Have you heard of Latvian Art? If not, then why not? The content of this video you are currently viewing contains a series of interviews, where individuals from various backgrounds and professions discuss their opinions on the Latvian art scene. Whether they are curator or artist they all are united in their opinions that Latvian art is overlooked and not prominent in the global art scene. However, their opinions are varied as to why this is, and to whose fault this lies with.
Arnis Balčus, is a Photographer, Publisher, and Critic; his views on the Latvian art scene are sceptical to say the least. He believes that unless you are from Germany, UK, France, United States or Japan you are relatively small, and don’t really influence the art world. To some extent Balčus is correct, however, Zane Onckule, (Executive Director of Contemporary Art Centre, Curator, Critic, and Theorist of Art) informs the viewer that Lithunian art is doing well on an international level. Onckule explains that historically Lithuania (Latvia’s neighbour) has had a different situation, which allowed them to develop progressively, and when you refer to artists or curators from the Baltic, one immediately mentions someone from Lithuania, because they have a gallery that has gained international recognition and a contemporary art centre. Conceptual Artist and Experimental Animator, Krišs Salmanis, mentions how Latvia doesn’t even have an art gallery or museum in it’s capital city, and that this is the reason why no one comes to Latvia. He continues saying that the Lithuanians are much more Slavic, and therefrore much more active than the Latvians. Perhaps this is the reason as to why they are more successful because of their activeness; he notes that in comparison Latvians are too polite, and if nobody comes to the artist, then they don’t push themselves onto them.
Another issue concerning the Latvian art scene relates to artists not trusting curators. Leva Astahovska, Researcher of Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, Curator, Critic, Theorist of Art, and Art Manager, describes the tense situation where artists are unable to trust curators, and believe they are the problem as to why Latvian art is not globally popular. Artist’s perceive curator’s as someone who benefits from artist’s energy and labor. Being a curator herself, Astahovska thinks it is strange how artists think that way, but this suspicion that curators are something which are not proper within the art world, is something which is prominent in the Latvian art scene. Katrina Neiburga, Artist, Documentarist, and Set Designer states that Latvia does have great artists, but does not have really good curators who can make big, strong exhibitions. Neiburga thinks that this is the main reason why Latvian art is not doing so much in an international context as Lithuanian art is. She contemplates how it can be very hard for the artist, as in Latvia there is a very small art audience, where an artist makes works for a small group of maybe 500 people. Astahovska observes her own status of curator, concluding that it is not so easy being a curator in Latvia. If someone were to ask her: “Who are you?” Her response would be curator, but at the same time also lecturer, art critic, and art manager. This is the compromise Astahovska has to do in order to be part of the art scene. She articulates her hybrid identity, with curator being one of the multiple identities. For most of the curators in Latvia this is the same.
On the same topic Zane Onckule asks: „From which perspective do you look at?“ If one looks from the perspective of curator – then yes there are great artists producing wonderful work, but they cannot communicate neither in English nor Latvian. This is a historical problem that Latvia has faced countless of times. Onckule is aware that the Latvian art scene has huge potential, but perhaps it’s the way artists and curators communicate, and how they are used to working with each other, is where the problem lies. For example, it is not so common for artists to have in depth conversations with the curator and as a result all parties are kind of guarding their territory. Onckule suggests that maybe this is not the best way to proceed with the collaboration and progression of the contemporary art scene in Latvia.
Latvian art abides by this notion of the poetical. Leva Astahovska quotes the Latvian artists‘ slogan, which is: „art should be beautiful“. Quite often in Latvian art the artist concentrates on making the work aesthetically pleasing rather than intending it to have a deeper or political meaning. Astahovska, ellucidates to the viewer that conceptual art was never really prominent in Latvia’s past, nor is it currently prominent in the Latvian Art scene. It is more about this poetical way where art does not form complete sentences or strong clear messages, but is more about the nuances, hints and notions. Zane Onckule would agree, as she informs the audience that historically Latvian art has been metaphoric, poetic, narrative, and self reflective. It does not have a distinctive genre of conceptailism, but rather poetic conceptalism. Balčus makes an interesting proposition, which is the reason why audiences would be interested in Latvian art is because they want to learn more about Latvian life and it’s history. However, most artists do not want to tell stories about their life here, as they are fed up of living in Latvia. Astahovska continues this point when she refers to the comparative research she did on Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian art during the Soviet times. In those times artists were partly theoreticians, who wrote manifestos, and whose creative thinking was part of their work. While in Lativa one can hardly find that type of artist. The text was something that belonged to this ideology from the past that they hated, so Latvian artists‘ escaped by doing beautiful art as forms of expression.
What can one expect from the Latvian art scene in the future? Balčus proposes to get 10 good artists that deserve to be promoted, and put them in an international context, then we could see that they would not die there, but they could compete and have something to say. Onckule thinks the contemporary art scene has no even market, the only exception being is if somebody buys a piece. She gives the example of internatonal curators visiting local artists in their studios, but they do not fit their way of thinking or common thought, and according to Onckule this is perhaps what Latvian art needs to work on. Astahovska, observes the current situation, where a lot of young art students go to study abroad and break this locality of the local art language that was a bit too rigid and frozen in its own borders. This dynamic is getting more interesting and vivid, and she thinks a lot of interesting things are going to happen. Therefore, there is hope for Latvian art. To conclude – Latvian artists/curators need to improve on their networking skills, to become more active, and overcome their trust issues, so that they can work together for the greater good.
By Emily Naine