This interview with Dmitry Ozerkov, director of the contemporary art department at the State Hermitage Museum, took place in Riga a couple hours before the winner of the second annual Purvītis Prize was chosen. It was one of the coldest days in February. Ozerkov is a short, boyish-looking man between the ages of thirty and forty. On the way from the Arsenals Exhibition Hall to the restaurant chosen for lunch, it was hard not to feel sorry for him—he was dressed in a thin jacket, with neither gloves nor hat. It turns out he had just flow in from Madrid. His assistant had planned his travel itineraries, and he hadn’t paid much attention to where he was flying. Nevertheless, Ozerkov was cheerful and polite, and expressed traditional Russian compliments to Riga for the good job of its janitors. He said that in St. Petersburg he moved around only by car, in order to avoid the snowdrifts, puddles, and wandering dogs. “Russians pity every little dog, that’s why they are so fierce,” he explained.
Vilnis Vējš: Our conversation is taking place before the PurvītisPrize awards ceremony. The award is granted for the greatest achievements in Latvian art. Does this local competition seem interesting to you? And in general, do national differences still exist in art?
Dmitry Ozerkov: I think that when separate nations existed, when Europe still hadn’t united—when Germany was still divided between West and East—European nations found it important to emphasize their national uniqueness. For example, we can differentiate 1990s German art from the French art of the same period. But what’s happened is that now, when nations have united, art has somehow leveled out too. Professionalism has appeared. Looking at a work of art, first of all we see the professional level at which it was created. Before an artist arrives in the current art scene, he must reach this level. This applies to photography, video, and painting. If the required professionalism isn’t there, this can be seen right away. Of course, you can purposely work unprofessionally, so that it looks unprofessional, though this is done specially. In this situation where a unified level exists, a unified scene that moves from Venice to Basel to Kassel to Miami, a party takes place—at this level there are also projects that work directly with national differences. I looked at your eight artists, and to me they seem of equal value in a very interesting way.