I met Anda Rottenberg in Riga shortly before the awards ceremony for the Purvītis Art Prize. Rottenberg has been familiar with Baltic art ever since she organized the exhibit Personal Time (Art from the Baltic States) in 1996 at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw. From 1993 through 2001 Rottenberg was the director of the Zachęta gallery. She is currently working on an extensive historical exhibit entitled Poland-Germany. 1000 Years, which will be on display in Berlin at Martin-Gropius-Bau from September 23.
You were a jury member for this year’s PurvītisPrize, which is one of the most important awards in Latvian art. In sports such as running, for instance, the fastest runner wins. Who wins in art?
It’s difficult to define criteria to assert that one work of art is better than another. But that’s the only possibility—to develop a benchmark according to which you make an intelligent choice. I’m engaged by art that reveals a special point of view, a new perspective to see the world. An artist places this before my eyes and says, “Did you notice? This could be important.” Forms of expression have primary importance, too. If a work doesn’t catch my gaze, then I walk right past it. There must be a hook that entices you to stay, to look, and to think.
How often is art able to surprise you, a seasoned art historian, critic, and curator? More and more rarely (smiles).But when art manages to do so, then that’s a remarkable day. Then I linger awhile and think, “Oh! I have never seen anything like that before.” Even the obvious can remain unnoticed. Until an artist opens your eyes.
The Israeli artist Yael Bartana and her work And Europe Will Be Stunned will represent Poland at this year’s Venice Biennale. You were in Poland’s selection jury—how would you comment on this work? Will Europe really be stunned?
Yael Bartana is an Israeli artist who creates most of her work in Poland. Her two most noteworthy video works, which will also be on display in Venice, were created in Poland. The curators of the pavilion—Polish curator Sebastian Cichoki and Israeli curator Galit Eliat—suggested creating the work in three parts, therefore the third stage is still in the process of being completed [the interview took place in February of this year – A.I.]. The idea behind And Europe Will Be Stunned is to show that a real Jewish community doesn’t exist in Poland. In comparison it is very, very small. People have begun to think of this as a real problem.