Keller, Estonian artist

Stephen King is writing bestsellers again. I haven't read any so I don't know if it's going to be a disappointment.

Valentin Dyakonov, art critic and curator (Russia)

The surprise was the revelation that, despite the domestic and international political situation, the level of curatorial thinking in Russia is continuing to rise. I will name but a few excellent exhibitions from the top of my head: ‘Our Land/Alien Territory’ at the Manege; ‘Leaving Tomorrow’ at the Vinzavod; ‘Metageography’ at the Tratyakov Gallery. Even the projects I consider failures (for instance, the retrospective of Vadim Sidur, Vadim Lemport and Nikolai Silis at the Manege) demonstrate a desire to tackle huge subjects instead of simply exhibiting stuff.

The main disappointment was the fact that the level of performance by the upper echelons of cultural administration is falling along with the quality of approach to any matters of administration of our sector by the state. Speaking of disappointments in a more specific way, I have to mention the seriously low quality of thinking about the Soviet era and – more generally – realism, demonstrated by organisers of a number of state-funded exhibitions (‘Romantic Realism’; ‘Realism in the 20th Century’; ‘The VDNKh Artists’). As if there existed no texts, no other projects, nothing at all. In reality, an abundance of literature on socialist realism and figurative art is available. One can only ascribe such naivety to an acute feel for the state of affairs: while there is a demand for rehabilitation of socialist realism, there is none for coming to grips with it. And yet, as likely as not, the problem is not just the current state of affairs. With its lovingly preserved mosaic, the Vremena Goda restaurant ‘remixed’ by Koolhaas is also hardly a masterpiece of analytic approach. If you ask me, we are not here to be guided by the principle of – to quote Pushkin – ‘that which passes will be dear’.

Inga Meldere, artist (Latvia)

Surprises: Rome's Palazzo Massimo museum and its collection, especially the Villa di Livia hall. Also in Rome, the art space Indipendenza, and its exhibition Reciprocal Score, by Tauba Auerbach + Charlotte Posenenske.

Kadri Uus and Andra Orn, founders of NOAR, an Estonian-based internet platform for art sales and information

2015 has been a very busy year for NOAR, so experiencing art on a larger scale was something that we had to put on the back burner, so to say, but to have surprises (both negative and positive ones), you really need to experience art. So we hope that 2016 will bring us those surprises.

But there is one topic that is interesting – it seems that artists sometimes prefer to distance themselves from daily themes; influential art, of course, goes beyond everyday life, but art shouldn’t ignore what is going on in society. It seems that radical changes in the world – ones that have affected Europe – have made people afraid of speaking out openly; they have begun to avoid some subjects and themes. History shows that this is a most dreadful thing; we should have a dialogue and talk openly about our current affairs. It seems that we have discussions only on the surface level, and based on emotions. Artists especially should reflect the state of things and speak out, thereby giving a deeper meaning to ongoing processes.

Viktor Misiano, curator and editor of the Moscow Art Magazine

In 205, I discovered for myself the contemporary Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño; my biggest disappointment was finding out that he died back in 2003.