From Containers to a Museum

From Containers to a Museum: Foundation Mākslai vajag telpu (Art Needs Space) is Building a Museum in People’s Minds
Reading time 14 minutes
Ansis Starks | exhibition “Couples” | MVT Summer House season #Blumbergs.Infinity | 2016

The Foundation Mākslai vajag telpu was established in 2014 in Riga with the aim of promoting the creation of a museum for Latvian art from the second half of 20th century, as well as contemporary art in the capital of Latvia. Unfortunately, Latvia is in fact the only European Union Member State without an appropriate art institution gathering and displaying the national art heritage created in the period after WWII or during the Soviet occupation, as well as art created during the years of independence. Precisely because of this, artists, architects, and entrepreneurs have joined forces in order to establish an organisation – the Foundation Mākslai vajag telpu, advocating the necessity for a museum for Latvian art from the second half of 20th century and contemporary art, allowing both Latvians and visitors to get to know Latvian post-war and contemporary art.

One of the first campaigns arranged by the Foundation Mākslai vajag telpu and gaining public recognition was the Snail campaign in 2014 when 15 sculptures of snails created by an Italian group of artists ‘The Cracking Art Group’ were placed all over Riga. The aim of placing these snails in the urban environment of Riga was to attract public attention and to involve them in supporting the necessity for the museum of art from the second half of 20th century and contemporary art; a snail being a symbol of the slowness of this process, at the same time these sculptures as a contemporary urban object were making the streets and parks of the city more colourful. This was an art campaign directly interacting with Latvian society, quite possibly for the first time attracting such a widespread interest to the lack of appropriate contemporary and modern art institution in the country. There are several galleries operating in Latvia, doing an excellent job displaying and supporting, as well as selling contemporary art, while the permanent exhibition at the Latvian National Museum of Art displays approximately 100 works of art created in the period following 1945. It is only occasionally that Latvian society can learn more about the Latvian post-war artists, when the Latvian National Museum of Art or private collectors whose collections contain works by Latvian post-war artists arrange exhibitions devoted to their work. Meanwhile, at present we have little accessibility to the art heritage created precisely during the years of occupation. In Soviet times, Latvian art played a particularly important role in the country – artists tried to keep up with the latest trends in art elsewhere in the world, although it was not easy. They tried to create what they felt was creatively relevant to them and to express their cravings for freedom and humanity. Art was a peaceful way of resistance allowing them to criticize the existing ideology between the lines. Džemma Skulme, Bo- riss Bērziņš, Ilmārs Blumbergs, Auseklis Baušķenieks, Jānis Pauļuks, Ojārs Ābols, Andris Grinbergs, Māra Brašmane, Biruta Baumane, Indulis Zariņš, Leonīds Āriņš, Juris Dimi- ters, Miervaldis Polis, Līga Purmale, Imants Lancmanis, Maija Tabaka, Rūdolfs Pinnis, and Bruno Vasiļevskis – these are the names of just a few masters actively involved in the art processes in the Soviet era whose work forms an inte- gral part of the Latvian contemporary identity. All the aforementioned artists were definitely on the same level as their more famous counterparts in art elsewhere in the world in the second half of the 20th century, while the restraints of the regime prevented them from gaining the fame they deserved. Currently, this multi-layered period which is so important for Latvia in both painting, graphics, photography and sculpture has not been fully appreciated or evaluated, nor has it been locally or globally recognized. It is precisely for this reason that the Foundation Mākslai vajag telpu has engaged in promoting the Latvian artists of the second part of 20th century and educating the public about artists working during the years of occupation.

MVT Summer House

In 2015, the Foundation Mākslai vajag telpu opened its gallery – MVT Summer House, which, unlike any other art spaces in Riga, was created in a shipping container. Although this has been practiced elsewhere in Europe fairly often (for example Platoon Kunsthalle in Berlin), in Riga such an approach was both bold and symbolic. Artist Džemma Skulme, featured during the first season of MVT Summer House, said the following about this project, ‘In the end, art was placed in containers in this event. And what exactly is a container? Directly speaking – it is de- signed for debris, it’s a garbage can! Here, on the ruins of a demolished building, the containers were installed that works as a symbol of transporting art to the appropriate premises.’ The ‘demolished building’ Džemma Skulme quoted was the former vinyl record factory ‘Melodija’ which was once located at Kalnciema 36/38 where the black shipping containers – MVT Summer House, have been sitting since 2015. Creating an art gallery in contain- ers truly resonated with the name of the organisation – Art Needs Space. While there is no such space, art shall re- side in containers, and hopefully it will be moved to a more appropriate space over time. And yes, maybe it looks at the moment that the work of post-war artists is placed in containers as debris, but without them contemporary art would not stand with its head held high today.

MVT Summer House is a seasonal art gallery open solely during the summer months; however, during these three months visitors may visit six to seven exhibitions that have a duration of 10 days. Summer is the high-season for cul- tural events in Latvia, so we may also say that MVT Summer House is a kind of three-month long art festival.

This gallery serves as a bridge between post-war and con- temporary art, thereby being a role-model for how a modern art space should operate; possibly, how the future museum for art of the second part of the 20th century and contemporary art should operate. Every summer members of the Foundation, along with an engaged professional art curator, develop a concept for the MVT Summer House, selecting one of the greatest Latvian post-war artists and devoting a series of seasonal exhibitions to them. Thereafter, six contemporary art representatives are invited to interpret the work of the selected artist, their role in society and the history of art. During the first MVT Summer House season a series of exhibitions #Džemma90 were held devoted to Latvian artist Džemma Skulme, who turned 90 that year. When celebrating the artist’s contribution to Latvian art, 7 contemporary artists were invited to interpret her work and life. For example, Kristians Brekte chose the shape of cross from Džemma Skulme’s work; it has repeatedly been featured in her pieces – during the 1980’s Džemma often painted and drew scarecrows interwoven with a shape of cross. In his exhibition, ‘Hronos’, Brekte released the cross from the build-up of time, adding just a few signs – a skull and stuffed crow, thus reflecting on the shape in his artistic expression which focuses on death, religion, and sexuality. Meanwhile, photographer Arnis Balčus created an installation in the MVT Summer House serving as Džemma Skulme’s memorial flat providing the visitor with a spatial insight into the artist’s life, focusing on both her private life aspects, as well as her public image. The next season saw the Foundation of ‘Mākslaivajagtel- pu’, which focused on the immensely talented and striking artist for his time, Ilmārs Blumbergs. He has left a powerful imprint in the history of Latvian art, affecting both scenog- raphy, painting, sculpture, performance, and audio art. Ilmārs Blumbergs died in the first part of 2016, therefore the exhibition series of the MVT Summer House was devoted to honouring this remarkable artist and his work naming the series #Blumbergs.Bezgalība(Infinity). In relation to the works of selected artists in this series of exhibitions, Inga Šteimane, curator of this exhibition series, said, ‘Among these artists there are those whose work has been directly and deliberately influenced by Blumbergs; there are portraits of Blumbergs, and there are pieces created in individual trajectories, while they can also be attributed to Ilmārs Blumbergs’ feeling for life and art – ‘we are all moving together – some away from one another, some towards one another’.’

1559123585138086  tr 28561559123585463913  tr 3120
1559123585902313  tr 61831559123586444228  tr 9439

In 2017, the focus of the MVT Summer House was the un- discovered, almost dissident and regime-inappropriate artist Andris Grinbergs, who could be called the Latvian Andy Warhol. Ieva Kalniņa, curator of this exhibition series, said, ‘I think it is very good that Andris Grinbergs has been selected as the central figure for this series of exhibitions, as the works of traditional art media artists are usually more visible while we can hardly get to know such uncon- ventional authors, let alone know of their existence. If the works of classical art forms are exhibited, though not suf- ficiently, then the authors working with unconventional art media – not at all or very seldom.’ Meanwhile, artist Ivars Grāvlejs created a socially-critical performance on the how society uses exhibition openings to eat and drink wine, while art is simply in the background. Three girls took part in this performance dressed in folk costumes, however, naked from the waist down, standing at a beautifully set table and munching on hors d’œuvres. Ivars Grāvlejs got this idea when he remembered a time when he and Andris Grinbergs were working together at the end of 1990, ‘We once walked down the Brīvības street and Andris told me, ‘They are not interested in art during the exhibition opening. They just want to show off and stuff themselves like pigs’, and he continued sarcastically with a description of the caricature, ‘We should have pretty girls in folk costumes and naked asses standing at the table during the opening, eating hors d’œuvres, pastries and drinking champagne. And let those fat arses, the crème de la crème, stare. Screw them!’’ And the artist materialized this idea in the MVT Summer House.
Meanwhile, for Latvia’s centenary in 2018, the Foundation’s Mākslai vajag telpu changed the concept of the summer gallery, this time creating a series of exhibitions as a multi- disciplinary project – it was named Skaņai vajag mākslu (Sound Needs Art), inviting six different musicians and musical associations. Musicians had to select one of the works of the Latvian post-war artists contained in the Zuzāns Col- lection, a piece that would inspire them most, and create a brand-new musical composition. Artistic director of the exhibition series, Kristians Brekte from the Latvian Academy of Art, selected six young artists who received the task to find a scenic solution in the gallery creating an image of the picture chosen by the musicians, as well as creating an appropriate environment where the spectator and the listener would have the opportunity to listen to the novel composition. This was a surprising project as the young students of art were at the top of their game creating wonderful art installations in the MVT Summer House. With this project, MVT Summer House showed several Latvian post-war art- ists in one summer. This year, the gallery expects some changes – the Foundation Mākslai vajag telpu intends to transfer the containers to the centre of Riga and place them in the Esplanāde, next to the Latvian Academy of Art. Why? Because this year the Foundation has decided to devote the exhibition series to the 100th anniversary of the Latvian Academy of Art and thus be geographically closer to this art education institution, celebrating its great importance in the development of Latvian art. Since its foundation in 1919 by the outstanding artist Vilhelms Purvītis, the Latvian Academy of Art has served as the most important art education institution in Latvia, providing jobs for many Latvian artists, as well as becoming a place where emerging Latvian artists have grown artistically and strengthened their artistic expression. This year, just as in previous years, the young artists of the Academy of Art will be addressed and, together with the academy professors and the director of the Foundation Mākslai vajag telpu, will create an art installation that will be an interpretative piece on a person associated with the Latvian Academy of Art.

1559034355215178 img 29311559034355107847 img 2856
MVT Summer House season a series of exhibitions #Džemma90 | 2015
1559034358598173 kop
Urban object “Two Rainis” by the sculptor Aigars Bikše. From right to left: Art collector and patron Dina Zuzāne, the President of Latvia Raimonds Vējonis, sculptor Aigars Bikše, art collector and patron Janis Zuzāns, businessman Guntis Rāvis.
Other Projects by the Foundation Mākslai vajag telpu

As previously mentioned, the Foundation Mākslai vajag telpu has materialized quite impressive and high-profile campaigns before opening its own art gallery, but that does not mean that the work of foundation has stopped. The foundation draws attention to the lack of high-quality art exhibitions outside the country’s capital, and to this aim it organizes exhibitions in cooperation with the regional art venues ensuring the selection and engagement of curators from their side. Exhibitions have taken place in Valmiera, Liepaja, Talsi, and Jurmala. In 2017, the ‘MVT Summer House Residence in Valmiera’ was arranged in Valmiera, opening 6 exhibitions at the gallery ‘Laipa’ and supplementing them with master classes and performances.
Last year, the Foundation Mākslai vajag telpu realized a long-cherished idea – building an urban object ‘DiviRaiņi’ (Two Rainis) by the sculptor Aigars Bikše. Rainis (1865–1928) is a great cultural personality in Latvian cultural space – a poet, poetry translator, literary translator, play- wright, social democrat, and politician – and the sculpture Rainis symbolizes the idea of “greatness of Latvians” aiming at growth both in time and space. The bench incorporated in the sculpture serves as a symbol for growth in time, while the two figures of Rainis – growth in space. However, the main idea of the sculpture is about the growth of the spirit, thought, and wisdom. The sculpture is located by the National Library of Latvia and is very popular, both with locals and city guests on a daily basis. Children (and adults, too, to be honest) like to sit in the big Rainis’ lap or rub the small Rainis’ smooth forehead. The Foundation Mākslai vajag telpu has also given a thought to children and cultural education. Since the autumn of 2018, the Foundation has been implementing the school project ‘Conversation on Modern and Contemporary Art in Latvian Schools’, led by art historian Auguste Petre. This school project is designed to prepare young people to talk, think and consume contemporary art, as well as to interest them in the contemporary art processes in Latvia. There is relatively little art history taught in Latvian schools, resulting in students having little experience in debating art and lack of knowledge about what has happened in Latvian art in recent decades.

The Foundation Mākslai vajag telpu is open to many and diverse types of collaborations, with the aim of communicating with as wide a range of society as possible, rejecting the idea that art and its consumption are something elitist and meant for a small part of society. To this end, the Foundation Mākslai vajag telpu has collaborated with the media and all the events taking place at MVT Summer House are free of charge. So it may be said that it is hard to predict what events and happenings can be expected in the future, as more and more ideas can be implemented by the Foundation, thus attracting and engaging groups that have not yet been reached.

1559034524996792 andrejs strokins
Andrejs Strokins | exhibition “Unknown Share” | MVT Summer House season #Blumbergs.Infinity | 2016
1559034530712565 bal us
Arnis Balčus solo exhibition MVT Summer House season #Džemma90 2015
1559034540230802 sab ne
Sabīne Vernere | exhibition “Shame-less” | MVT Summer House season #Blumbergs.Infinity | 2016
1559034543038836 gabr ns
Gints Gabrāns | exhibition “Food: 2050” | MVT Summer House season #Blumbergs.Infinity | 2016

related posts

Recommended posts for you