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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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Architecture Exhibition `78

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Date: 22 May­–08 June 1978

Participants: Veljo Kaasik (1938), Tiit Kaljundi (1946-2008), Vilen Künnapu (1948), Leonhard Lapin (1947), Avo-Himm Looveer (1941-2002), Jüri Okas (1950), Jaan Ollik (1951), Matti Õunapuu (1945), Ain Padrik (1947), Toomas Rein (1940), Andres Ringo (1938), Harry Šein (1947), Tõnis Vint (1942)

Organizers: The Youth Section of the Union of Estonian Architects, initiated by Tiit Kaljundi and Leonhard Lapin

Location: Foyer of the Academy of Sciences Library in Tallinn

The foyer of the Academy of Sciences Library, situated in the center of Tallinn opposite the local Communist Party Central Committee building, was generally a site for exhibitions on the lives of important scientists. Many scientific institutions in the Soviet Union were already offering space for progressive art exhibitions, and the Academy of Sciences Library had also hosted shows in the past: for example, in 1966, an exhibition of art and photography.

The idea of the exhibition originated with the 1972 manifesto “Program for an Exhibition of New Architecture,” signed by Tiit Kaljundi, Leonhard Lapin, Vilen Künnapu, Avo-Himm Looveer, and Ülevi Eljand. The manifesto marked the beginning of a process of rethinking architectural practice in Estonia instigated by a group of friends and colleagues who later became known as the Tallinn School.

The exhibition format was utilized as an effective medium for communicating ideas about architecture, and for engaging the wider public in a discussion about the practice and goals of architecture. The exhibition was critical of Soviet mass construction, standardization, and modernist urban planning. At the same time, it posed questions about the institution of architecture and about architectural representation.

The exhibition was divided into two parts: black-and-white photographs showing examples of built works and—the sensational part of the show—pieces drawn on cardboard panels, each one meter squared, which lined the large glazed wall of the foyer. These pieces presented critical and ironic commentary on architecture and the modern city, and they adopted the standard format used by the state architecture offices for exhibiting architectural designs. Their unusual execution and content were new and surprising.

One of the crucial works in the exhibition was Lapin’s The City of the Living—The City of the Dead. The design proposed the creation of cemeteries in the green public spaces between the panel houses of the new housing districts. The cemeteries would include garage-tombs, in which bodies could be buried inside cars. The gravestones would function simultaneously as a children’s playground. This ironic proposal was intended to “complete” the micro housing districts, so that “inhabitants could remain in their neighborhoods forever without ever having to traverse a single highway.” In addition, the design made direct reference to official architectural institutions: it included a communal grave for the Architects’ Union and a grave for the union head, Mart Port, with the epigraph, “M. Saddamm—the leader—1922–1979” (indicating that Port was expected to die the following year—in reality he was to resign as head of the Architects’ Union). The design also included graves for Lapin himself and his fellow architects. It can be understood as a political statement.

Many of the exhibited works used irony as a tool for criticizing and questioning the ways in which we think about architecture. The exhibition prompted many responses in the visitors’ book as well as in the media, where nonprofessionals commented on the exhibition. Reviews were also published in Finland and the GDR.

Document: Program for an Exhibition of New Architecture


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