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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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Colouring the Elephant – happening

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Date: 24 April 1971

Participants: Ülevi Eljand (1947), Tiit Kaljundi  (1946-2008), Ando Keskküla (1950-2008), Vilen Künnapu (1948), Leonhard Lapin (1947), Avo-Himm Looveer (1941-2002), Kristin Looveer (1947), Jüri Okas (1950), Jaan Ollik (1951), Sirje Runge (Lapin) (1950), Andres Tolts (1949), et al.

Location: Children’s playground in Pelgulinn, Tallinn

The opening of the 1971 exhibition of independent student works at the State Art Institute in Tallinn culminated in the happening “Colouring the Elephant” in a nineteenth-century suburb of Tallinn. During the happening, a large group of art and architecture students repainted a run-down children’s playground that had a wooden elephant slide in the middle. The event was initiated by artist and design student Andres Tolts, who had a studio in the neighborhood. It was officially sanctioned as a renewal project and paint was provided by the local municipal housing committee. The happening is documented in Jüri Okas’s film Elephant (8 mm, color, 15 min.).

Happenings, walks through neglected areas and wastelands of the city—“places abandoned by socialism that had themselves abandoned socialism,” as Lapin put it—and interest in strange and uncanny encounters had all been among the practices of a group of young architecture students since the late 1960s. In 1972, a year after “Coloring the Elephant,” architect Vilen Künnapu and poet Juhan Viiding published their article “A Proposal” in the main cultural newspaper. The article called for a rediscovery of the neglected spaces of Tallinn—its anonymous courtyards and wooden dwellings—and suggested that they “modestly supplement them with beautiful vibrant colors.” Emphasizing the aesthetic value of elevator shafts, staircases, external plumbing, and ventilation ducts as anonymous works of art, they pleaded for them to be enhanced with color. The blank walls of industrial structures were to become exhibition spaces filled with posters and images.

The happenings and walks initiated efforts to revive these urban spaces, but resisted uniform redevelopment. Characteristic of these happenings was the use of playfulness as a specific tactic to counter the rational and normative aspects of everyday life and as a reaction to the seriousness of prevailing art forms and dominant powers. (One should not overlook the ironic appropriation of subbotnik—Soviet “voluntary” community work—in “Coloring the Elephant.”)

In his speech “Art Designing the Environment” at the same exhibition of independent student works, Lapin proclaimed that “the human living environment has become the central concern for contemporary culture.” Lapin criticized “beautiful art” as merely a decorative form of commodity, and confronted it with art that contributes to the production of new environments. Both design and happenings were intended to help achieve this goal. Ideas such as those announced by Lapin would define art practice during the following years; among the defining characteristics of these practices was their interdisciplinarity.

Document: Vilen Künnapu, Juhan Viiding: A Proposal


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