A walk in the forest of art history: an exhibition at the Kumu Art Museum

  • 2019-07-01
  • TBT Staff

On Thursday, 4 July, Kumu Art Museum in Tallinn, Estonia will open the exhibition Open Collections: The Artist Takes the Floor in its Great Hall. It will be a grand project in which 25 contemporary artists have picked out nearly 50 works of art from different masters in the collections and archives of the Art Museum of Estonia. How to handle the chosen works in the exhibition has been left up to the artists to decide by the curator Eha Komissarov.

The curator sent invitations to participate to Estonian and international artists, who have helped celebrate the centennial of the Art Museum of Estonia by creating added value and a more diverse cultural context for the museum’s collection with their own works. The exhibition is meant to inspire a dialogue between contemporary artists and artistic heritage and to highlight the increasing role of contemporary art in the formation of new art historical concepts.

The relationships of modern and contemporary artists to the artistic legacy have had their twists and turns. In the 19th century, art academies taught painting via copying, so that students could share in the power of the classics; the art revolution of the 20th century fought against tradition, while in the 21st century artists often define their works as research projects, with the objective of putting our knowledge and customary art historical treatments to the test, as they are never final and can always reveal new, unknown sides. “It is a steadily growing trend that includes the historical account, the archive, the document, the act of excavating and unearthing, the memorial, the art of reconstruction and re-enactment, and the testimony favoured by a growing number of artists of varying ages and backgrounds. We can call this the 'meta-historical mode', an important aspect of much artwork that assumes a curatorial character,” writes Dieter Roelstraete. The museum of the 21st century observes with great interest the meta-historical activities of artists in order to define the process whose aim is to depict the past from the viewpoint of the present, as a transhistorical way of thinking.

Open Collections. The Artist Takes the Floor invites visitors to walk through a forest of art history and sees to it that the walk is a meandering journey, taking museum-goers from main paths to enjoyable side trails which have not yet been fully assessed and categorised in art history.In inviting the artists, the curator considered their creative profiles with the aim of involving different media. Several invited artists made the initial choice of pieces of interest based on the electronic museum database MuIS and the digital collection of the Art Museum of Estonia, which was followed by actual work with the collection. The works of art on exhibit cover the period from the 17th to the 21st centuries.

The exhibition stands out for its variety of media and approaches. Taavi Talve, Sten Saarits, Kirke Kangro, Jacob Jessen (DK), Jass Kaselaan, RLOALUARNA and Jonna Kina (FIN) present history from new points of view. Kaido Ole and Jaanus Samma surprise viewers with (auto)biographical approaches. Laura Kuusk and Marge Monko deal with feminist art practices.Merike Estna’s and Kristi Kongi’s installations are in dialogue with famous Estonian painters from the recent past. Alice Kask and Tõnis Saadoja work with historical art classics. Vladimir Dubossarski (RUS) is interested in the topic of struggle in different eras. Jan Van Imschoot (BE) constructs the concept of Baroque anarchy. In addition to the invited artists, the exhibition includes several special projects. Four painting students from the Estonian Academy of Arts – Georg Kaasik, Joel Jõevee, Olev Kuma and Eero Alev – also get a chance to enter into dialogue with art heritage. The project curated by Maria Arusoo is centred around the theme of the female body in Aili Vint’s prints and the Serbian artist Ivana Bašić’s sculptures. Under the keyword “afterlife of flowers”, the artists Foxy Haze and Jennifer Steinkamp (USA) explore the afterlife of now marginalised art genres in contemporary art projects.

The exhibition has been structured as a lexicon, with the keywords describing the projects acting as signposts. Participating artists and curators explain in the exhibition booklet why they have chosen certain works of art and how they have approached them.

Participating artists:

Eero Alev, Ivana Bašić, Vladimir Dubossarski, Merike Estna, Foxy Haze, Jacob Jessen, Joel Jõevee, Georg Kaasik, Kirke Kangro, Jass Kaselaan, Alice Kask, Jonna Kina, Kristi Kongi, Laura Kuusk, Olev Kuma, Marge Monko, Kaido Ole, RLOALUARNAD, Tõnis Saadoja, Sten Saarits, Jaanus Samma, Jennifer Steinkamp, Taavi Talve and Jan Van Imschoot.

With the support of: the Cultural Endowment of Estonia, British Council, Frame Finland, Flanders, State of the Art, Tallinna Kaubamaja, Nordic Hotel Forum and Akzo Nobel

We thank: the Department of Photography of the Estonian Academy of Arts, the Center for Contemporary Arts Estonia, Templon, Paris – Brussels, Marlborough Gallery, New York and London, greengrassi, London, Novembar Gallery, Belgrad, Anna Tamm and Valge Kuup