The country may be small, but its art is ambitious, grand, uncompromising – Latvia is home to a thriving contemporary art scene, a closely knit community promoted by events such as Riga’s annual Survival Kit festival and the Riga2014 European Capital of Culture programme. From Evelina Deicmane’s dark humour to Arnis Balčus’ frank and investigative photographs, Ewa Bianka Zubek takes a closer look at the ten contemporary artists from Latvia you should know.
With works shown at biennales and shows across the world – from the 53rd Venice Biennale to Manifesta 7 and the 12th Cairo Biennale – Evelina Deicmane is among the most recognisable household names in Latvian art. Currently based between Riga and Berlin, she produces works that push and manipulate the boundaries of reality, and yet create bold statements on what it means to be human, a group, an individual, using various media. One of her best-known series of photographs, Black Fairy-Tales, does exactly that, all the while investigating the relationship between expectation and paradox via manipulated images. The resultant sense of dark humour and human drama is characteristic of her work as a whole.
Find Evelina Deicmane’s work at Rigas Galerija, Aspazijas bulvāris 20, Riga, Latvia, +371 67 225 887
Playful, unexpected, loaded with a cultural and social heritage – throughout her oeuvre, Francesca Kirke investigates the very conventions that keep the world of art historically untouchable, and questions the medium of traditional painting. Her gentle, clever parodies of the works of old masters make her stand out from the crowd on Latvia’s contemporary art scene, while at the same time defining her as one of the most representative painters of her generation. Not even Leonardo da Vinci has managed to escape her scrutinising eye, in works such as ‘Don’t Worry’ (a last supper with Christ, Marilyn Monroe and Mickey Mouse) or ‘4 Girls’ (an ‘updated’ version of the ‘Mona Lisa’). Kirke has participated in a number of international exhibitions, and her work has been shown from New York to Copenhagen.
Find Franceska Kirke’s work at Bastejs Gallery, Alksnāja ielā 7, Riga, Latvia, +371 67 225 050
Ilmars Blumbergs is an artist with many faces: he was born in 1943, and his career has taken him from stage design to film production, and from painting to sculpture. He has been showcasing his work at international exhibitions for the last four decades, and although his style has evolved considerably, his works are instantly recognisable through their aspect of abstract blurriness, and element of humanity – suggested, rather than depicted, standing as a symbol, a myth, a universal representation that denotes the grandeur of life and death. Eager to experiment with new materials, Blumbergs’ 2010 show The Glass Bead Games at the Riga Gallery presented paintings and sculptures as complementing structures, while his multi-media exhibition at the 49th Venice Biennale set a new standard for Latvia’s participation in the event.
Find Ilmars Blumbergs’ work at Māksla XO Gallery, Elizabetes 14, Riga, Latvia, +371 29 482 098
Born in 1980 in the village of Drusti, Latvia, Podnieks held his first exhibition at the age of 18. Ever since then, he has been experimenting with video and installations, but remains best-known for photographs of himself – and other people – levitating, upright, against the backdrop of his native Drusti, the village being a theme to which he has dedicated the majority of his works. The images are not digitally manipulated; to create the illusion of levitation, the subject of the photograph is suspended above ground, held by a small crane attached to and invisible behind his back. An unsettling sense of tension, set within the landscape of the village, is born, giving rise to images that seem to play with the viewer’s grasp on reality.
Find Kaspars Podnieks’ work at Māksla XO Gallery, Elizabetes 14, Riga, Latvia, +371 29 482 098
Kristaps Gelzis is one of the most prominent cultural experimenters in Latvia. Confident with a range of media, from watercolour paintings to performance and installations, he has a special interest in responding to social and cultural trends as global, rather than strictly local, phenomena. Much of his work has a conceptual edge in this sense, while also delving into the nature of the artistic medium. Numerous international shows since the mid-1980s, several high-scale acquisitions (including by the Luciano Benetton collection), as well as participation in the 54th Venice Biennale, have anchored Gelzis as one of Latvia’s most notorious, and recognisable figures in Latvian art.
Find Kristaps Gelzis’ work at Māksla XO Gallery, Elizabetes 14, Riga, Latvia, +371 29 482 098
Active on the Latvian art circuit since the 1970s, Liga Purmale belongs to a decidedly established generation of artists. She made her debut in 1974, at the same show as Miervaldis Polis (the pair were about to be married), and hasn’t stopped since. Her style is characterised by various approaches to the question of realism: in the early years, she was associated with quaint, picturesque landscapes, but as her work evolved, so did her focus. In the recent past, her paintings have portrayed urban scenes and dealt with the issues that surround them, both on and off the canvas. Bold in her use of colour, Purmale infuses her work with a sense of dynamism that serves to push her own, continuously changing definition of realism.
Find Liga Purmale’s work at Rigas Galerija, Aspazijas bulvāris 20, Riga, Latvia, +371 67 225 887