Monthly Archives: July 2013

Lager-Camp Nostalgia (Part 3)

The battlefields of the 2nd World War were the first opportunity of contact with reality for Moscow’s Soviet intelligentsia. Another one came with the experience of inmates of Stalinist lager camps. A lot has already been said about war experience and its downright beneficial impact on Soviet art. Much less is known of lager experience and its interdependencies with official culture. The influence of lagers on post-Soviet art, however, seems most obvious here. Such phenomena as “mitki” (an artistic movement with a visual and literary profile and a rather humorous attitude; its name was derived from the Christian name of its founder Dmitri Shagin – transl.) or the numerous ideas of Soc-Art traced their roots back to camp experience.

The switch towards lagers, generally understandable as it is in Soviet symbolics, is dear to the heart of each and every intellectual, much the way the recollections of one’s even most horrible childhood are cherished. The switch represents a number of psychological processes which are active in any human being and in any human community recuperating after a severe trauma.

The effort, described as “an effort of despair” by Freud, is an immanent, integral part of the treatment without which recovery is impossible. It consists in chronic, seemingly never-ending lapses of the disease, in living through it at various symbolic levels and in its embodiment in most diversified forms, conceptual and pictorial, tragic and lecherous, romanticizing and hideous to the point of nausea.

The contorted faces by Vrubel, the horribly skeletal urkis (thieves – transl.) by Chubarov, the sophisticated – or conversely – primitive collages by Brusilovsky and Gorokhovsky in which Stalin emerges from Lenin, while from the two of them there emerges a country that is no longer – all this draws on the reality of collective Soviet unawareness or, in simpler words, on awareness subjected to collectivisation.

For the Westerner, this grotesque, senseless and repulsive world is a means of escape from familiar but extremely boring go-happy reality. Sometimes a vent is supplied by old-fashioned thriller films, sometimes by new side-plots in which the psychoanalyst turns out to be a cannibal, on other occasions still the function of vent is filled in by the mysterious Russian world in which white people play parts unsuitable for white people.

In Russia, the country of the Zeks (prisoners – transl.), Bomzhs (persons without permanent residence – transl.) and intelligentsia, Soviet and post-Soviet art exists in a different context, in a context as typical of them as doubts were of Hamlet or insanity is of a schizophrenic.

(ALEXANDR ETKIND, 1992)

Lager-Camp Nostalgia (Part 2)

In the thirties, intelligentsia became a privileged social group and took advantage of the benefits reserved exclusively for the bureaucratic and military elites. As long as until the late eighties intelligentsia stayed very close to authorities of all levels, provincial included, and constituted one of the most privileged strata of Soviet society.

Why did the almighty authorities choose this kind of domestication – a complicated and costly social process whose outcome could not in any individual case be determined in advance – rather than simply destroy intelligentsia? After all, did they not upset the workings of this brilliantly-conceived mechanism of a totalitarian state?

Intelligentsia were both the subject and the object of ideological control. The party-equals-state reprimanded them for one thing and patted their backs encouragingly for another. Top levels of “ideological leadership” included people who belonged to the class of intelligentsia owing to their occupation or lifestyle and who either wholeheartedly despised intelligentsia or conversely – sympathised with them covertly or overtly. Both groups originated from the same intelligentsia-like social stratum, while their tastes, grossly though they affected the fate of the country, were to a lesser or greater degree of an accidental nature. Already in the early twenties, when discussing the just-developing and new (rather good at that) prose, Osip Mandelshtam described Soviet novel as “a romance of a forced labourer and a wheel-barrow”.

This kind of approach to the role of Soviet intelligentsia, the artistic elite not excepted, allows to throw an entirely new light upon some of the aspects of their life. The artistic life of Soviet Russia from the late twenties until the late eighties was more like playing abstract symbols detached from all reality – whether economic, religious, political or simply human reality.

The social “abstractionism” was regulated by certain standards, both ideological and technical ones. The regime appreciated the high technical level of ballet, painting and formal sciences which allowed to avoid ideological disputes. As a matter of fact, ideological requirements were also reduced to the technical level. Similarly as icon painting or classical dancing they were based on some sort of word play, on the tradition of symbols which could, just like anything that bears no relation with reality, be neither confirmed nor denied.

(ALEXANDR ETKIND, 1992)

Lager-Camp Nostalgia (Part 1)

The striking peculiarities of Soviet art are inseparably linked with the striking peculiarities of the Soviet intelligentsia.

A similar social group is never to be found and it is common knowledge that even the term used to denote it is extremely Slavic, Russian and Polish. It is no coincidence, however, that the term was so eagerly accepted by the Soviet ideology-makers, Stalin included.

Neither is it a matter of coincidence, starting as far back as with Chekhov, who wrote openly in one of his letters “I hate our intelligentsia”, and ending as near to date as with Solzhenitsyn, who labelled intelligentsia with the contemptuous name of “educatees”, that intelligentsia’s uniqueness supplied the most favourite assumption for its self-criticism.

Intelligentsia manufactured virtually nothing, yet they also owned nothing and consumed a mere trifle. And this is where the basic difference between Soviet intelligentsia and West Europe’s middle class lies. A non-producing class, intelligentsia were concerned solely with how to fairly divide products and not with how to produce as much as possible, Nikolay Berdayev observed bitterly 85 years ago. Forced into exile by the Lenin government, Berdayev described the Bolshevik Revolution as a suicide of Russian intelligentsia. And yet, intelligentsia survived.

Always aspiring to a separateness of their fate and to an independence of their role, the intelligentsia in Russia suffered immeasurable losses as a result of what happened to the country throughout the long decades of Soviet regime. But they were also responsible for the situation, and to a significant degree too. The most sensitive representatives of Russian intelligentsia had an inkling of how fatal their part was and predicted the inevitable vindication.

Soviet cultural activists were hardly but innocent victims of the regime. It is common knowledge that many an “oppressor” of various rank originated from among intelligentsia. Special attention deserves the fact that starting with the early twenties the most popular writers, visual artists, musicians and scholars collaborated with the authorities as closely as possible and, with the exception of some of them, maintained this kind of creative co-operation until they were arrested or died. It holds true not only for the primitive “scientists” of the Stalinist era who were living examples of social advancement such as charlatan-biologist Lysenko. Unfortunately, it applies also to outstanding intellectuals and genuine masters in their respective fields, e.g. Stanislavsky or Meyerhold, Gorky or Bulkhakov, Konenkov or Altman…

(ALEXANDR ETKIND, 1992)

МЕЧТА И ДЕЙСТВИТЕЛЬНОСТЬ (О ПЕТЕРБУРГСКОЙ МУЗЫКАЛЬНОЙ ЖИЗНИ 1920гг.) [часть 3]

В настоящей статье мы не намерены сосредоточиться на отдельных композиторских новинках – рукописях, сделавшихся нам известными за последнее время. Не будем также углубляться в воспоминания о прослушанных нами в послеоктябрьские годы симфонических и камерных концертах и оперных постановках. Для первого раза нам хотелось бы остановиться только на отдельных ярких примерах и на характеристике общих условий, среди которых протекает петербургская музыкальная жизнь. В большую композиторскую величину среди петербургской молодежи вырос за последнее время В.В.Щербачев своими на редкость сконцентрированными романсами и фортепианными композициями, а также большими симфоническими замыслами, только отчасти до сих пор осуществленными. Как выдающийся пианист почти рахманиновской силы и композитор, при несомненной зависимости от Скрябина, все же говорящий языком индивидуально выраженным и остро впечатляющим, выдвинулся Герман Бик, ныне покинувший пределы Советской России. До известной степени аналогичную позицию, как виртуоз и композитор, но уже в сфере скрипичной музыки, занимает Иосиф Ахрон. Среди представителей молодой русской композиторской школы он ближе всего к вождям немецкого музыкального модернизма, особенно Регеру, с которым его роднит, с одной стороны, сознание того, что мелодия есть главный источник музыкальной энергии, а с другой стороны – склонность к музыкальному гротеску, парадоксу. Исполнением своих двух очень ценных скрипичных сонат, своей пропагандой Брамса, Регера и классиков Ахрон вписал очень яркую страницу в музыкальную жизнь Петербурга. На крайнем левом фланге энергично боролся за осуществление музыкального футуризма Артур Лурье, для меня лично убедительный в своих вокальных композициях на тексты Александра Блока, действительно проникающих в творческую тайну незабвенного поэта. В кругу юных представителей консерваторской группы сочувственная молва окружала произведения Григорьева и Шестаковского. Из них первый более близок к тому моменту, когда можно будет представить себе с большей или меньшей ясностью его самостоятельный композиторский облик. Оба молодые музыканта выросли в музыкальной атмосфере глазуновской школы. Маститый глава современной русской музыки за последний год дополнил обширный каталог своих сочинений отличным шестым квартетом, вновь красноречиво свидетельствующим о том, что его неизменным идеалом является уравновешенная красота звуковых форм при неизменной верности заветам русской школы, когда-то столь безоглядно радикальной, а ныне для нас уже принявшей характер классичности.

Я нарочно ограничиваюсь этими немногими примерами и беглыми характеристиками, приведенными мною только для обрисовки общей картины музыкального положения современного Петербурга. Но картина эта не была бы полна, если бы мы не коснулись хотя бы в нескольких словах и третьего элемента нашей музыкальной жизни, если за первый и второй считать композиторов и исполнителей, -публики. (Среди представителей второго элемента, исполнителей, кроме названных выше, необходимо еще отметить таких высококультурных артисток певиц, как С.В.Акимова и М.И.Бриан, замечательных пианисток И.С.Миклашевская и Р.Я.Бурштейн, и оба струнных квартета, академический и имени Глазунова, вынесших на своих плечах неимоверную тяжесть ежедневных выступлений с пропагандой музыки, налагающей на исполнителей величайшую художественную ответственность). Однако возвратимся к третьему элементу. Нового слушателя, властно за-
явившего о себе с изменением социального уклада России, считали виновником стремительного падения музыкального искусства. Говорили, что демократическая аудитория не в состоянии отозваться на все действительно новое прогрессивное музыкальное искусство, что его музыкальная неразвитость заставляет постоянно возвращаться к художественным образам, уже достаточно знакомым более искушенной аудитории. Из этого был сделан вывод, что не стоит для такой аудитории утруждать себя разучиванием новой музыки, а достаточно все вновь и вновь пользовать накопленные художественные ценности. За исключением нескольких выдающихся исполнителей из числа поименованных выше, большинство пребывало в инертном повторении давно им и публике известных музыкальных произведений. И этим корпорация артистов взяла на себя тяжелый грех, упустив возможность путем систематической пропаганды вовлечь нового слушателя в круг живых творческих интересов искусства.

Мне остается еще коснуться одной очень важной отрасли музыкальной жизни, а именно оперы. Но опера – это важное государственное дело старого режима, неоднократно вовлекаемая в сложную игру политических сил, опера, как известно, не только у нас в России, но и на Западе переживает жесточайший кризис, и был бы совершенной неожиданностью ее подъем в переходной обстановке возрождающейся России. Этой неожиданности не случилось. Интерес к опере пошел у нас заметно на убыль, и революционное творчество пока ничем себя не ознаменовало, по крайней мере в Петербурге, в этой области. Несмотря на сильный отлив артистов за границу, академическая опера, а в отдельных случаях и частная инициатива (как, например, опера Народного дома) держались до последнего времени при содействии таких художников, как Бенуа, Щуко, Кустодиев, на значительной высоте. А это очень много при теперешних обстоятельствах. Беда только в том, что в отношении репертуара и здесь замечалась инертность, тяготение к общепризнанным непоколебимым в нашем сознании творениям прошлого. А как бесконечно много можно было бы сделать, даже при отсутствии крупных новинок недавнего происхождения…

(“РУССКОЕ ИСКУССТВО”, № 1, 1923)

МЕЧТА И ДЕЙСТВИТЕЛЬНОСТЬ (О ПЕТЕРБУРГСКОЙ МУЗЫКАЛЬНОЙ ЖИЗНИ 1920гг.) [часть 2]

Произошел ли подлинный разрыв между русской жизнью и искусством? Едва ли это было бы справедливо утверждать относительно изобразительных искусств. Здесь кипят страсти, идет борьба левых течений, идет упорная работа над осмыслением новых путей художественного воплощения. Учащаяся молодежь вовлекается постепенно в сферу новой художественной идеологии, стремящейся отразить усиленный жизненный темп нашей боевой эпохи. В русской же музыке очень мало приметно это сопереживание больших исторических дней. В значительной мере это явление объясняется тем, что русская музыка – самая молодая отрасль европейского искусства – развивалась до сих пор в таком стремительном темпе, что процесс этот не связывался с медленным внутренним накоплением сил. Много энергии русское искусство еще до недавнего време-
ни отдавало также на борьбу за свое положение в среде европейских народов. Лучшие представители молодой русской музыки эмигрировали за границу еще до тех великих и грозных событий, которые возложили на всех нас высокий долг напряженностью своей творческой воли ответить на небывалый размах жизненного порыва. Пусть русское искусство завоевало себе право на особое внимание в Западной Европе, пусть интерес к его творениям сейчас наполняет культурных людей Запада одинаково в обоих станах, на которые разбила Европу мировая война. Пусть Игорь Стравинский сейчас в латинских странах и Англии пользуется не меньшим влиянием на умы молодежи, чем в свое время Вагнер в Германии, но былое единство русской музыки, которым жило оно до мировой катастрофы, теперь надолго нарушено. Русская музыка имеет сейчас два центра: один на родине, другой за рубежом. На наш взгляд, это расщепление творческих сил есть несчастье для русской художественной культуры.

Но как бы ни была велика утечка сил за границу, как бы ни ослабляла творческий запас ее сил, это раздвоение еще далеко не иссушило живые соки, питавшие русскую музыкально общественную жизнь. Сквозь толщу трафаретных программ и сплошную сеть тоскливо однообразных повторений все же нет-нет, да пробиваются молнии сильных новых творческих идей и, хоть и случайно, редко, с неожиданной радостью узнаем мы о замыслах и достижениях музыкантов, делящих с нами суровую обстановку нашей жизни. И эта неожиданная радость особенно сближает, делает особенно нужным “труды и дни” отечественных художников звуков. В последнее время Петербург стал привлекать к себе кадры русских музыкантов, разбредшихся по разным углам России в поисках лучших материальных условий. Иные привезли с собою заманчивые плоды композиторских работ за эти годы, с которыми предстоит нам еще ознакомиться. Но несомненно, что вновь образуется художественный фонд, из которого щедрой рукой возможно будет почерпнуть для петербургских камерных и симфонических концертов, когда улучшатся несколько условия производства в этой области. В настоящую же минуту концертная жизнь Петербурга переживает кризис, и только в ближайшем будущем можно будет наметить пути и способы его постепенного ослабления, если не окончательного разрешения.

(“РУССКОЕ ИСКУССТВО”, № 1, 1923)

МЕЧТА И ДЕЙСТВИТЕЛЬНОСТЬ (О ПЕТЕРБУРГСКОЙ МУЗЫКАЛЬНОЙ ЖИЗНИ 1920гг.) [часть 1]

При скудости наших сведений о положении русского музыкального искусства в настоящее время, невольно приходится ограничивать рамки статьи пределами лишь одного города, еще до недавнего времени бывшего главным центром русской музыкальной жизни, но теперь уже утерявшего свою былую гегемонию. Петербург оскудел, обнищал в музыкальном отношении больше, чем в какой-либо другой отрасли своей художественной жизни, и не о своем положении вождя, а о сохранении самых элементарных художественных ценностей приходится думать сейчас городу, от времен Глинки до наших дней творившему историю родного искусства. Достаточно бегло обозреть программы оркестровых и камерных концертов, репертуар академической и государственной оперы, чтобы поразиться их однообразием и отсутствием каких бы то ни было свежих веяний, значительных новинок. Одни и те же авторы неизменно повторяющимися произведениями обслуживают музыкальные интересы петербуржцев. На высокое напряжение общественной жизни, грандиозную борьбу за новые возможности народного бытия, музыка, наиболее эмоциональное из искусств, казалось бы, должна была отозваться всей своей творческой энергией. Но нет, пока этого не случилось. С великим недоумением спрашиваешь самого себя: почему?

События последних лет в одинаковой мере отозвались как на творческой продуктивности русских композиторов, так и на исполнительском аппарате, и в переживаемый нами момент даже невозможно составить себе ясное представление о том, что сейчас делается в сфере русского музыкального творчества. Есть славные имена, которыми вправе гордиться русское искусство: Стравинский, Рахманинов, Метнер, Гнесин, Прокофьев, но они за рубежом, откуда до нас долетают лишь отрывочные неясные сведения, иные, хотя и живут среди нас, но самым житейским укладом лишены возможности общаться с друзьями своего искусства и заявлять о нем публично с концертной эстрады. Прекратились нотные издательства, и это лишило нас возможности ознакомиться с не очень обильным количеством произведений, написанных за последний год. Но все же не следует преувеличивать размеры нашей музыкальной нищеты. Наступили будни петербургской музыкальной жизни. Почти исчезли яркие праздничные выступления, тщательно подготовленные и уже заранее напрягавшие нервное ожидание любителей. Но и в этих буднях не прерывается биение пульса петербургской музыкальной жизни. Где-то в скрытых от постороннего глаза музыкальных кружках идет неустанная работа, какие-то отщепенцы от жизни в условиях бесконечно трудных продолжают создавать новые, живые музыкальные ценности. Нет, не заглушить внешним неустройствам нашей жизни творческого пламени музыкального искусства. Временами оно светит менее ярко, но не иссякает окончательно ее дух живой.

(“РУССКОЕ ИСКУССТВО”, № 1, 1923)

Estonian art under Communism (Part 7)

Many established artists made dramatic changes in their oeuvres during this decade, but quite often these alterations were designed to emphasize the Estonian roots of their art. Avo Keerend (b. 1920) moved toward abstraction in the 1980s, creating prints like Still Life with Olives, 1984, but in doing so he deliberately paid homage to the Estonian geometric abstractionists of the 1920s. At the same time, he also started to use intense colors, a clear reflection of the influence of Konrad Magi (1878-1925), the foremost colorist in Estonia and the first director of the Art School “Pallas.” Magi’s Impressionist and Fauve-inspired approach was originally designated unacceptable by the Communist Party, but in 1968 a commemorative exhibition of his work was organized and, by the 1980s, intense colors as well as other forms of color exploration had begun to appear in the work of Keerend and other artists. Sirje Runge, for example, also started to explore subtle color tonalities at this time. Her paintings from the early 1980s, like Landscape 23 (1982), consist of dreamy, dematerialized Fields of color with slight tonal variations intersected by rectangular color areas of related but darker tonalities. These works remain mysterious and without any evident message. In contrast, Juri Arrak started to use charcoal as his medium in this decade, following the historic example of Kristjan Raud. In these works, Arrak explores the relationship between men and animals.

International stimuli and influences became increasingly evident in Estonian art as wider foreign travel became possible. Vello Vinn’s prints sometimes represent monsters that appear to be constructed of readymade parts, as in his photo etching Wednesday I, 1983. In such works, Vinn reminds the viewer of Arcimboldo, the sixteenth-century Italian artist who created men of vegetables and other recognizable objects. Peeter Ulas divides his prints into three horizontal registers reminiscent of the paintings of Mark Rothko. Within these tiers, Ulas then examines natural atmospheric and geological forms.

There were other general stylistic tendencies among Estonian artists in the 1980s, including a movement toward more compact compositions and more generalized form. The narrative background of earlier decades was often abandoned in favor of a uniform blank ground. There was, in addition, a noticeable interest in preserving the autonomy of the two-dimensional surface plane behind which opens a narrow ledge-like space (this is notable in the work of Vive Tolli, Tonis Vint, and Evi Tihemets). The hard-edge painting style of Hyperrealism often gave way in the 1980s to a soft painterly brushstroke reminiscent of the “Pallas” style (as in the work of Jaan Elken). The popularity of Hyperrealism declined, and Symbolism and Surrealism become dominant. In 1989, the Worldwide Association of Surrealism, which includes artists, writers, and poets, was established in Tallinn.

What has developed slowly, but is apparent today, is the revival of artistic life in Tartu, a city which for many years was deprived of its cultural heritage. This restoration began in 1957, when, as in the nineteenth century, the University of Tartu established a studio-art program, now known as the Art Cabinet (Kunstikabinett) in the Education and Methodology Department. By 1967, the art students had organized an association, called Visarid (i.e., someone in opposition, not satisfied), which was comparable to the ANK ’64 movement in Tallinn. The new program offered studio training in drawing, watercolor, oil, ceramics, and metalwork to all university students and, in particular, to the future elementary teachers of history and languages as a secondary field of teaching. As in the nineteenth century, the program has been successful. Furthermore, in 1988 a division of the State Art Institute of Tallinn was established at the University of Tartu with a five-year curriculum. At present, however, the university is considering integrating it as a university department.

In 1988, local artists, writers, and poets established the Art Association of Tartu, modeling it after the Art Association of “Pallas,” which existed from 1918 to 1940. The earlier association was responsible for the creation of the Art School “Pallas” in 1919. And while the reborn organization has not yet reached that high level of development, it has opened a small studio and an art gallery for the exhibition of contemporary art, the first of its kind in Tartu. Until now, artists in Tartu have valiantly tried to keep alive the style of “Pallas.” With these new developments in Tartu, only one question remains: Will there be a School of Tartu that will return the artistic life of the city to its former level of distinction?

The same question may be asked with regard to Estonian art in general now that there exists a new democratic situation, where art is free from censorship, where artists have the right to organize their own exhibitions, and where a free exchange of ideas is a regular possibility.

(Olga Berendsen)

Estonian art under Communism (Part 6)

The 1980s were a transitional period that moved from totalitarianism to democratic freedom. As living conditions worsened and Russification intensified, Estonians resolved to save their language and cultural identity from annihilation. In this period, the study of the Russian language actually declined and the number of dissidents increased. High school students in Tallinn and university students in Tartu demonstrated. In 1980, forty prominent intellectuals, including writers, artists, and poets, signed an open letter in defense of Estonian language and culture.

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Vive Tolli. Wind Shelter, 1972. Fragment. Aquatint. 51.8 x 49 cm

This Estonian opposition was always nonviolent, resulting mainly in peaceful gatherings at historically significant sites on the occasion of former national holidays. Brezhnev’s death in 1982, and the subsequent deaths of Andropov and Chernenko, did not appreciably change the situation in Estonia. Even in the early Gorbachev years, beginning in 1985, little changed. But during the period of glasnost and perestroika, Estonian opposition grew in strength and concessions were gradually made.

In Estonia, this period under Gorbachev is known as the “Second Awakening,” the first national awakening having occurred in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The popular singing festivals which originated in the First Awakening were revived in Tallinn in the summer of 1988 as a new form of nonviolent opposition; this was the so-called Singing Bevolution, a dramatic expression of national unity and hope for freedom. During the summer nights, thousands of Estonians, young people especially, would gather on the song-festival grounds to sing forbidden national songs, wave the blue, black, and white flag of independent Estonia, and listen to political speeches. The largest of these festivals occurred on September 11, 1988, when over three hundred thousand people joined together publicly to demand freedom for Estonia.

How were all these events and changes reflected in the art of Estonia, especially in graphics and painting? In general, the 1980s followed the course set by the 1970s. Maybe this seems placid and uneventful, especially when compared with the active artistic culture of Latvia and Lithuania. Indeed, some Estonian critics have called the art of the 1980s conservative and stale, and referred to the decade as a period of artistic stagnation. But this criticism does not seem fully justified when one takes into account the fact that the nonviolent Estonian opposition was as successful as the more dramatic events elsewhere in helping to deconstruct the Communist world.

One must also remember that, in the 1970s, the nonconformist Estonian avant-garde had achieved a leading position within the Soviet art world. Estonian artists were widely admired for their technical proficiency, creative power, and distinctive ethnic and national characteristics. Thus, when the repression increased in the 1980s, many Estonian visual artists expressed their opposition by calmly continuing in their 1970s manner. These artists had already demonstrated their opposition to the rule of the Kremlin through their earlier rejection of Socialist Realism.

Symbols and strategies developed in the 1970s gained new meaning in the independence struggles of the 1980s. Jiiri Arrak, for example, had used the colors of the national flag in his earlier works. And Illimar Paul (b. 1945) had produced serigraphs with forms suggesting colored paper cutouts, as in his Flying, 1980. In that work, a carefully knotted figure in the sky is colored with the blue, black, and white stripes that obviously refer to the Estonian flag, making a clear allusion to the artist’s hope for renewed national independence. Abstractionist Raul Meel also participated in this symbolizing tendency of the 1980s. His serigraph Embrace (1987) represents a map of Estonia as seen from four different positions, a motif he had used before. But in this instance the maps were superimposed with red hands and arms. His series Windows and Landscapes, with its barred windows, also symbolizes imprisoned Estonia and its yearning for liberty.

The younger nonconformist artists, those who graduated from art schools in the 1980s, generally followed in the footsteps of their masters. Many of them had been students at Tonis Vint’s Studio 22, and at the beginning of the decade were working in the style of geometric abstraction. Siim-Tanel Annus (b. 1960), a graphic and performance artist, is the most original and best known of these younger artists. In his early drawings, like the untitled one he made in 1976 (Fig. 7:20) when he was only sixteen, Annus used a very fine structural line to achieve a compositional balance. In the 1980s, his works became far more symbolic and representational. In the relief print Towers in the Sky (1983), the church towers reaching toward the heavens are surrounded by rays of light that impart a strong religious feeling to the image. According to the artist, his works are momentary visions from the depths of his subconscious, on the borderline between life and death.

Ene Kull (b. 1953) fuses black and white circles, ovals, squares, and parallelograms into rich, continuously transforming patterns, as in her lithograph DY3 (1982). Mari Kurismaa (b. 1956), who sometimes exhibits metaphysical tendencies, also manipulates basic geometrical forms, though in paintings like In the Town, 1986 she generally preserves their autonomy. The imagery of Raini Johanson (b. 1961), on the other hand, is conceived as a right-angled gridwork pattern recalling scientific diagrams. In contrast to these Vint students, Rene Kari (b. 1950) creates complicated, almost three-dimensional abstract forms from curving facet-like planes of various colors. Ado Lill, a law-school graduate who later studied for two years at the Art Institute, started out as an Action Painter but subsequently became a Minimalist with a strong interest in the color theories of Josef Albers.

(Olga Berendsen)

Estonian art under Communism (Part 5)

The paintings, multilayered serigraphs, and watercol-ors of Malle Leis (b. 1940) are uniquely her own. Her primary subjects are flowers, vegetables, and portraiture.
The objects she depicts are divorced from their realistic settings and made to float inexplicably across the surface of a uniformly colored background (usually black). Leis uses intense enamel colors and defines her forms carefully by modeling wilh various tonalities. Only occasionally does a partially depicted human figure accompany the flowers, as in her painting The Longest Day, 1977.

Other artists working on the edge of acceptability took their themes from the past, from folklore, history, or mythology. These subjects sometimes irritated the Party watchdogs because of their nationalistic implications. The
work of Jiiri Arrak (b. 1936), a leading member of ANR’64, probably displays the greatest thematic richness and fantasy of all. He was first trained as an engineer but, soon after graduating in metal design from the Art Institute, chose painting and printmaking as his media. His fantastic primitive world is often inhabited by naive, comical, short-haired, stocky men. They are uniformly painted with a flat color and seem sometimes like metal cutouts. In Backyard, 1972, Arrak creates primordial figures whose behavior recalls characters from Estonian folk tales. Other works by Arrak, such as Medieval Plague, 1981, develop subjects from the Middle Ages or from Estonian legends in order to keep alive the national tradition. Not surprisingly, Arrak had more than the usual troubles exhibiting and selling his work, both in Estonia and abroad.

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Herald Eelma. Dance, 1980. Fragment. Lithograph 61.5 x 49 cm

In the etchings of Concordia Klar (b. 1938), we escape into a dream world of slender and elegant musicians dressed in fancy turn-of-the-century ballgowns. The musical instruments they play are complicated inventions of the artist, sometimes incorporating household utensils or Fixtures. The mood is dreamy and lyrical. There is little background, though occasionally the figures are surrounded by vegetation like the huge, stylized, tulip-like flowers in Outside the Snowstorm, 1978 (Fig. 7:13). These big flowers are related to the floral patterns of Estonian folk costumes. In Klar’s work, they symbolize the way in which fleeting sensations may embody the enduring character of ethnicity and nationality. In sharp contrast to the elegant works of Klar are the prints of Silvi Liiva (b. 1941). Her works are inhabited by ugly, primitive women who are often shown as frightened, as in Game I, 1978. This threatening world clearly derives from the work of her favorite artists: Hieronymus Bosch, Paul Delvaux, and Salvador Dali.

Entirely different is the rich fantastic land conjured up in the work of Velio Vinn (b. 1939). Using symmetry, deep perspective, stylization, a fine etching line, and modern photolith techniques, Vinn creates big open spaces defined by fantastic architectural settings where curious goings-on take place. His critical commentaries on the contemporary scene often use photolithography to depict the contemporary conflict between technology and humanity.

In Estonia, abstract art is generally known by the common term “geometric art.” The most prominent representatives of this genre are T5nis Vint and Leonhard Lapin. But if these two artists are quite well known at home and abroad, internationally the best-known Estonian abstract artist is Raul Meel (b. 1941). Trained as an engineer, Meel is an autodidact in art. His aesthetic vocabulary is comprised almost entirely of lines, which he sometimes draws by unconventional means. He uses these lines to create simple compositions that explore I he fundamental relationships between sky, earth, man, and time. He usually works in series and one of his earliest and best known is a group of serigraphs called Under the Estonian Sky, 1973-77. The vast series consists of more than a thousand prints. Here, he shows the effect of slight variations in curving lines, which subsequently create new tensions and rhythms. His more politically charged works came later. In another extended series, consisting of thirty-five parts, Meel transformed four identically shaped maps of Estonia by using differently colored grids or lines. In another group, called Windows and Landscapes, first presented at the Baltic Graphics Triennale in 1986, repeated black silhouettes of the map of Estonia form a frame around a central barred window for the lower two of a four-work grouping and around circular forms for the upper two. Critic Eda Sepp has pointed out that “Meel’s window is framed by Estonian contours and provides a reference for his place, his language, his condition, and outlook, and determines his world view from which there is no escape, hence the barlike windows which limit his freedom and scope. It is not only a political barrier, but also a general human condition.”

Artists of several different generations turned to abstraction in the 1970s, often continuing that work into the 1980s. Evi Tihemets (b. 1932), for example, created lithographs of wavy bands of color floating toward each other. In the series Games, she introduced overlapping round and square shapes of contrasting colors to
create images that resemble dart boards. Sirje Runge (b. 1950) is a young designer and abstract painter. In works such as Geometry VIII, 1976, she manipulates form and color fields to create the illusion of movement reminiscent of Op Art.

(Olga Berendsen)

Estonian art under Communism (Part 4)

A second explosion of nonconformist student activity occurred in 1969 with the establishment of a new art group called SOUP ’69. These students were advocates of Pop Art, as suggested by the allusion to Andy Warhol’s paintings of Campbell’s Soup cans in their name. They excited by both the use of the intense enamel colors of Pop and the artistic liberty implied by their selection of subjects from the banal, everyday environment.

An important leader of this group was Leonhard Lapin (b. 1947), a close friend of Tonis Vint. Ry profession Lapin was an architect, and some of his graphic works of the 1960s and 1970s reflect the influence of Russian Constructivism. Others that deal with machines in motion seem to borrow from Leger. In one series of prints, Lapin explores the machine-like aspects in the eroticism of the female figure, using this as a metaphor for the conflict in modern society between technology and humanism. In his purely abstract works, he prefers a single, universally known geometrical form-symbol, such as a red cross. Lapin often gives these signs a political meaning, as, for instance, in Red Square, 1980, which alludes to Red Square at the Kremlin. Lapin’s square is not perfect, but has an eroded corner—a witty political critique. In the 1980s, Lapin was particularly interested in the work of Malevich and the Suprematists. He continues to work with Malevich’s square, bringing it to its utmost limits in his series Process.

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Kristjan Raud. Death of Kalevipoeg, 1935. Fragment. Charcoal on paper. Collection of the Estonian National Museum

Emphasizing the importance of fantasy over literary content in art, the ANR ’64 movement released young artists from the confines of Socialist Realism. SOUP ’69 furthered this process but also initiated a more intellectual, unemotional, and detached approach, justifying the free choice of themes. SOUP ’69 also introduced into painting and graphics intense colors and sleek finishes, a style that was in direct opposition to the gray-brown tones and turgid brushwork of official art. By the mid-1970s, this Estonian avant-garde movement had reached its maturity, having acquired considerable influence nationally and among certain nonconformist artists in Leningrad, including Rukhin.

Many of these Estonian nonconformists were interested in the local landscape. Toomas Vint (b. 1945), for example, is best known for his paintings of the lush Estonian fields and forests under an expansive sky. The human presence is only occasionally referred to by an object, as in his Forgotten Doll Carriage, 1979. A similarly idyllic character is seen in the seascapes of Alii Vint (b. 1945), who is also known for her erotic subjects. Stillness and isolation from the rest of the world is felt even more strongly in the prints of Mare Vint (b. 1942). In a lithograph from 1978, she shows a corner of a dreamy park with huge deciduous trees. This work expresses a longing for the peace and calm of a timeless arcadian place. Curiously, while this representation of an empty landscape might very well have portrayed an idealized vision of isolation, it also reflected the actual situation in rural Estonia. During this period, in order to prevent escape to the West, much of the seacoast was closed to civilians. The closing of rural schools and libraries in the 1970s, and the continuing collectivization of farms, emptied many of the old villages. As empty farmhouses fell into ruin and farmsteads became overgrown, an eerie silence pervaded the once-lively countryside.

A more complicated and ambiguous approach was taken by another group of artists who introduced Pop Art elements into their works. One of the best known is
Andres Tolts (b. 1949), a leader of SOUP ’69. In a painting from 1983, a bowl of apples on a table is placed in front of a deep north Estonian landscape, while two more apples hang mysteriously from a cord above the bowl. This is a work of great order and harmony, differentiating clearly between space and objects. At first, the representation appears perfectly rational, but the ambiguous placing of the table in front of the empty landscape, as well as the dangling fruit, tends to contradict the ostensible logic. Here, Surrealism enables the artist to incorporate several layers of meaning into his work. A similar use of Surrealist devices, such as combining still life and landscape elements or interior and exterior views, is evident in the work of several other young artists of this period (including Ando Keskkula and Tiit Paasuke). Marje Uksine (b. 1945) is also ambiguous in some of her works, as in her drypoint Portrait, 1976, in which the demarcation between interior and exterior, landscape and seascape is made deliberately vague. It is even hard to say whether this is actually a portrait or just a still life. The work is suffused with a mysterious calm that unites its parts.

Instead of idealizing the urban scene according to Socialist Realism, one group of artists was not afraid to portray the ugly aspects of the contemporary city. Allex Kutt (1921-1991), for example, liked to depict motorcycles and urban youth gangs in a Photorealist style, as in his 1981 aquatint Street I. Similarly, Juri Palm (b. 1937) frequently paints scenes of urban violence, crime, and congestion. Characteristic is The Mystery of the House, 1979, with its Surrealistic cramped space, faceless bursting bodies, and clashing colors. Jaan Elken (b. 1954) also portrays the destructive nature of the modem city-dweller; in his paintings graffiti and broken street signs abound. Heitti Polli (b. 1951), another artist working with such themes, combines anonymous concrete housing and portraiture.

Raisa Puustak (b. 1945) re-creates the city in entirely different terms. She sometimes depicts sunlight glinting off glass skyscrapers in a matter-of-fact manner or she shows a railroad station, as in her etching The Depot, 1977. Her interest obviously lies with the great engines and not with the human figures who seem to disappear in the shadows. By the 1980s, Puustak had turned primarily to still life, using only a few everyday items, like a basket of potatoes or a loaf of bread surrounded by the empty, tranquil space.

Urmas Ploomipuu (1942-1990) found his subject matter in the common people, preferably in happy holiday situations. Using Photorealism, he tried to capture the effect of a snapshot or a halftone illustration. In his etching A Sunday on Lake Peipus, 1975, he creates a round area like the opening of the camera lens and places within it two figures in a boat. The entire surface of the etching is then covered with a meticulous crisscross pattern in imitation of a grainy photographic or printed surface—an idea with roots in Pop Art.

(Olga Berendsen)