“The Playful Eight” presents paintings, drawings and sculpture by eight Latvian artists: Brants Harijs, Blanks Janis, Virtmanis Reinis, Usas Ingmars, Broze Valdis, Lazdans Verners, Zuters Kalvis, Brekte Kristians.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Latvia, one of three Baltic republics, drew international media attention due to financial crises, money laundering and political instability. But those who visit its capital Riga see the world’s largest collection of Art Nouveau architecture, its famous Opera with a long history and a school of internationally known ballet dancers like our contemporary Mihail Baryshnikov, and definitely Latvia is remembered by the names of the artists like Mark Rothko, Maurice Stern, Peteris Staprans, Vija Celmins.
The current exhibition introduces to the American public artists who have been internationally awarded and have exhibited in Europe Germany, UK, Belgium, Holland, but never before in the United States.
All the artists are young men of about 40 and work in figurative art. The first impression of their works is definitely their playfulness with the images depicted. The second, provocative inquiry about personal-identity, national, emotional. The question of identity is important in a small country like Latvia with its history of foreign invasions and occupation. When Latvia became independent again in 1991 (this year the country celebrates 20 years of independence), these artists were young people who witnessed the breakdown of the Soviet system and had their dreams about the future in a newly recovered country. The present reality is difficult to accept. Emigration of the young population of Latvia to Western Europe, especially after Latvia entered the EU, reached considerable figures.
Artists talk about identity: Harijs Brants (lonely individuals with an inwardly concentrated world), Janis Blanks (dreamers), Ingmars Usas (wanderers), Verners Lazdans (adaptable creatures), Kristians Brekte (rebels, critics, extremists), Kalvis Zuters (escapists and outsiders), Valdis Broze (observers), Reinis Virtmanis (moralists).
Artists of this group that was organized spontaneously did not want themselves to be identified just as Latvian artists. “It does not matter what nationality we are; our works can be understood everywhere and by anyone.”
Very often Latvian artists are seen as representatives of Eastern European Art. Yes, the tradition of classical education in Art Academies in former Soviet countries is very strong. Maurice Stern, who was a well-known American artist and had his roots in Latvia, once said “ I became convinced that in the East a true art tradition is still alive, but for some reason the true instinct is lacking. It was as if one inherited a beautiful language without having anything to say. In the West on the other hand, there are many who have something significant to communicate but not the adequate means of expression”. I hope in the works of these artists you will be able to find both means and substance.
Marina Goldena, Gallery “Carousell” www.carousell.lv