A day of historic significance: The opening of the Latvian National Museum of Art

  • 2016-05-05
  • Michael Mustillo

After an extensive three-year renovation the grand palatial Latvian National Museum of Art (LNMA), regarded a national architectural monument, was officially reopened on May 4, 2016 by the Latvian Minister of Culture, Dace Melbarde, and the Mayor of Riga, Nils Usakovs.
Situated on 10 K. Valdemara Street in Riga, the museum’s building had served the city of Riga without major repairs to it for 107 years, and was in a critically dire condition.

“This is truly a historic day of national significance for Latvia,” said Mara Lace, the Director of LNMA.
“The museum will house 30,000 works of art, making it the largest and richest collection of national art in Latvia.”
The cost of the renovations was approximately 30 million euros. One part was covered by the Riga City Council, the other part was covered through European Union funding, Lace informed The Baltic Times.
“LNMA will drive the creation of our nation’s identity, and is one of the important elements of the Latvian cultural infrastructure,” said Melbarde.

“Latvia is approaching its centenary and this building will serve to celebrate the achievements of our national culture.”
For Melbarde it is also of great importance that the LNMA is able to provide quality services in its institutions. LNMA plans to welcome more than 100,000 visitors in its first year of operations.
The museum also hopes to drive intercultural dialogue, becoming a place for community, and an important tourist attraction in Riga and Latvia.

The building, constructed in 1905, was designed by the museum’s first director, the Baltic German architect and art historian Wilhelm Neumann. It was the first purpose-built museum in the Baltic States.
On May 25, 2010 the Riga City Council Property Department launched an international architectural competition for the building’s reconstruction and extension. Twenty eight international architectural firms took part in the competition. The winner was the Lithuanian architectural firm Processoffice Vytautas Bieksa and Andrius Skiezgelas Architecture with their project UV 903.

LNMA’s collection spans works of art from the mid-18th century up until the present, and features Russian art spanning the 16th up to the first half of the 20th century.
Visitors to the museum will be able to view the new permanent display “Latvian Art. 19th–20th Century” on the second and third floor of the historic building. The display covers two centuries of the evolution of art in Latvia. The objective being to create a visual, emotional story of the development of Latvian art and its social, geopolitical, and historical context.
The display is arranged chronologically around the artistic styles of respective art movements and features the most significant art works of artists from each period.

A novelty in the collection are artworks covering the period between 1945–2000 that was created during the Soviet occupation of Latvia, and in the first decade of Latvia’s independence, during the 1990s.
The display commences with an overview of the Baltic German art scene during the 19th century in the territory of present-day Latvia.

A significant key moment in Latvian art development at the turn of the century was the birth of a conscious national art school, and is represented by the key figures from the period, the artists Vilhelms Purvitis (1872–1945), Janis Rozentals (1866–1916), and Johans Valters (1869–1932).
After World War One, a number of Latvian artists were active in the Soviet Union developing new art movements. Today the Latvian artist, Gustavs Klucis (1895–1938), a major proponent of the Constructivist avant-garde in the early 20th century, is renowned throughout the world. Klucis is known primarily for the Soviet revolutionary and Stalinist propaganda which he created.
Approximately 500 works from the museum’s collection will be on display in the “Latvian Art. 19th–20th Century” exhibit.


Two new temporary exhibitions will feature works of prominent Latvian artists Miervaldis Polis, (“Illusion as Reality”) and Boriss Berzins (“Silver / Gold”) are on display on the fourth floor exhibition halls of the historic building.
The “Silver / Gold” exhibition will show more than 50 oil paintings, collages with gold and silver plates, and drawings of landscapes and abstract compositions.
“Illusion” is the first show of breadth to represent all the periods of Polis’ artistic output. Polis’ creative career is characterised by reflections on the illusory nature of reality, the search for identity, and self-reflection of the individual and society.

For over 40 years, this intellectually restless, passionate artist has strongly influenced the visual culture of Latvia, simultaneously being in its avant-garde and strengthening the understanding of classical values.
Polis’ technically accomplished and stylistically essential paintings, postmodern collages, and performances have become widely recognised symbols of the aesthetic and sociopolitical changes of the era, which brought forth a paradigm of new thinking in the art of the socialist period.

The exhibition will display around 200 works of art from many significant Latvian and foreign museums’ and private collections — paintings, drawings, collages, as well as a wide range of documentary material structured in several thematic sections. The widest part of the exhibition will consist of portraits, which has become the sole genre of Polis’ painting.
The core of the new visual identity of the museum is its striking evening illumination, a play with the hidden and the obvious.

Visitors will have, for the first time in the museum’s history, access to the museum’s attic and cupola, an area of 598 square metres. Visitors will also have access the two newly designed roof terraces which offer a panoramic view of Riga.
As of May 4, 2016, the Latvian National Museum of Art will be open to the public six days a week. It is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 10:00 to 18:00, on Fridays from 10:00 to 20:00, and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 to 17:00.
On each last Sunday of the month, visitors will be able to visit museum’s permanent display free of charge. The museum will be closed on Mondays.