2018/1–3 (27)

Special Issue ‘Representing Art History in the Baltic Countries: Experiences and Prospects’
Edited by Kristiāna Ābele

Preface. Kristiāna Ābele


Tojana Račiūnaitė.
The Art History of Invisible Originals, or ‘When Shadows Talk…’

Drawings, copper engravings and photographs in which artworks are captured are different types of media that represent originals and replicate their images, i.e. representations. These images, having the status of iconographic sources, are often used in historical research as witnesses of a certain phenomenon, visual references to lost works, or analogues of existing ones. No art historical research or narrative of art history could do without them. Some of the works are known solely from media, i.e. iconographic and historiographical sources. Their originals have not survived, but their ideas, which can be newly represented or recreated, continue to exist. Physically nonexistent but represented and described works – ‘invisible originals’ – can build an alternative history of lost or invisible but known artworks. The aim of this article is to consider how radiographic images of early paintings can be treated in the presence of invisible originals and their technical copies, how these special images of paintings function, and what meanings they acquire in the art historical discourse.

Jolita Mulevičiūtė. Hunting for the Phantom, or the Prospects of Studying Nineteenth-Century Lithuanian Art

This article analyses the state of nineteenth-century Lithuanian art historiography. It reviews how the nationalist paradigm prevalent in the humanities in the twentieth century was transformed into the writing of multi-national history at the end of the century, and in the early twenty-first century how it was increasingly replaced by a non-ethnocentric approach focused on the problems of urban culture, regional art, social class and gender. It examines the attempt to overcome the concept of the ‘shift’ espoused by Lithuanian art history research that asserts a strict division between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. At the same time, this article discusses why the progress of studies of nineteenth-century art considerably lags behind the vigorous development of research observed in studies of the baroque era, the first Republic of Lithuania and the Soviet period.

Kristiāna Ābele. The Baltic-Latvian Family Tree of Artists’ Dictionaries in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, between Amateurism and ‘High’ Art History

The creation of biographical dictionaries is a field where professional art history often encounters amateurism, attempts to eradicate it and at the same time profits from its contributions. The history of reference works on artists of and from the historical Baltic provinces in general and the present Latvia in particular, since the nineteenth century, is not a linear development from primitive to increasingly comprehensive forms. It would be more accurate to describe it as a family tree where all members have some common features, but every successive generation has been raised with limited access to family archives and fragmentary knowledge of its actual lineage, as well as containing side branches and obscure elements. The research on reference works and archived materials in the legacy of Julius Döring, Wilhelm Neumann, Paul Campe, Kuno Hagen, Alfrēds Goba, Kārlis Baltgailis and Jurģis Skulme continuously brings important biographical (re-)discoveries and demands critical revision of existing prejudices with regard to relations between academic and amateur art history. In this article, several aspects of interpretation are constantly intertwined in the discussion of this material as a practice in its time and a source for contemporaries and successors.

Baiba Vanaga. Women Artists and their Work as a Subject of Exhibition Reviews in Latvia: The 1840s–1915

Starting at the beginning of the nineteenth century, women from Latvia actively sought opportunities to study art and participated in the local and international art scene. Although the dominant view was that women were more limited in their creative abilities than men, their involvement in art was generally accepted. Nevertheless, a significant part of society believed, and publicly expressed the opinion, that women artists were patient, endowed with taste and good at copying nature, but that they could not create outstanding works of art, and therefore they should be judged by other (lower) criteria than those applied to male artists. This article discusses the most vivid reviews that were published by critics about women artists and their creative abilities from the 1840s until 1915. These examples reveal typical trends and stereotypes of the era with respect to women artists and their work.

Bart Pushaw. Living Stones and Other Beings: Earthen Ecologies within Baltic Visual Culture, 1860–1915

This article stresses the urgency of an ecocritical perspective within Baltic art history. Interweaving environmental history with a regional approach, it examines the efficacy of a ‘visual epistemology’ of geology – specifically scientific studies of glacial erratic boulders dotted throughout the Baltic – and how it dovetails with issues of nature conservation, colonial conquest, multi-ethnic relations, and articulations of permanence and indigeneity. The study reveals how an ecocritical approach to nineteenth-century Baltic visual culture importantly transcends not only hierarchies of nationality, but also hierarchies of artistic medium. It concludes with proposals for moving beyond anthropocentric ideas of the nation, and towards a consideration of the enduring relevance of such images today.

Ieva Kalnača. The Manifestations of Orientalism in Latvian Architecture and Art during the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century and First Third of the Twentieth Century as a Versatile Research Platform

At the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries there was an emerging trend of orientalism in Europe. In a wider sense this term included the passion of members of Western society for oriental cultures and the intention to get acquainted with, to study, to describe and to depict these cultures. The term orientalism refers to the places where the culture of Islam was or had been dominant. Orientalism was at its peak during the second half of the nineteenth and first decades of the twentieth centuries and in this period it also found its place in architecture and visual art in the territory of Latvia, which creates an opportunity for a variety of investigations, as there are still a lot of questions to be answered and facts to be discovered. Thus, the article is focused on the most significant examples of orientalist art and buildings influenced by neo-Islamic architecture in the territory of Latvia, as well as some objects from other Baltic countries.

Laima Laučkaitė. Our Alien Legacy: German Art during World War I in Vilnius

During World War I German artists created a large number of works in the Ober Ost. The identity and boundaries of this multinational territory are rather problematic: it was not in the Russian empire, but not yet Lithuania, Poland, Belarus or Latvia. Occupied by Germany, it functioned as a rather autonomous military empire. During the entire twentieth century both German and Lithuanian art historians ignored the artistic legacy of this ‘no man’s land’. The research situation has changed in recent years, revealing new figures and a new artistic landscape. This paper discusses the parallel efforts that are being made in Lithuania and Germany nowadays to analyse this forgotten legacy. How should this legacy be treated today: as a part of German or of Lithuanian art? Is national discourse appropriate for this kind of artistic production? The paper is based on the case studies of two German artists, Cornelia Gurlitt (1890–1919) and Alfred Holler (1888–1954), both of whom resided and created in Vilnius during World War I.

Ieva Astahovska. Visionary Worlds of the Cold War

The art of the socialist period is still an area where Latvian art historians do not linger too long. The reason for this could be partly due to traumatic experiences of this time for many who lived under its system and later the breakdown of the system, but also due to ambiguous perceptions of this period, and methodological and other difficulties dealing with it. Still, researches, explorations and interpretations of socialist art are essential to understanding the genesis of contemporary art, as well as the complexity of modernism and its transition to postmodernism in Eastern Europe. This complexity also derives from geopolitical circumstances, which had a strong impact both on art language and on its relationships with reality. My research is an attempt to contextualise the visionary dimension in modernist and neo-avant-garde art of this region in a broader perspective, including geopolitical relations between art and reality, as well as the role of their power structures.

Jüri Kermik. Time and Place: Young Estonian Designers in the 1980s

Estonian design underwent significant transitions throughout the 1980s as the global ideological confrontation in Eastern Europe unfolded. Ideas of reality and imagination were played out through creative interventions and within the particular regional context of design at the point of switch-over from one political system to another. The first section of this article identifies the designers who were the key protagonists and considers the concepts of reality and fiction that, along with relationships to time, preoccupied this generation. It discusses the hidden status of these designers within the first half of the decade and their ultimate arrival in 1986. The second section explores this point of breakthrough and, through a sequence of design exhibitions between 1986 and 1993, traces the evolution of design discourse: issues pertaining to the relationships between art and design, socially orientated design values and aspirations to production.

Agnė Narušytė. Post Ars Photo Performances: Material for Research or a Work of Art?

The avant-garde artists’ group Post Ars (Aleksas Andriuškevičius, Robertas Antinis, Česlovas Lukenskas and Gintaras Zinkevičius) introduced new forms of expression into the Lithuanian art scene in the early 1990s: body art, performance, installation, object art, happening and land art. In 1991, the group created a collection of 156 photographs presenting its actions and performances of 1989–1990. It covers a wide spectrum of ideas: a play on the understanding of space and time, metamorphoses of the body, the rhythm of everyday things and cosmogonist rituals. The photo collection has been treated as documentation of actions and only recently has their value as works of art been recognised. The paper argues that the four artists have created unique performative photography and have intuitively captured the essence of theoretical debates on the relationship between performance art and photography. Now these photographs revive the atmosphere of the beginning of a new era in the Baltics and the enthusiasm of young art creating yet-unseen forms, and pushing through political boundaries.

Julija Fomina. How to Represent a Present? Constructing the Notion of ‘the Contemporary’ in Lithuanian Art Exhibitions of the Last Decade of the Twentieth Century

This article addresses the theoretical concept of ‘the contemporary’ and its manifestations in the exhibitions of Lithuanian contemporary art of the last decade of the twentieth century. ‘Contemporary’ has a variety of meanings and has for a while been widely discussed by art historians, philosophers and curators. Some of them claim that it refers to the new historical period that started in 1989, while others say that it is a specific discourse, constantly (re)defined by various agents of the field of art attempting to represent the present. Both sides agree that exhibitions of contemporary art are crucial in producing the meanings of the present. The article presents a survey of several large-scale exhibitions of Lithuanian contemporary art that formed the notions of the contemporary in the 1990s and were organised by major Lithuanian art institutions: the Contemporary Art Centre and the Soros Centre for Contemporary Art (1993–1999). The particular focus is on the curatorial framing of shows, which is important in establishing different interpretations of the notion of contemporaneity.

Linara Dovydaitytė. The Problem of Public Participation in Art Museums

This article discusses the shifting role of visitors to contemporary museums and critically explores the idea of public participation in art museums. Different forms of public involvement in museum practice, including crowd-sourcing, story-sharing and exchange with amateurs, are quite common in advanced history museums and science centres. It seems to be more problematic with art museums as the production and perception of art require more expertise and specialist knowledge. Leaving aside both enthusiastic and sceptical interpretations of participation within the context of contemporary democracy, the paper relates the participatory ethos to the history of museum institutions and their background in the culture of curiosity. Such a reading allows us to re-consider the forms of public participation in art museums as a different form of the construction of knowledge based on transgression, affect and subjectivity rather than modern disciplinarity, logical persuasion and false objectivity.


Artist’s Personality in Latvia’s Art-Historical Monographs since the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century. Stella Pelše

Art History of Latvia: Some Editorial Comments on a Project in Progress after Publishing Volume V Period of Classical Modernism and Traditionalism. 1915–1940. Eduards Kļaviņš