art 2003/1

Jaan Toomik. Galva I.
1998, drobė, aliejus, 116 x 80

Jaan Elken. Lucy deimantiniame danguje. 2001, drobė, akrilas, 160 x 200

Estonian Art in Vilnius

by Raminta Jurėnaitė

Until the restoration of the state independence in 1990 the three Baltic countries enjoyed a relatively integrated art scene. This was possible through a number of continuous events, such like Painting and the Young Artists’ Triennial in Vilnius, Sculpture Quadrennial in Riga, Graphic Arts and Applied Arts Quadrennial in Tallinn. Such events formed an opposition to the conservative all-union exhibitions.
After 1992, however, all larger Baltic art projects have been hosted outside these countries. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have failed to ensure the continuity of the former key events. In more than ten years Lithuanian audience has seen just a few exhibitions by the influential Estonian artists. The situation has changed only this year.
The 85th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia offered an excellent opportunity to present a larger picture of contemporary Estonian art scene. To begin with, Vilnius Photography Gallery featured the newest in Estonian photography. Estonian photography artists are mostly interested in colour photography, and rely largely on computer technologies and manipulating images, in shark contrast to the work of Lithuanian photography artists.
Yet larger and more interesting exhibition was hosted by the Vilnius “Vartai” Gallery. The exhibition with an ironic title “Academics” featured the work of the art professorship from Tartu and Tallinn. Eight artists teaching at Estonian art academies showed their achievement in the “academic” fields – painting, sculpture, and the graphic arts. Beyond their academic work, the artists have little in common, as they represent different age groups and different artistic movements. Yet they have exhibited together a number of times locally and abroad.
At the exhibition, Leonhard Lapin (b. 1947), architect, sculptor, graphic artist and art critic, one of the most radical avant-garde representatives since the 1960s, presented his cycle “The Birth of Myth”: an abstract composition incorporating mass consumption items, very much in the style of Pop Art.
Sirje Runge (b. 1950) is a well-known and largely esteemed painter with the Lithuanian audience. Her cycle “Silence” brings her monochromic style to extreme, by reducing the colour scheme to the colour white.
The artists of the younger generation, Mari Roozvalt (b. 1945) and Jaan Elken (b. 1954) exploit gestural painting possibilities, and combine different textures with elements of photographic collage.
Jaan Toomik (b. 1961), one of the best-established Estonian video artists, has also returned to painting. Using his film experience, he structures the entirety of his canvases like a film frame.
Kaido Ole (b. 1963) is one of the most unique artists to emerge in the last decade in Estonia. A graduate of graphic design and painting studies, he integrates elements of trade signs, computer games and urban environment into his works.
To quote the curator of the exhibition, Harry Livrand, the 1990s in Estonian art were the years dominated by Neo-Pop and erotic art. The sculptor Hannes Starkopf (b. 1965) is the most prominent exponent of the tendency. In Vilnius he showed erotic polychromatic wood sculptures. Urve Kuettner (b. 1941) uses diverse mediums to give a playful and romantic treatment to religious and love kitsch souvenirs.