TALLINN - You could say that when Kumu, the new main building of the Art Museum of Estonia, opened its doors Feb. 18, Tallinn's public art scene finally came of age. Apart from its architectural merits and high-tech bells and whistles, the sheer amount of exhibition space within the gallery's walls 's 5000 square meters, making it ten times bigger than in its predecessor 's means that, for the first time in its 87-year history, the state museum can properly display its comprehensive collection of Estonian art.
But while the museum's first visitors may crowd in expecting only to gawk at the works of native luminaries like Wiiralt and Koler, they'll also be presented with some very different - and some downright weird - sights: animated diving suits, a tangle of fused cow horns and a church made entirely out of colored balloons.
These are the sights of Kumu's inaugural temporary exhibition, "Shiftscale," a collection of about 40 works by international and Estonian artists. Divided between the Kumu's Great Hall and fifth floor, it includes sketches, photos, sculptures and videos, though the emphasis here is clearly on installations, the bigger the better.
Hanno Soans, the exhibition's curator, says "Shiftscale" is about a change of context - moving to a new building - and exploring issues of spatial dimension, something that now becomes possible in this larger space.
"You often feel like, with installation art, being put into another kind of micro-universe, working on another scale," he says.
Indeed the works can be enormous, made of structures large enough to walk through. The aforementioned "Airballoon Chapel" by Hans Hummert is just one example.
Other pieces are marked by their bizarre, often comical quality.
Fans of Estonian artists Marko Maetamm and Kaido Ole will recognize their signature storybook style. In a large-scale model at this exhibition, doll-like figures ride a toy car to a homemade, wooden rocket ship. We hear a car engine struggling to start, and after it fails, we see the pair ride through a transparent tube back into their house.
Anssi Kasitonni's "Knight-o-matic" is even stranger. It features an anthropomorphized and slightly evil-looking version of the sports car from the 1980's TV series "Knight Rider." The car sits in an armchair, his famous red eye swinging left and right, following a ping-pong match on Chinese TV.
The works on the fifth floor tend to be louder and bolder. Here visitors are immediately confronted with "Ever is Over All," a projected video work by Pipilotti Rist. It shows a woman strolling down a sidewalk and happily smashing car windows while a policewoman looks on, smiling.
Marcus Cooper's "Kursk" is the most memorable and creepiest item in the collection. He has motorized and wired together a crew of old-fashioned diving suits so that they periodically convulse and bang oversized wrenches on a submarine hull.
Veronica Brovall's "Divorce" is more serene. Almost all black, it at first seems to be a painted-up ventilation system, but on closer examination turns out to be made up of shovels, feathers and an automobile, all blown by electric fans suspended from the ceiling above.
Like a lot of the pieces here, you have to walk through "Divorce" to appreciate it. And it was precisely this aspect of these works, and the fact that they are so different from the museum's permanent exhibition, that made Kumu choose "Shiftscale" for its debut show, according to Soans.
"In the classical collection exhibition, you walk picture by picture, statue by statue," he said. "It's a very discreet viewing experience. But with an exhibition working with spatial issues, with installation, it creates totally another viewing experience."
Runs through May 6
Kumu Art Museum
Weizenbergi 34/Valge 1
Open Wed'sSun 11am's6pm
Tickets: Shiftscale 45 kroons, whole museum 75 kroons