Eleanor Heartney
In the essay that follows, Mark Svede reflects on the "problem" of painting today. This issue manifests itself one way inside Latvia, as a consequence of the internal history of art through the Soviet and Post-Soviet eras, and in another way with respect to the evolution of modernist and postmodernist art internationally. As an outsider, I cannot deal with the first aspect, and am grateful to read Svede's insightful analysis. As a New York based art critic who has been writing about contemporary art for thirty years, I can say something about the second.
Since the 1970s, painting has been involved in a never-ending cycle of death and resurrection. Theorists and critics point to all manner of new innovations, among them video art, installation, digital art, performance, land and body art, that supposedly threaten to bury painting once and for all. But painting refuses to remain obediently dead because artists will not let it go. Something about the visceral nature of painting – the bodily connection of hand and brush - as well as painting's venerable history and fundamental connection to the western culture - ensure that it remains a meaningful vehicle for the expression of the most important human ideas and feelings.
The works here affirm the vitality of painting today. Their diversity of style, content and technique also attests to the many ways that paintings help us reflect upon contemporary realities. This show brings together Harijs Brants' richly rendered, hypnotic portraits, the eerie surrealism of Ieva Iltnere's unsettling environments and tableaux, Kaspars Brambergs' monumental reinvention of geometric abstraction, the romantic realism of Andris Eglītis' evocation of landscape and intimate domestic scenes, Ernests Kļaviņš' playful primativism, the exhilarating freedom of Daiga Krūze's wild brushwork, the architectural precision of Leonards Laganovskis' schematic renderings, Inga Meldere's deftly evocative gestural depictions of landscape and figures and Miervaldis Polis' deliberately mannered echoes of the hyperrealism of various western masters.
As one of the outside jurors who selected the work for this exhibition, I am extremely grateful for this introduction to the Latvian art scene. Critics are constantly on the lookout for art that is fresh and evocative and that widens our vision of the world. This show is full of paintings that do just that.