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Mark Allen Svede

But they spitefully create works in formats that are nearly impossible to sell. In this way – without being aware of it, of course – they are engaged in a kind of branding, forming a movement.

But there is something that one sees too rarely in Latvia. That is institutional criticism, of the sort one encounters in America – there it is no longer anything revolutionary, as it is so frequent in the United States.

What do you mean by institutional criticism?

We should remember the artist Hans Haacke, who who once created a work for MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In his 1970 “MoMA Poll,” he urged visitors to answer a poll question about Nelson Rockefeller’s politics – Rockefeller was one of the principal donors to the museum at the time, and sat on its board. There were two transparent ballot boxes, revealing that the box containing negative responses to Rockefeller was twice as full as the positive. In this way, Hans Haacke essentially threw paint in the face of the entire institution, highlighting how that wonderful museum was dependent upon dubious financing. That was rather shocking back then, but in Latvia it would be even more dangerous for artists to express themselves in such a way. Apparently such work is possible only in a more developed situation, when it is permitted to bite the hand that feeds you and the other hand will still be politely offered.

What’s the most intense impression you’ve had lately of recent art?

Since I am teaching the history of film, I don’t follow the latest in art as much as I did and spend more time watching movies. One of my most moving recent discoveries is contemporary African cinema. My interest began when I visited Africa a year ago. I was recently quite taken by Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, which was released last year.

Where is contemporary art headed?

That’s difficult to answer, and not only because there are so many different directions art is taking and developments are different in different places. It’s also difficult to respond to because people’s appetite for something new is constantly on the increase, but people’s attention spans are decreasing. There are many fantastic Web-based art projects. Society is starting to abandon books in favour of the Kindle and other electronic reading devices. But I have a premonition that this tendency will soon diminish – people will again turn to real objects in place of the virtual and digital. The return of painting, for instance, recurs.