The Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art in collaboration with the James Gallery at the Graduate Center, CUNY opened an exhibition “Portable Landscapes: Memories and Imaginaries of Refugee Modernism” on November 19. The exhibition is part of the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art research and exhibition project “Portable Landscapes” examining stories of exiled and emigree Latvian artists and locating them within the broader context of 20th century art history, and wider processes of migration and globalization.
Solvita Krese, director of the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, says in the opening of the exhibition: “I am delighted that the exhibition has been received with such warmth and enthusiasm, as it can be hard to grab the attention of the New York cultural elite. There has been a very positive response, not only to the artworks and historical materials exhibited, but also to the way we aimed to rewrite history by looking at the stories of Latvian artists in exile and exploring emigration in the wider context of the history of art and migration. I think that the term "refugee modernism" may well evolve as a result of this exhibition, encompassing the lesser-known pages of history and helping to create a more inclusive and contemporary narrative – a deeper reading of history. In light of MOMA's new programme of exhibitions, which also skews toward there writing of history, we have to acknowledge that our exhibition was timely and that we managed to integrate Latvian art and history into an international context.”
“One visitor to the exhibition said to me that she now sees modern art and also refugees a bit differently. She said that the goal of research is to expand the body of knowledge, and she believed that this exhibition has done that. This collaborative project has brought perspectives of artists and researchers together to provide new knowledge about the history of Latvian modern art, particularly by emigre artists in New York, and also to investigate how dislocation and exile has shaped the history of modern art internationally,” says Katherine Carl, one of the curators (James Gallery) of the exhibition “Portable Landscapes: Memories and Imaginaries of Refugee Modernism”.
„The curatorial team's research allowed them to deliver, in a direct and accessible way, an impression of the different generations of Latvian émigré artists (often modernist, though not exclusively) working in the United States, New York. The venue choice was particularly apt, as the gallery is just a few blocks away from the so-called "Hell's Kitchen", which was an area of significance to several of the artists in the exhibition. Indeed, it was where the performance/lecture/walk by the artist group "Orbita" took place. It was a great pleasure to see how the fates and works of Latvian émigré artists could be successfully contextualised and updated,” comments art historian Alise Tīfentāle.
The exhibition at the James Gallery brings into the foreground exiled Latvian artists’ and writers’ collective Hell’s Kitchen that was active in New York from the 1950s through the 1970s. The exhibition and programs developed in collaboration with the James Gallery examine artistic and political expressions of refugee artists that unfold diverse narratives of both past and present processes of crossing borders and traversing territories.