Muižnieks and his Dolls
Laima Slava, Art Historian
Ģirts Muižnieks. Hair
16.09.–31.10.2009. Gallery 21
Dolls are a subject that has prompted artists of various fields and temperaments to philosophical reflection, and also brought them closer to the genre of fantasy horror – from E.T.W. Hoffmann’s archetype doll Olympia, whose shadow looms large over the dancing Sandman at our own opera house, to the voodoo ritual dolls in a multitude of movies, to shop window mannequins and the provocative wares of sex shops. In our painting too, dolls are no strangers – let us recall, for instance, Līvija Endzelīna’s still life compositions with dolls as symbols of human nature, so susceptible to alienation, greed and manipulation; or the expressive and existentially mysterious, introspective doll images of Edvards Grūbe. And, as it turns out, even Johann (Jānis) Walter – whose paintings may currently be rediscovered at his anniversary exhibition at the Latvian National Museum of Art – has not done without the presence of an ornately dressed doll in his 1913 nudes.

Ģirts Muižnieks. Mirror II. Oil on canvas. 102x145cm. 2009. Publicity photo
The works of Ģirts Muižnieks imply playfulness in their very construct. It may be naïve, exploratory, unruly, subtle, sensual, mysterious, romantic, professional, dramatic, but the eloquence of colour is detonated as if anew each time, and the viewer is once again set up for emotional self-discovery. The graphical and pictorial play on “hair”, the substance introduced by the title of the new exhibition, is like-wise not restricted to the decoratively striking exterior, the initial visual impression.

References to the presence of the human image in Muižnieks’ paintings have always been limited, led by an emphasis on certain elements. In the 1990s, for example, the world of his painting was ruled by eyes and lips. If we recall the artist’s recent solo exhibition at the National Museum of Art, another subject, the motif of “another face” comes to mind, this time in the form of dramatic, shaggy masks, which hinted at a resemblance to ancient archetypes and suggested sources of inspiration populated by phantoms of the subconscious. The games of the fashion doll faces at the Gallery 21 exhibition turn out to be more savage, the graphical pattern of colour in the coils, curls and scratches of hair sets the tone for a visuality that is not just lavish, but ambiguous as well. The Bébé Jumeau doll that Ģirts Muižnieks cites as a source of inspiration, along with the provenance of this celebrated wearer of the latest fashions of the latter half of the19th century, seems to have provided the artist with an extensively modifiable, many-layered playing field. A doll’s head found in a Parisian antique shop is the one unchanging, canonised value in this fashion brand messenger’s triumphant march across the threshold of centuries. It can also be read as a visual symbol of the longevity of glamour. Its charm is undeniable. Seemingly from the position of the outsider, but in reality sufficiently involved, we can seek the secret of this phenomenon in its infinite, albeit not always pleasant, fitting and current manifestations.

Ģirts Muižnieks. Hair VI. Oil on canvas. 150x122cm. 2009. Publicity photo
There is a dense intensity of colour, splotchy expanses against the empty background instead of the scattered colour marks Muižnieks has used hitherto, ranging from the neat and orderly to the obscenely brutal. The playful guessing games in which the veiled presence of eroticism, the base stock and binding agent of art, are now replaced with sexually declarative motifs (Spogulis II / ‘Mirror II’); the images of dolls’ heads are at times fierce, akin to the smash of a fist. Aggression and melancholy. And still all of this remains in harmony with a cultured, intelligent, professionally meticulous artistic stance.

This is what Ģirts Muižnieks does better than anyone else: he finds the perfect balance on a knife’s edge between the games of the more glamorous circles of society and the viewpoint of an outsider. The impressive decorative values of his works almost imperceptibly draw the viewer into the existential environment of private dramas, where the everyday phantoms of the soul encounter visions of the multiplicity of symbols of society.

/Translator into English: Līva Ozola/

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