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Celebrations – design and interiors exhibition

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Date: February 1972

Location: Exhibition hall of the Institute of Scientific Technical Information and Propaganda (the historic Stock Exchange), Riga.

Participants: Exhibition installer and chief artist: Jānis Pipurs. Creative team: Jānis Borgs, Nora Ķivule, Jānis Osis, Leo Preiss, Laimonis Šēnbergs, and Viesturs Vilks. Altogether forty-nine artists took part.

The ninth Young Artists’ Exhibition was devoted to the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the USSR and presented a wide-ranging program. An exhibition of paintings, graphics, and sculptures was held in the Foreign Art Museum, while the Stock Exchange hosted the experimental collective interior design exhibition “Celebrations.” This latter event was one of most capacious presentations of contemporary art, which demonstrated that the avant-garde was not based just in alternative circles, but, through peculiarities of the Soviet system, it was also part of the official, politically acceptable process.

The exhibition’s title was open to various interpretations, and its formal alignment with the anniversary of the USSR, as well as its designation in the design category, made it possible to present a broad, atypically Soviet range of works, with much less painting and sculpture. It was “a dynamic exhibition-show and improvisation in which everything pulsed, moved, glittered, beeped, or revealed other dynamic-kinetic expressions.”[1] Viewers were surprised by the moving floor that beeped when walked upon, the “thirsty” silver fishes that moved in the air against the background of a sunny Pop-art painting, rotating cylinders and towers, etc.

The exhibition emphasized formal and aesthetic solutions, but it also paved the way for the hybrid and art-synthesis processes of the 1970s. Involving spatial, architectural, urban-planning, psychological, and other elements, it changed the way of art perception and the role of the audience.


[1] An interview with J. Borgs in April, 2009.


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Event Harku ’75 – Objects, Concepts

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Date: 6 – 14 December 1975

Initiators and organizers: Artists Leonhard Lapin (1947), Sirje Runge (1950, at that time Sirje Lapin), Raul Meel (1941), and physicist Tõnu Karu

Participants: Silvi Allik-Virkepuu, Villu Järmut, Toomas Kall, Kaarel Kurismaa, Leonhard Lapin, Raul Meel, Jaan Ollik, Jüri Okas, Illimar Paul, Sirje Runge, Silver Vahtre

Location: The Institute of Experimental Biology in Harku, near Tallinn

Scientific institutions often offered spaces for alternative art exhibitions. Two years earlier, in 1973, another exhibition was held at the Agricultural Research Center in Saku, near Tallinn.

This exhibition is considered to have been the last unofficial show in Soviet Estonia. The exhibition itself, like unofficial shows in general, was eclectic and presented such diverse trends as Pop Art along with the most influential developments in Estonian alternative art since the late 1960s—kinetic objects, concrete poetry, and geometric abstraction. The few surviving photographs documenting the exhibition show a lively, slightly chaotic environment: oversized packets of Georgian tea hang from the ceiling (Jaan Ollik and Villu Järmut); in the middle of the space Sirje Runge’s Altar displays a colorful geometric pattern; nearby is Kaarel Kurismaa “chamber fountain”—a round side table with a cubic basin mounted on its top: etc. At the opening, Mess performed—the first Estonian progressive-rock group, famous for their interdisciplinary approach and collaboration with the artist Kurismaa.

Although the Artists’ Union gave permission for Leonhard Lapin and Raul Meel to present and discuss their work with young scientists—the event was officially announced as a meeting of young artists and junior researchers—the show created a scandal as more artists, mainly graduates of the State Art Institute, were invited.[1]

On the last day of the exhibition a seminar was held with participating artists, physicists, and writers. Being the most relevant tendency in contemporary art, the main topic of discussion was Conceptualism. More generally, issues were raised concerning the role and function of art and artists in society. The significance of this exhibition differentiates it from previous unofficial art shows: rather than being simply the typical compilation of progressive works of varying focus, it aimed to relate art, the role of art, and the changing context of art production.

In his speech, Lapin presented the notion of “objective art” as the future of art practice. Lapin called for a new art of forms based on, and developed in accordance with, contemporary industrial reality and technological progress. For Lapin, changes in the environment (particularly industrialization) and developments in technology would introduce completely new environments and means of production and communication, and had fundamentally changed the concept of art and the role of the artist. The main goal of this new objective art was to create an integrated aesthetic environment. Art was to overcome the boundaries between the various disciplines of painting, sculpture, and architecture, and would encompass a variety of techniques, notably in multimedia and electronics. A year later a compilation of the exhibition presentations was edited and independently published in a typewritten manuscript by Meel titled Let a Man Be.

Only one review of the show was published, in the University of Tartu’s newspaper. The announcement of the opening was published in the weekly cultural newspaper Sirp ja Vasar, causing resentment from the Artists’ Union.


[1] See the records of the session of the Board of the Artists’ Union and the Communist Party unit.  Estonian State Archives (ERA), f 2477, n 15, s 17,1.83.


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Estonian Monumental Art 1902–1975 – a show of historical and experimental works

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Date: 17 May – 28 June 1976

Participants of the experimental section: Villu Jōgeva (1940), Tiit Kaljundi (1946-2008), Vilen Künnapu (1948), Leonhard  Lapin (1947), Jüri Okas (1950), Toomas Rein (1940), Sirje Runge (1950),  Harry Šein (1947), Aili Vint (1941), Tõnis Vint (1942)

Organizers: The Ministry of Culture, designed and curated by Leonhard Lapin (assisted by art historian Viivi Viilmann)

Location: Tallinn Art Hall

The main exhibition was a retrospective of twentieth-century Estonian monumental sculpture. In the main hall were photographs of monuments from the Soviet period with a bust of Lenin in the center. In smaller halls were decorative sculpture and some constructivist forms from the 1920s, and in the farthest room from the entrance was the small show of experimental works. The latter featured designs and models by architects, as well as abstract paintings, prints, and kinetic objects, and a separate brochure was provided in addition to the main catalog.

The abstract artwork might be considered as way to camouflage monumental designs—a tactic often ascribed to unofficial art, enabling works to be exhibited that did not conform to official standards. However, this show was different in that it included architects, designers, and artists equally, without differentiation. The goal of this intervention was not merely camouflage, but the transformation of the official genre, to re-shape it into an extensive design of public space.

An anonymous review (actually written by Lapin), published in the local arts magazine Kunst, explained that the new monumental art was moving away from the design of single monuments and towards the organization of total environments. Architecture as well as street lighting systems would be the field for this new art.

The idea for the exhibition was related to discussions on monumentality and monumental art in the Soviet Union and also to the crises that had arisen since the 1960s concerning the new modern industrially constructed city—itself in need of a new kind of monument. Representational monumentality was confronted with a new kind of synthesis based on art, architecture, and new technologies. It was about the creation of new city structures and, as result, a different kind of public space.

Lapin used the exhibition format to make a statement and to open dialogue with official art. His exhibition design used the colors of the French national flag— blue, red, and white—to refer to ideas of freedom, brotherhood, and equality.


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Form. Color. Dynamics – kinetic-art exhibition

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Date: December 1978

Participants and Organizers: Valdis Celms, Andulis Krūmiņš, and Artūrs Riņķis

Location: Architecture Center in St. Peter’s Church, Riga

Six years after the first kinetic-art exhibition “Celebrations,” designers Valdis Celms, Artūrs Riņķis, and Andulis Krūmiņš organized the most conceptually sophisticated exposition of kinetic art in Latvia. Lights, mechanics, optical and aquatic kinetic objects, installations, and utopian environmental proposals made for a broad and surprising range of works. They revealed visionary poetic thought expressed through extraordinary technical experiments. This aesthetically unusual exhibition did not fit neatly into either the Soviet art or design categories and was a practical affirmation of debates in local art circles about going beyond artistic boundaries and contemporary definitions.



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