1. Key exhibition in a Latvian museum, gallery or “X” (any other place where an art or cultural event was held)|
Pēteris Bankovskis: The portrait and selfportrait exhibition at the Arsenāls exhibition hall (still in preparation at the time of writing.) The conceptual exhibition by Imants Lancmanis, at the War Museum.
Valdis Dombrovskis: As one of the most impressive events of the year I wish to mention the Cēsis Art Festival Cēsis 2009 in August, with art works by modern Latvian and foreign artists displayed in the Cēsis Brewery, and a special exhibition devoted to the exceptional Boriss Bērziņš in the Cēsis Exhibition Hall. It was very pleasing to see such a high-level visual arts event held outside the capital, and I wish the festival every success in the future. The Purvītis Prize exhibition at the National Art Museum was also an outstanding event. The exhibition in honour of the 90th anniversary of Latvia’s National History Museum can be rated an event of national significance. I also would like to express my appreciation for the exhibitions in various museums of Latvia and other venues in honour of the 90th anniversary of Latvia’s declaration of independence.
Eduards Kļaviņš: Inta Ruka’s exhibition Amālijas iela 5a, Latvian National Art Museum.
Katrīna Neiburga: Survival Kit, Latvian Contemporary Art Centre
Stella Pelše: Imants Lancmanis’ personal exhibition Revolūcija un karš. Piektais bauslis (‘Revolution and War. The Fifth Commandment’) in the War Museum was a synthesis of a rational message and surreal vision, attempting to overcome the separation of illusory (content) and painterly (formal) elements induced by modernism. Mention should also be made of the solo shows of Kristīne Kursiša and Miks Mitrēvics (at the Alma and kim? galleries), ambitious, evocative investigations making use of seemingly longapproved forms of expression in spatial installations.
Laima Slava: The Purvītis Prize exhibition at Arsenāls and the catalogue accompanying it as a recorder and promoter of the artistic process. The Cēsis Art Festival as a serious, top-level art event outside Riga, with aspirations to the status of being an international event. Kristaps Ģelzis’ works at the XO gallery and the exhibition Vielmaiņa (‘Metabolism’) – a combination of witty intellectual games and virtuoso craftsmanship skills in an artistic event, proving that today there are no irrelevant media: up-to-date thinking and professionalism are the key. Imants Lancmanis’ project Piektais bauslis (‘The Fifth Commandment’) – an unprecedented conceptual solution to a humanly complex subject, uniting documentary, liter¬ary and philosophical materials with Baroque, symbolist and photorealist stylistic elements in a cycle of paintings and an accompanying book.
Jānis Taurens: There have been important exhibitions at the new, modest VKN Gallery in Spīķeri. I don’t want to compare them or single out any one in particular, but I would like to stress that they demonstrate the high level of quality of Latvian contemporary art.
Vilnis Vējš: Wonderful Journey, 12–30 September, 2009. VEF, Block 7, curator Ieva Kulakova.
Valdis Zatlers: The exhibition ‘From de facto to de iure’ honouring the 90th anniversary of Latvia’s declaration of independence at the National Art Museum left a strong and lasting impression. This exhibition demonstrated the presence of art at the most important historic mo¬ments of the establishment of the state.
2. A significant event on the international art scene
Pēteris Bankovskis: The opening of the new Athenian Acropolis exhibition in the War Museum
Valdis Dombrovskis: The 53rd Venice Biennale and Latvia’s participation in the exposition was a major event on the international art scene. The inclusion of the documentary archives of the Baltic Way in the UNESCO Memory of the World register was a significant event for Latvia.
Eduards Kļaviņš: Claude Leveque’s installation for the French Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale.
Stella Pelše: Despite the proliferation of competitors like mushrooms sprouting after rain, the Venice Biennale is still unbeatable in terms of the range of experiences and diversity on offer.
Laima Slava: The Venice Biennale, of course – there is nothing else in the world offering a more comprehensive insight into artistic trends. Arle-Photo – this year’s an¬niversary forum stood out not only for its wideranging look at the process of photography, but also for its am¬bitious exhibitions on photo history and great masters of the art.
Jānis Taurens: I only managed to attend the Venice Biennale this year, but it can be considered to be an important event on the world art scene for a number of reasons. Firstly, the exhibition presents and permits com¬parisons between the curator’s concept and the understanding of the national expositions about contemporary art. Secondly, Latvia’s exposition convincingly adapted to the Biennale’s theme and trends in contemporary art.
Vilnis Vējš: I haven’t been outside the Baltics this year.
Valdis Zatlers: Taking a long-term view, I must mention the Renaissance as the style of art having the most impact.
3. Your discoveries in art in 2009
Pēteris Bankovskis: The most essential – that there is no such thing as “art.”
Valdis Dombrovskis: This year Andris Nelsons made a brilliant and convincing debut as Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and performances at a number of major European festivals have drawn pub¬lic ovations and critical acclaim. The Museum Night was an interesting and captivating event, as usual, and attracted record numbers of visitors to Latvia’s museums. I am pleased to see the Spīķeri warehouses [near Riga’s Central Market] gradually developing as the city’s creative centre.
Eduards Kļaviņš: Imants Lancmanis’ principle of “open conceptualism”, at his exhibition Piektais Bauslis (‘The Fifth Commandment’).
Katrīna Neiburga: The graphics exhibition Vielmaiņa (‘Metabolism’) at the Latvian National Art Museum. The video works in particular were a pleasant surprise.
Stella Pelše: The Survival Kit activities organized by the Contemporary Art Centre and the exhibition Wonderful Journey at VEF. The way the brutalism of the premises was conquered by the exhibition, saturated with sensitivity, was impressive. It also tried to build bridges between the sometimes excessively segregated traditional and contemporary art spheres.
Laima Slava: Strange as it may be, but, unlike music, the world art scene still manages to get by without any names from Latvia...
Jānis Taurens: The word “discovery” has connotations with the pathos of discovering the New World, and in this sense there are no discoveries (with the exception of the historical context, in 1960s art). Smaller scale discoveries included Mārtiņš Ratniks’ video installation Zeme (‘Land’).
Vilnis Vējš: I am studying art from the 1960s and 70s, and have made many discoveries: Visvaldis Ziediņš, of course, as well as the theatre of Modris Tenisons in Lithuania, Ansis Rūtentāls’ sketched diary... My latest discoveries are the kinetic objects of Auseklis Baušķenieks.
Valdis Zatlers: In 2009 I was pleasantly surprised by the Latvian National Opera production of Tchaikovsky’s ballet Anna Karenina.
4. Most noteworthy or significant book published in 2009
Pēteris Bankovskis: The book by Inta Dišlere and Zaiga Gaile about Rūmene Manor. Published by Zaigas Gailes birojs and SIA Rūmenes muiža.
Valdis Dombrovskis: One of my favourite literary discoveries this year was the novel Paisums (‘High Tide’) by Inga Ābele, for which the author also earned international recognition. I am very happy that Latvia has such talented and promising writers.
Eduards Kļaviņš: Johans Valters by Kristiāna Ābele (the publisher Neputns).
Katrīna Neiburga: Ivars un Maija 100 gadi dokumentālajā kino (‘Ivars and Maija 100 Years of Documentary Cinema’).
Stella Pelše: Kristiāna Ābele’s monograph on Johans (Jānis) Valters is the long-awaited culmination of over ten years of research and international collaboration. It dispenses with many entrenched myths and clichés about this painter with links to both Latvian and German cultural worlds. Also of note was Alise Tīfentāle’s Alnis Stakle (from the Studija Library series), for its analytical rigour maintained in the face of the demands of mass publishing and an all too compromising approach.
Jānis Taurens: There are too many books published in the world’s major languages to be worth mentioning. In contrast, the number of works published in Latvian about contemporary art (or music or other spheres), makes this continent comparable to the Snark’s hunting card. But the contours of a few small islands can be made out: translations of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (published by the Contemporary Art Centre), Alessandro Baricco’s Hegel’s Soul and the Cows of Wisconsin. Genius in Flight. (published by Neputns), Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings of (published by Biennale–2005 in conjunction with the Latvian Art Academy).
Vilnis Vējš: I must be behind the times. My personal favourite was Tennessee Williams’ Memoirs, which was published last year.
5. Most interesting articles or pronouncements in publications, art reviews or conversations about art
Pēteris Bankovskis: Imants Lancmanis’ texts in the catalogue for his exhibition, and his articles in the magazine Māksla +.
Valdis Dombrovskis: Due to the pressures of work and leading the government during this critical period for our country, I have to spend most of my free time reading publications and materials on finance and economics. Unfortunately I don’t have the chance to read much about art and culture. So this time I won’t risk naming anything specific.
Eduards Kļaviņš: Exhibition reviews by Vilnis Vējš.
Katrīna Neiburga: Briesmīgais spēks (‘The Terrible Force’), Juris Lorencs, Rīgas Laiks, July 2009
Stella Pelše: “While Latvia’s exposition at the Venice Biennale was judged with the blessing of the Cultural Capital Fund to be the only “nationally significant” visual arts event this year, young hopefuls who are still aspiring to such recognition in the future displayed their works in Riga Art Space. Whether this is justified depends not only on them. The nation in the person of its “experts” also has its say: whether it is of consequence to them what happens at home, and are there any criteria for assessing the significance of art, apart from its potential for inter¬national representation, which – oh dear! – is again dependent solely on the “dowry” of recognition earned outside of Latvia” (V. Vējš, ‘The National Peculiarities of the Academy’, Diena, 20 June)
“The objects in Kristīne Kursiša’s works must perform strictly controlled functions, ensuring a certain amount of predictable success, but the said work with skirts and balloons shows the occasionally voluntary nature of art. Figuratively speaking, when given their freedom, the choir can sing even more beautifully than under the conductor’s watchful eye” (I. Lejasmeijere, ‘Born in Freedom’, Kultūras Forums, October 16–23)
Jānis Taurens: Adam Budak in an interview in Studija: “...when an art historian wants to be a curator, it is the less interesting scenario. It is pretty boring, or predictable A philosopher as curator is much more interesting.” (Studija, 66/2009, page 63)
Vilnis Vējš: Painter Jānis Avotiņš’ blog (http://janisavotins.blogspot.com). Inga Šteimane: “Survival Kit (...) showed what Riga would look like if, since the mid-1990s, the spirit of creative turmoil had also been present in the prevailing consumer environment.” (‘Survival or Conformity?’, Kultūras Forums, 18 September, page 3)
6. What else would you like to say this year?
Pēteris Bankovskis: Photography cannot be art.
Valdis Dombrovskis: This year I definitely want to be attending the 90th anniversary concert of the Latvian National Opera on 22 December, with performances by our top opera and ballet artists. But I hope to have a lot more time to enjoy culture and art when Latvia’s economy and political life has entered a more stable period.
Eduards Kļaviņš: May the economic crisis be a spur to achievement, in spite of it.
Katrīna Neiburga: Nothing.
Stella Pelše: Of course, art and culture are not bread, heating or medication, but they are a certain broadening of experience whose “deferment” to some unspecified “later” (a very popular opinion amongst experts this year) is quite comparable to deferring life itself until sometime later. But it is to be hoped that interesting ideas will still find a way to be brought to life, and this year’s full panoply of art events has given much greater cause for optimism than the economic indicators.
Laima Slava: The art world consists of more than just the endeavours of artists, because, today especially, success and achievement depends mainly on curators and investors: be they states, private benefactors or collectors. As the capacity of the state declines, the role of private investors becomes more important. Furthermore, the lives of the greatest names in world art show that this has been the natural order of things over the years. Precisely by listing all the heroic deeds of – chiefly – curators, museum directors, gallerists and collectors is a way of making an inventory of the year’s successes and drawing conclusions.
It is pleasing to note that these pillars of support are finally making their presence felt in Latvia too: the company Alfor and the Purvītis Prize, Re&Re sponsorship of the National Art Museum, the contribution of the Cēsis Guild to the Cēsis Art Festival, and the interest of the Spīķeri owners in creating an art centre and staging exhibitions, as well as the assistance collectors provide privately for covering the expenses of producing art and in the preparation of exhibitions. These are the things that make the year gone by so rich in wonderful events on the art scene. It’s time to conquer the world!
Jānis Taurens: I don’t like answering questions. On the other hand, they give the opportunity to cast doubts on the framework of assumptions within which questions are formulated. (Unfortunately, on this occasion there wasn’t enough time to do this.)
Vilnis Vējš: Rushing to be on time is going out of style.
Valdis Zatlers: The most ingenious and creative ideas are born of difficult circumstances, but a shortage of money should not be allowed to become an obstacle to talent and artistic expression. I wish representatives of the creative arts to never give up and, following the call of their heart, to create unique and interesting artistic projects using the full palette of emotions.
/Translator into English: Filips Birzulis/