Special Issue ‘The Geographies of Art History in the Baltic Region’
Edited by Katrin Kivimaa
Current issue of Estonian journal of art history, Kunstiteaduslikke Uurimusi / Studies on Art and Architecture (no. 3–4, vol. 19), presents the selected papers of the conference The Geographies of Art History in the Baltic Region that took place in Tallinn, Estonia in 2009. The articles in the main part of the journal reflect upon the history of art history as it developed in the Baltic states and also Finland. More specific case-studies concentrate on the current status and ideological foundations of (national) art history through the analysis of specific institutional frameworks such as academic research, museum displays or criticism. Whilst recognising the dominance of the national in art-historical thinking in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, several articles propose alternative ways and models for re-thinking the boundaries and aims of the discipline both in the local and regional context. The review section includes an overview of the seminar Thinking Art History in East-Central Europe, organised jointly by the Clark Art Institute and the Institute of Art History in Tallinn in May 2010, and information on art history periodicals published in Finland, Latvia and Lithuania.
Preface. Katrin Kivimaa
Krista Kodres. Our Own Estonian Art History: Changing Geographies of Art-Historical Narrative
The geography of art serves as the basis for delineating art-historical material and for constructing the narrative accordingly. This article poses a question about the content and character of ‘the geographies of Estonian art history’ – i.e. the geographical image in art-historical discourse and the so-called truth-value, or its correspondence to visual material, on which such argument rests. In what follows, the Baltic German, the Baltic-Nordic, the Estonian and the Soviet versions of art-geographical comparative method are under examination. All these models of art-historical inquiry were defined by their emphasis on aesthetic judgement, which, as closer inspection reveals, was overshadowed by the ideological agenda of a particular period. Thus, the past narratives of Estonian history of art should be subjected to critical reinterpretation. Given the new approaches to art historiography that are being practised today, whereby issues of art’s aesthetic value are historicised and the focus is on the investigation of the historically specific mechanisms and processes that generate meaning in art and culture, it no longer seems adequate to rely on art-geographical method alone.
Stella Pelše. Creating the Discipline: Facts, Stories and Sources of Latvian Art History
The article reflects on the main personalities, phases and achievements (such as major monographs and surveys) of art-historical research in Latvia, outlining the dominant ideas and institutional developments. While interest in art-related issues already emerged in Baltic German circles in the late nineteenth century, it was not until the late 1910s and early 1920s that the story of national art emerged as an important lacuna to be filled in the cultural consciousness of the newly founded nation-state. The construction of an uninterrupted line of artistic development from prehistoric times to the present came to the fore, inscribing the local heritage in the wider processes of the development of art. The Soviet period replaced the story of national art with the story of realist art produced on the territory of Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic; still the gradual entropy of imposed sociological method has largely encouraged a turn towards the autonomous artwork, examining it in a spectrum of aspects, such as regional routes of migration and influences, and genealogies of iconographic and stylistic traits. A loose empirical pluralistic and even eclectic approach seems to best describe the current situation in Latvian art history.
Jolita Mulevičiūtė. New Aims, Old Means: Rewriting Lithuanian Art History of the National Revival Period
The article examines significant changes in the Lithuanian art history written at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century, the period when the local modernist art-historical discourse went into decline. From the mid-1980s, Lithuanian researchers turned to contextual studies and concentrated on art processes and their social and political milieu. However, the essence of the modernist methodology – the concept of style interpreted as a quality intrinsic to an artwork and detectable from its visual appearance – retained its ideological power. It continued to connect Lithuanian art history with the peremptory Western modernist patterns, thus imposing modernist standards on reconstructions of local artistic practice that are in conflict with the new contextual approach. The article underscores the need to deconstruct the concept of style and to open an artwork to the contextual analysis.
Visa Immonen. Medievalisms with a Difference: Estonia and the Finnish Pre-War Tradition of Antiquarian Art History
The character of local medievalisms has been defined in geographically limited scholarly and national contexts. This article analyses medievalism in Finnish art history before World War II concentrating on three studies by three medievalists, Karl Konrad Meinander, Ludvig Wennervirta and Juhani Rinne. In reading their texts, I focus on Estonia and Estonian scholarship in their work. Despite their national leanings, the Finns were not cut off from the international disciplinary field. For them, due to a certain lack of comparative material and research literature, the Baltic countries remained an intermediary of German influences.
Laima Laučkaitė. Writing the Art History of the City: From Nationalism to Multiculturalism
This article is focused on the changes in Lithuanian art history during the first decade of the twenty-first century. Specifically, it deals with a new disciplinary discourse that is based on the transition from the national canon to a multinational history of art. The article presents a kind of sequel to the ideas raised by the author in her study Art in Vilnius, 1900–1915 (2008). The research is focused on the artistic life in Vilnius (exhibitions, collections, art societies, art schools, art ideologies, leaders, art criticism, etc.) and reveals a controversial and dynamic multinational art scene comprised of four main ethnic groups – Polish, Lithuanian, Jewish, and Russian. The narrative involves a reconstruction of pluralistic cultural diversity and shows the logic of the various national perspectives.
Giedrė Jankevičiūtė. Writing the Art History of the Vanished States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the 1940s
This article aims to show the importance of research on the art of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania during the first Soviet occupation in 1940–1941 and World War II. Firstly, the article presents a short overview of the current state of research on the art of this particular period in the three Baltic countries. Secondly, it concentrates on the need to unite and combine research done in each country in order to identify and analyse those features and processes that were common to all three Baltic countries at that time.
Linara Dovydaitytė. Post-Soviet Writing of History: The Case of the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius
This article concentrates on the problems of history writing in contemporary Lithuania through the case study of the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius, opened in 2009. The museum is conceived as a site of history writing through its strategies of selecting, contextualising and displaying artefacts. Analysis of the museum’s permanent exhibition shows how the critique of the modernist canon of art history collides with residues of socialist modernism, thus forming a specific post-Soviet narrative of history. This article also focuses on the process of establishing the new museum in order to reveal how this site of history writing is perceived in the public imagination of contemporary society.
Epp Lankots. History Appropriating Contemporary Concerns: Leonhard Lapin’s Architectural History and Mythical Thinking
This article examines the possibility of reading the textual practice of Leonhard Lapin, an energetic leader of the Estonian artistic avant-garde during the 1970s and 1980s, as an indication of the emergence of history as a critical category in the historiography of Estonian modern architecture. Architectural history is often narrowly interpreted in terms of the domination and ideological commitment of spatial theories, including perceptions of the 1970s avant-garde in relation to resistance to the Soviet regime. However, Lapin’s concept of living history and his ideas about the mythical content of architecture, lead to the reframing of architectural history through a range of critical-analytic models that is more diverse. Lapin’s attempt to re-work the history of early twentieth-century architecture in Estonia was part of his subjective strategy: he sustained his own avant-garde and critical practices in contemporary art by pursuing the (hi)story of the avant-garde. This multi-faceted engagement with issues concerning historical continuity (or discontinuity) with the early twentieth-century avant-garde also raises the possibility that Lapin’s history writing is relevant to the debate concerning the position of the Western neo-avant-garde after World War II.
Alexandra Alisauskas. ‘Frends is olvais velcome to Lithuania’: The Location of Contemporary Lithuanian Art
Taking the work of the contemporary Lithuanian artist collective Academic Training Group as a case study, this article charts the way in which the place of Lithuanian art has been negotiated through international art exhibitions using various geographical frames. What does the subsumption of Lithuanian art into narratives of Eastern European, Nordic, Baltic or national art histories affirm or deny? Following the recent writings of Polish art historian Piotr Piotrowski, I argue for the need to write a new critical form of national art history; one that, although ‘provincial’, takes into account the impact of a complex vector of spatial and political interactions that has itself been one of the critical strengths of contemporary Lithuanian art production.
Thinking Art History in East-Central Europe. Melina Doerring
Art-Historical Periodicals and Journals of Art and Architecture in Finland. Renja Suominen-Kokkonen, Johanna Vakkari
Art and Art History Related Periodicals in Latvia Today. Kristiāna Ābele
Academic Journals on the Visual Arts in Lithuania. Agnė Narušytė
Voldemar Vaga and Estonian Art History. Krista Kodres