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Mark Allen Svede

As I was growing up, the cellar possessed a mysterious power to draw me in. I think that played a major role in my interest in Latvian art.

Is that why you decided to study art history?

No, that happened in what you might say is a typical way. I studied architecture, but the college had difficulties and was threatened with the loss of its accreditation. I therefore decided to get my bachelor’s degree and return to architecture for my master’s. But I discovered, quite unexpectedly, that I liked art history. I mean, I expected that I would like it – but not as a profession. I wasn’t sure what exactly would capture my interest, either. I assumed that it would likely be American or Western European contemporary art. I studied under an exceptionally charismatic professor, a Ukrainian. Her mission was underscoring the diversity of interpretations of avant-garde Soviet art. She wanted to prove how many differing communities were responsible for this phenomenon. Having found that one of her students was a Latvian-American, she pretty much drove me to study Latvian art history. I guessed that this might take maybe five minutes – but so far it has taken twenty-five years.

You have developed quite a large private collection in your home. How much of it consists of Latvian art, and what is the primary factor in choosing what work to acquire? Is it the work itself, or a broader factor – the time it was created and the place of origin?

The basis for my collection is an interest in Latvian art. Not counting a few works by American artists who I know personally, the works are all by Latvians. About 80—85% of the collection is Latvian. Some are the works of classic artists – I have two paintings by Voldemārs Matvejs, and from a later period – works by Boriss Bērziņš, Georgs Šenbergs and Zenta Logina. But most of my collection consists of works by those Latvian artists who emerged when Latvia’s independence was restored. The emphasis is on conceptual art – traditional forms are not a requirement for me. For instance, I have certain artifacts from the “Bronze Man” performaces by Miervaldis Polis, which took place between 1987 and 1992. They are  works of art in themselves but are simultaneously personal artifacts.

You’re not afraid to acquire art that cannot be hung on the wall in the traditional manner?

My academic direction has been concerned with those artists who would prefer to drop their work somewhere rather than hang it on a wall. If a work of art is thrown into a corner, floats about or does anything otherwise unexpected, the artist will be of greater interest to me.