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Exhibitions in the apartment of Judita and Vytautas Šerys

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Date: 1967–75

Participants: Valentinas Antanavičius (1936), Linas Katinas (1941), Vincas Kisarauskas (1934-1988), Vytautas Šerys (1931-2006), Kazimiera (Kazė) Zimblytė (1933-1999), Vladislovas Žilius (1939), and others

Organizers: Judita and Vytautas Šerys

Location: The apartment of Judita and Vytautas Šerys, Vilnius

Exhibitions were held at the home of the museum worker Judita Šerienė and the artist Vytautas Šerys between 1967 and 1975. This was the first private, unofficial, and unsanctioned exhibition space in Soviet Lithuania. Šerienė worked in the exhibition department of the Art Exhibition Hall[1] at the time, and had access to avant-garde works that were inconsistent with the dominant communist ideology and consequently were not included in official exhibitions. These works were exhibited in solo and group exhibitions organized at the home of Šerys, which were open to a circle of like-minded visitors who exchanged information about unofficial cultural phenomena by word of mouth. The exhibitions at the Šerys home featured works by Valentinas Antanavičius, Linas Katinas, Vincas Kisarauskas, Vytautas Šerys, Kazimiera (Kazė) Zimblytė, Vladislovas Žilius, and others, which were stylistically close to the language of Abstract, Op, and Pop art, or explored other modern ideas and forms of expression. In addition to the exhibitions, the Šerys home hosted improvised poetry readings. It attracted students and intellectuals of the time—artists, writers, and theater people.


[1] The Art Exhibition Hall, opened in 1967, was the most modern and important space for rotating exhibitions in Lithuania. In 1992 it was renamed the Contemporary Art Centre.


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Iparterv actions and exhibitions

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Dates: 29 November 1968 (Do You See What I See) , 22 December 1968 (Iparterv I), 24  October 1969 (Iparterv II)

Participants: Imre Bak, András Baranyay, Miklós Erdély, Krisztián Frey, Tamás Hencze, György Jovánovics, Ilona Keserü, Gyula Konkoly, László Lakner, János Major, László Méhes, Sándor Molnár, István Nádler, Ludmil Siskov, Tamás Szentjóby, Endre Tót

Organizer: Péter Sinkovits (1943)

Opening by: János Tölgyesi (Iparterv I)

Location: Iparterv State Architectural Office, meeting hall, Budapest

Tamás Szentjóby planned an exhibition entitled “Donor” in July 1968, in the Iparterv State Architectural Office, but it was cancelled after the invitation leaflet was printed and distributed. Three months later and three weeks before the famous first Iparterv exhibition he organized actions entitled  “Do You See What I See”  in the same location with Miklós Erdély and László Méhes. In the “Iparterv 68-80″ catalog issued in 1980 Erdély described these actions as his connection to the Iparterv group.

The hall of the Iparterv Office was not used regularly for exhibitions and the shows were open only for a few days. The first famous group show presenting the “first generation of the neo-avantgarde” in 1968  was accompanied by a small catalog containing a short introduction by the curator, Péter Sinkovits and the reproduction of the works and the CVs of the participants.

In 1969 four more artists, András Baranyay, László Méhes, János Major, and Tamás Szentjóby accepted Sinkovits’ invitation.  A year later a catalog was printed illegally in the printing house of the Iparterv Office with a slightly different list of artists (Tamás Szentjóby and Sándor Molnár was left out, Miklós Erdély and Attila Pálfalusi included).

In 1980 a commemorating exhibition was initiated by art historian László Beke (1944) and Lóránd Hegyi (1954). On this occasion a comprehensive English-Hungarian publication was issued containing several studies and also documents of the previous exhibitions in addition to the works of the participants.  Finally, shortly before the Regime Change, in December 1988 a three-part “Hommage à Iparterv” series was organized in the Fészek Gallery by Lóránd Hegyi.

Documents:

Péter Sinkovits: Introduction of the publication Document 69–70 (1970)

Miklós Erdély describing the actions performed by him (1980)


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SOUP’69 – exhibition

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Date: December 1969

Participants: Ülevi Eljand (1947), Ando Keskküla (1950-2008), Leonhard Lapin (1947), Gunnar Meier (1942-2003), Rein Mets (1942-2011), Andres Tolts (1949)

Location: Café Pegasus, Tallinn

Cafés were important exhibiting spaces for unofficial art. However, the Writers’ Union’s Café Pegasus was an official exhibition space for which the Artists’ Union was responsible. Still, censorship was milder there, and it gave young artists the chance to present their work. In December 1969 the legendary Pop Art exhibition “SOUP’69”—the poster depicted a Warhol soup can being “pried open by Estonians”—proclaimed the arrival of Pop in Estonian art.


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Estonian Avant-Garde Art – exhibition

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Date: 17 – 23 August 1970

Participants: Enn Tegova (1946), Peeter Urbla (1945), Rein Tammik (1947), Vello Tamm (1940-1991), Ando Keskküla (1950-2008), Andres Tolts (1949), Leonhard Lapin (1947), and Sirje Runge (1950)

Location: Café Pegasus, Tallinn

The exhibition “Estonian Avant-Garde Art” that opened as part of the third International Finno-Ugric Days was supposed to become a group exhibition of the most radical Estonian art groups active at the time: ANK’64[1], Visarid[2], and SOUP’69. However, due to changes in the political situation[3], many artists decided not to participate.

The few faded photographs of the exhibition that have survived dynamically convey a sense of the exhibition itself as well as the space, which differs greatly from the white cube of the gallery. These are not anonymous shots of an exhibition; rather, they show the works in the social atmosphere of the café. The setting was probably important for creating the works as well. Most of the artworks are inspired by Pop Art—the notion of wanting to shock and grab attention is apprehensible. Urbla’s phallic object Kazachok made from patterned chintz, Tolts’s textile assemblages like the one titled Sleeping Place, and Lapin’s two readymades (pillows) all play with the idea of blurring the line between art and everyday objects. Relating to reality and its mass-produced objects—a concept stemming from Pop Art—leads to the idea of the artist’s need to intervene, which in turn becomes the agenda for the following years. This new role of the artist (and its unique accompanying capabilities) was also referenced on the exhibition poster, which displayed a red cross and a crescent moon along with the slogan, “Sick ones, we will heal you!”


[1] ANK’64 was the first artist’s group in the Soviet period. It formed 1964 from the students of printmaking at the State Institute of Art, including Tõnis Vint, Malle Leis (1940), Jüri Arrak (1936), Kristiina Kaasik (1943), Tiiu Pallo-Vaik (1941), Enno Ootsing (1940), Tõnis Laanemaa (1937), Aili Vint (1941), Marju Mutsu (1941-1980), Vello Tamm (1940-1991). Their pursuits in art were connected with youth culture, Pop and Op Art, as well as with the Avant-Gardes of the early 20th century.

[2] The artist’s group Visarid formed 1968 around the art studio of the Tartu State University and the head of the studio Kaljo Põllu (1934-2010). Other members were: Peeter Lukats (1933), Jaak Olep (1945-2000), Rein Tammik (1947), Enn Tegova (1946), Peeter Urbla (1945), et. al. Visarid advocated “total art”, art that do not design individual commodities, but reorganize the hole environment. The group dissolved 1972.

[3] In aftermath of the Prague Spring events the pressure on artists as well as other members of the society got higher,  the system got more repressive.


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Group exhibition in the Republican House of Science, Riga

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Date: 1971

Participants: Jānis Borgs, Atis Ieviņš, Laimonis Šēnbergs, Arvīds Priedīte, and Henrihs Vorkals.

Location: Republican House of Science,  Riga.

This exhibition was the first visible event in Riga in which direct Western influences and the linking of art to a sense of real time were manifested. Participants were a group of like-minded artists studying design, interior design, and textile arts at the Art Academy.

The exhibition had an innovative, experimental arrangement. The central object was Henrihs Vorkals’s spatial tapestry Icarus, in which colorful circles and crescents united a human figure’s inner and outer worlds, allowing it to be interpreted as a target, victim, or struggle. The exhibition’s second strong accent was Jānis Borgs’s super-graphic in which the cartoonish label “Sviuuu …” was placed over an abstract geometric base. This was complemented by similar silk screens, sketches, paintings, and posters scattered around the perimeter of the circular hall.

The exhibition was popular and attracted both controversy and praise. Its organizers later acknowledged that it was intentionally imitating Pop art, noting that “Pop art was everywhere”—in design, interiors, fashion, on record covers, and in musical taste and lifestyles. As written in a review of the exhibition, it was a period of “the universe, electronics, a dynamic living pulse, shifting information requiring heightened intellectuality where earlier intuition and emotions had sufficed.”[1]


[1] Georgs Barkāns, “Izstāde svētku noskaņā” [Exhibition in a Festive Mood] in Padomju Jaunatne (6 February 1972)


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Exhibition of independent works by Romualds Geikins, Piotr Severin, and Jānis Strupulis (Latvian Art Academy students)

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Date: 1972

Participants: Romualds Geikins, Jānis Strupulis, and Piotr Severin

Location: Latvian Art Academy, Riga

There were a series of  exhibitions organized by students themselves through the student club and the Communist Youth Committee, but entry to them was restricted to students and staff of the academy. The official justification for the events was the need for the academy’s faculty to be informed about the extracurricular explorations of their students.

The students produced a number of freethinking events that broke artistic taboos and caused controversy, scandal, and the closure of several exhibitions. These exhibitions were not controlled by any approval (censorship) committee and did not respect thematic or ideological boundaries, and hence works with eccentric styles and content could be displayed.

For example, in 1972 three students from the painting and sculpture departments—Romualds Geikins, Jānis Strupulis, and Piotr Severin—organized an exhibition/action with abstract, Op-art and Pop-art works arranged in an unusual set-up. Some of the works were displayed on the floor, which was strewn with papers, while elements such as chairs and easels were stacked in installation-like piles, disturbing the space. The exhibition was banned the next day, deemed artistically unsuitable and to be propagating politically dissident notions.

Several other exhibitions of independent works were also shut down in a similar manner.


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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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