Efficiency 2015 Annual Report

Time Will Reveal the Museum’s Potential

The creative strategy for the prospective Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art (LMoCA) is explained by Kaspars Vanags, one of the authors of the museum’s concept, Project Manager of the ABLV Charitable Foundation, in a conversation with Romans Surnačovs, the Board Chairman of the Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art Foundation.

What were you doing before you joined the team that devised the concept for the prospective museum?

Having just returned from my studies in Berlin, I got together with some like-minded friends to establish Open — the inter-disciplinary collaborative platform, in order to hook up visual arts talents, electronic music experimenters, poets, activists in the newly born field of internet art, as well as other creative forces within the framework of joint art projects. Joining us in this creative endeavour were a number of young artists, now well-known on the Latvian cultural scene, such as Miķelis Fišers, Gints Gabrāns, Katrīna Neiburga, as well as the set designer of Alvis Hermanis’ legendary theatre productions Monika Pormale and others.

I still find it hard to comprehend how we managed to successfully organise major events such as a week-long series of happenings spread across all five floors of the former Dzintars cosmetics production plant in Central Riga or a multimedia-based electronic music and arts festival in a deserted warehouse just around the corner from the President’s official residence in the Old Town.

From that period, I carry with me the conviction that idealism, ostensibly audacious innovations and private initiative have a huge role to play in the development of contemporary art. And here we return to the vision of the construction of the Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art, which is the fruit of the private initiative of the ABLV Charitable Foundation and the Boris and Ināra Teterev Foundation.

Looking at your work as a curator, no doubt there are arts projects, which you’d like to highlight as being especially significant or close to your heart.

As far as Latvia is concerned, still unsurpassed, in my opinion, is Tea Mushroom, an art project created by Katrīna Neiburga in the early 2000s. It involved the use of improvised methods to identify people who still drink this ancient home beverage instead of Coca Cola. The resulting video materials were used to produce non-commercial TV Shop video clips and a film, while instead of the traditional gallery; we installed the exhibition inside an empty shop, where members of the public could receive a test tube containing the tea mushroom yeast free of charge. I recall that most mornings, the shop had not even opened when a sizable queue of impatient customers had already formed outside its doors.

After an interlude of over a decade, I once again had the chance to collaborate with Katrīna Neiburga in 2015, when she and Andris Eglītis were chosen as the artists for the Latvian Pavilion at the 53rd International Art Exhibition in Venice and I was invited to be the curator responsible for the creation of their exposition.
This major art installation was created thanks to the ABLV Charitable Foundation’s decision to become the general supporter of the Latvian Pavilion. As a result of this joint collaboration, I am now involved in another, even bigger, project supported by the foundation — I am participating in the development of the creative strategy for the Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art.

In contemporary art, idealism, audacious innovations and private initiative are hugely important.

The work prepared for the Venice Biennale, Armpit, was included in the 2016 programme of the legendary Californian festival Coachella and the collaborative duo of artists responsible for it has also been invited to take part in a contemporary visual arts biennale in India. Does this prove that Latvia has the potential to be a player in the international art world? And how should this be reflected in the prospective museum’s creative strategy?

First of all, despite the fact that it occasionally places excessive demands on its viewers, contemporary art has honed an internationally convertible communication language. The national pavilions at the Venice Biennale are a clear example that contemporary art can focus on subject matter specific to a particular locale, while at the same time investing in universal means of communication, which are far more effective than Esperanto. Under these conditions, it is hardly likely that art museums can afford a narrowly regional programme, because the language of art itself has become international.

Secondly, local viewers have also changed rapidly in recent decades. Before long, their grasp of international culture will rival their knowledge of domestic cultural-historical references. This is why the local audience at the museum will want to analyse the aspects of affinity conferred by a local perspective, at the same time retaining its global vision.

This situation poses a considerable challenge in which one has to find solutions as to how one can understand the concept of the local audience and how regional and international interaction should be interpreted under 21st century conditions. Hence our decision to adopt the Baltic Sea region as our positioning in the museum strategy. The contrasting nature of this geographic area is fascinating. For some countries, post-war history is more of a unifying factor than more ancient cultural-historical ties or current affairs. This stems from the interaction of radically differing historical experiences, standards of living, traditions of social affinity and understanding of democracy. Although questionable, even internationally tried and tested stereotypes of the mentality characteristic of the schools of art in this region offer a motley palette of impressions, ranging from the understated ascetic design of the Nordic countries to the Balts’ love of storytelling and the tight-lipped conceptualism of the Poles, through to the tightrope walking existential absurdity of Russian non-conformists.

In your opinion, what was the biggest challenge during the initial phase of planning the museum’s activity?

The biggest responsibility facing the team entrusted with the task of drafting its strategy was deciding what would set the Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art apart, as a newcomer to the international museum community, from other institutions. The main point of difference chosen was a specific operating profile, centred on the mutual relations between fine arts and visual culture.

The dominance of visual culture defines our age. A large proportion of information reaches us on a visually-dictated interface, thus shaping our mutual relations, habits, learning methods and ways of thinking. Consider how often we succumb to the tendency to substitute a phone call with the combination of the click of a camera and a text message! Nowadays, a lack of knowledge of the grammar of visual culture is comparable to a new form of illiteracy. It is surprising how many people still consider sight to be a physiological ability to be taken for granted, instead of a construct of beliefs formed culturally and socially.

To a certain extent, the operating profile chosen for the museum is also based on a paradox. On the one hand, the visual is increasingly taking a backseat as far as the phenomena of contemporary art are concerned. For example, there is not that much to see in conceptual art or in creative social condenser projects based on an idea alone, and for the most part, the visual exhibit is documentation instead of a work of art. On the other hand, the disputes concerning the theory of visual culture that were once engaged in under the auspices of art have now died down, assuming a place within our everyday existence without adequate further reflection. For example, the studies conducted by the Russian futurists into the texture of the written word are a forerunner of contemporary graphic design and the logotype production kitchen. The innovative approaches to the technique of editing introduced by Rigan Sergejs Eizenšteins and his kindred spirits are still worth their weight in gold, when it comes to producing ideologically-hued television reports. And the selfies invented by Andy Warhol now pollute social network platforms, providing a clear reminder of the predictions made by the genius of Pop Art that, in the future, everyone will have the chance to be famous, if only for 15 minutes.

The future belongs to youth. But will the museum be interesting for the younger generation?

The founding of new cultural institutions and the construction of a suitable building prompt one to consider what will have changed in our society in a decade’s time. What are the somersaults in contemporary art that we should predict in advance so that the museum infrastructure is not already out of date shortly after its opening? When the first conceptual designs were approved for the National Library of Latvia’s new building, how many of those involved could have predicted the revolution that the internet would spring upon Gutenberg’s galaxy?

Therefore, it is vital that the youngest generation of artists, museologists and viewers are actively involved in the project for the prospective museum. In the decade that it has been in operation, the ABLV Charitable Foundation has demonstrated a particular commitment to supporting the Art Academy of Latvia, as well as maintaining a balance between eminent professionals and tyros in its awarding of arts grants. In turn, in providing support under our cultural education programme to educational projects for schoolchildren organised within the framework of art exhibitions, we are getting an idea of the habits and interests of the audience of the future.

You know what I found worrying after a conversation with a secondary school pupil? His question about the principles according to which this or that photograph was included in the museum collection in 2015, given that we already know that even then about 40 million photographs a day were being uploaded to the Instagram platform.

The international team of architects are inspecting the NHC territory in which Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art will be built

Back in 2005, ABLV Bank allocated funding in the amount of EUR 1.5 million to support the formation of the museum’s collection. On a serious note, how will the collection actually be assembled?

In assembling a collection of contemporary art nowadays, you find yourself confronted with three basic problems: over-production, speculation and megalomania. These days, art market trends change rapidly and some collectors exploit this to reintroduce works they’ve bought to the market before their value has stopped rising. In turn, ordinarily museums are not in the habit of selling the works in their collections; therefore any purchase price must include the expenses related to keeping the work long-term. Since art installations are becoming even bigger in terms of their size, museums are forced to reckon with the reality that a single contemporary art object can occupy a gallery in which it was previously possible to present the entire history of a style of painting. Also worrying is the technology used in contemporary art, which rapidly ages, not only making it difficult to preserve works, but also to exhibit them properly in future.

When it comes to assembling the collection, one possible solution to the problem is to pay greater attention to the presentation and documentation of the context in which trends occur, as opposed to focusing on individual modern day masterpieces. One decision that has been integrated into the LMoCA strategy is to work with subjects related to the interaction of visual culture and contemporary art during the period from the 1960s through to the present day.
This opens up tremendous opportunities to identify the changes that have affected our relations with the image. What’s happening to our long unseen family photo albums and travel slides? Where does art end and creative industries begin? At which moment in time did video games become more popular than feature films? And will figural painting be contemporary in a decade’s time?

In order to be able to answer these and other similar questions, one has to understand that a contemporary art museum cannot exclusively be a home for masterpieces. Alongside them, the museum’s operating focus must also extend to what may ostensibly seem to be profanities. Our everyday life takes place in a saturated media environment and amidst an abundance of visual cultural signs. Accordingly, museums are expected to provide audiences with help in getting their day-to-day bearings. They must seek to explain parallels and the mutual gearing between seemingly unconnected systems of visual images, i.e., graphic design and the mass media, fashion and consumption, art and communications technologies, and between the self and one’s self-image.

The relations between museums and audience have also changed. The flow of information within museums is no longer in one direction only; the range of social condenser mechanisms give museums new functions. They serve as social platforms where people swap experiences under the auspices of the kids’ museum and education initiatives for the family, lifelong learning programmes for adults, lectures organised in partnership with universities, as well as volunteer programmes for students and senior citizens. This was all taken into account in our contemplation of the Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art, which, in our opinion, is destined to become a hub of creative activity, self-discovery and playful thinking.

What do you think of the decision to locate the museum in a part of the city under development?

The Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art building is due to be built in the territory of New Hanza City, giving this location, with its peculiar place in the city’s history, a future development perspective, while the building itself will serve as a long-term stimulus for the whole city. The Hanzas Street neighbourhood is special, because it marks the boundary line beyond which the most impressive Tsarist-era Art Nouveau quarters of civic Riga end and where the industrial complexes built in the historicism style begin. The industrial district and the nearby port provided the financial guarantee for the magnificence of the residential houses and public buildings that rose up in the years before the revolution. Further evidence of the story of the mutual interaction between these two parts of the city is provided in the form of the goods station that was once upon a time built in the middle. It is a reminder of old-style economic logistics, which are being increasingly superseded in contemporary Europe by the flow of data generated by the financial sector, service industry, as well as creative industries. This is an ideal location for the contemporary art museum, providing a ready answer to the question of what contribution has the new Riga made to the international circulation of the products of intangible industry.

Nowadays, contemporary art museums are not just repositories for masterpieces, but also a platform for collaboration and swapping experience.

At present, a number of architects invited to take part in the conceptual design competition for the building are studying the museum concept drawn up by the commission of experts. How were the candidates chosen?

Organising the museum’s architectural conceptual design competition was entrusted to the team of Malcolm Reading Consultants, whose services in organising competitions and selecting architects have been used by the British Government and NATO, as well as the Victoria and Albert Museum, Oxford University and the City of Mumbai. A string of successful projects testify to their competence including the recently concluded architectural competition for the Guggenheim Museum in Helsinki, while the British Pavilion building at the Expo 2015 World Fair was acclaimed as being the most outstanding in terms of its architecture.  

The first visual outlines of the vision for the construction of the Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art are now under development. In a closed competition, architectural conceptual designs are being drafted by seven internationally renowned architecture firms represented by: David Adjaye (Adjaye Associates, United Kingdom), Willem Jan Neutelings and Michiel Riedijk (Neutelings Riedijk Architects, Netherlands), Henning Larsen’s architectural practice (Henning Larsen Architects, Denmark), Matthias Sauerbruch and Louisa Hutton (Sauerbruch Hutton, Germany), Adam Caruso and Peter St John (Caruso St John Architects, United Kingdom), Kulapat Yantrasast (wHY, USA), and Ilmari Lahdelma and Rainer Mahlamäki (Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects, Finland).

The decisive factor in the process of selecting these architects was the direct focus on specific aspects of the problems of building contemporary museums and the desire to involve Riga in the global debate about the developmental trends of buildings of this type. When one studies the profiles of the invited architects in depth, one can see that we have invited the kind of professionals to give thought to our building, whose experience testifies to the fact that  cultural edifices of a similar type occupy an important, even central,  place in their practice.  The museum projects that they have executed in recent times have not only received international acclaim, but have also become exemplars for both architects and museum-keepers, because they illustrate the manner in which institutional cultural premises can become a crossroads for creative activity, historical memories and social mobility. One could say that, parallel to the opportunity to acquire an outstanding museum building for the Latvian capital, any of the seven heavyweight competitors on the list meet another important criterion. Their creative activity to date testifies to collaboration of an inter-disciplinary nature within international cultural networks. Even in its design phase, this enables the prospective Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art to position itself as a player on the big stage.

Table of Contents

Creative team: Arnis Artemovičs, Ernests Bernis, Jānis Bunte, Anna Celma, Ilmārs Jargans, Jekaterina Koļesina, Sergejs Mazurs, Samanta Priedīte, Jūlija Surikova, Romans Surnačovs
Project managers: Anna Celma, Jūlija Surikova
Interviews: Jānis Bunte, Ingrīda Drazdovska, Konstantīns Gaivoronskis, Katrina Gordejeva, Ilmārs Jargans, Jekaterina Koļesina, Sergejs Mazurs, Romāns Meļņiks, Sergejs Pavlovs, Romans Surnačovs, Jānis Šķupelis
Text authors: Leonīds Aļšanskis, Jānis Bunte, Anna Celma, Vladislavs Hveckovičs, Jānis Grīnbergs, Māris Kannenieks, Ļubova Kazačenoka, Jekaterina Koļesina, Zane Kurzemniece, Aleksandrs Pāže, Gints Pumpurs, Dmitrijs Semjonovs, Jūlija Surikova, Kaspars Vanags, Benoit Wtterwulghe
Photography: Arnis Artemovičs, Uldis Bertāns, Mārtiņš Cīrulis, Ieva Čīka, Krišjānis Eihmanis, Andrejs Hroneloks, Alise Jastremska, Valdis Kauliņš, Valts Kleins, Marks Litvjakovs, Sergejs Mazurs, Reinis Oliņš, Samanta Priedīte, Gatis Rozenfelds, Polina Viljun, LETA foto, Marka.photo, Studija F64
Proofreader: Jānis Frišvalds
Translators: Jekaterina Koļesina, Nataļja Malašonoka, Lidija Marsova, Jūlija Surikova
Design: Aivis Lizums, Valters Horsts

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