Thinking Pictures - Conceptual Art from Moscow and the Baltics

Estonian Art Museum


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Thinking Pictures: Conceptual Art from Moscow and the Baltics, edited by Anu Allas and Liisa Kaljula / ISBN 9789949687343 / a nice paperback with flaps, 208 pages, 8.75 x 10.25 inches, published by the Estonian Art Museum / text in Estonian and English, illustrated throughout


Some info about the exhibit:

"The exhibition focuses on the dialogue between conceptual art from Moscow and from the Baltics in the 1970s and 1980s. The exhibition has been organised in cooperation with the Zimmerli Art Museum in the United States, which has the world’s largest collection of unofficial Soviet art outside of Eastern Europe. A few weeks before the opening of the exhibition, Russia started a war against Ukraine, and the dialogue on recent history has acquired an entirely new context. In this extraordinary situation, the Kumu Art Museum is revealing an empty hall to its visitors, in which the exhibition’s original texts are presented, and spaces on the walls indicate the locations of the works that were initially selected....'The texts and labels in the exhibition space are unchanged, but the pictures themselves are marked only by shadows on the walls,' explains Kadi Polli, Director of the Kumu Museum. She further explains: 'This wonderful international exhibition, which is the result of four years of research, is being postponed in anticipation of calmer times, mainly because, at this time, works that deal with Soviet-era symbols create a sensitive, ambivalent field of meaning.' Due to the altered situation, the original idea of the exhibition was transformed into a process during which the works will be exhibited by themes in stages throughout the exhibition period. Due to the altered situation, the original idea of the exhibition was transformed into a process during which the works will be exhibited by themes in stages throughout the exhibition period."

In the late Soviet environment of the time, conceptuality meant the shifting of gestures, utterances, narratives, images and objects from everyday life in a way that undermined or even destroyed their meanings. While in response to the demands of the art market in the rest of the world conceptual art was accompanied by the abandonment of the classical pictorial medium, in the Soviet Union it developed on a different basis. Soviet conceptualism did not abandon visuality, but rather defended and cultivated it, thereby creating “thinking” images in response to the proliferation of propaganda images in the public space.

The environment of those living during the late Soviet era was characterised by ideological symbols and rituals that people believed in less and less, but which still seemed inevitable and eternal. People at the time often found themselves in strange situations over which they had no control, which led to alienation and a sense of absurdity. In a country where dissent was punished, thought-provoking images provided artists the opportunity to upset the credibility of propaganda images and to ask critical questions about the visual content presented by the authorities. In the Baltics, which were known as the most liberal and Western republics of the Soviet Union, there was a conceptual shift in art in the 1970s. In Tallinn, Leonhard Lapin invited his fellow artists to “think-paint”, “think-burn” and “think-chop”. In Riga, Miervaldis Polis started creating conceptual photorealism. And in Vilnius, led by Kazė Zimblýtė, a group of artists organised conceptual games.

This exhibition grew out of Jane Sharp’s exhibition Thinking Pictures: Moscow Conceptual Art from the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection. Norton Dodge (1927–2011) was an American economist and Sovietologist who first travelled to the Soviet Union in 1955 when he was a student at Harvard University. During subsequent decades, Dodge, with the help of agents, collected a large number of unofficial art works from Russia and the other Soviet Republics, and smuggled them into the United States. Today, his collection of over 20,000 works is housed in the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University.

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