art 2004/2

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Magdalena Abakanowicz (Lenkija). Coexistance. 2003–2004, maiðinis audinys, guma, 215x65; 58x90x60

Svajonë ir Paulius Stanikai. The Hell. 2004, terakota, fotografija

Mindaugas Navakas. Horizontalus cilindras. 2001, surûdijæs plienas, 500x900x290

The Modernism of European Space

by Mara Traumanë

The recent common tendency in the three Baltic States has been to revive the soviet tradition of biennials, triennials and quadrennials. The old Vilnius painting or Tallinn graphic art events have been supplied with contemporary props – curators and curatorial themes, supposedly transforming them and integrating them into the structure of the world’s biennials. Yet these joint exhibitions are oxymoron by their nature. They embody the duplicitous attempt to perpetuate the traditional values that rest on the national sentiment and history, on the one hand, and to create the illusion of ‘Western’ art’s circulation practice, on the other. The Riga Sculpture Quadrennial European Space seemed to create a perfect forum for discussing these issues, especially having in mind frequent allegations of sculpture flirting with politics. Yet the lack of critical discourse at the exhibition was so ubiquitous and overwhelming, that it left almost no room for an art critic’s review of separate works or tendencies. Instead, one feels like denouncing pseudo-political legitimating of such joint exhibitions.
The curators sculptors Kristaps Gulbis and Aigars Bikðe provided the artists from 25 countries with three dates as reference points. The year 1950, associated with the Schumman Declaration, which ushered the idea of cooperative European community eventually leading to the rise of European Union, was selected as a starting point. 1972, the year of the inception of the quadrennial, was selected to highlight its role in championing avant-garde sculpture. The year of 2004 was offered as a vantage point for an overview of the three-dimensional art in the newly expanded Europe. A natural question arises why the curators should select the 1950s as their starting point. The period is incidental in the development of art, while the reference to the two-party Schumman’s union strikes as far-fetched. Moreover, the European Space did not attempt at interpreting either the history of divided Europe or its present equivocal expansion. The choice seems to have been based on pragmatic reasons, as the 1950s (presented in the form of large-scale photographs posted in different locations in the town) provide a sufficient contrast to any present product, thus creating the impression of novelty.
Indeed, both the texts run by the catalogue and the exhibition itself hardly answer the question of what exactly contemporary sculpture represents. The lack of a vision and eclectic selection has mostly affected the indoor exhibition (hosted by the Arsenals and the Latvian Railway Museum) characterized by isolated discourse and inconsistent artistic quality. The eleven monumental pieces located in different public spaces across the town have proved the biggest success story of the event. Despite of the popular appeal of some of these works, the issues like the threat posed by the ‘free’ public space and the artist’s responsibility for shaping urban aesthetics have remained beyond the ornamental reflection of the European space. In general, the organisers of the event have not attempted to step beyond the demand-offer relationship, which dominates the sphere of traditional sculpture production. Hopefully, the populism of the 2004 quadrennial will be only an emotional interlude into the future deeper enquiry into contemporary sculpture.

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