- Ed Gove
The Baltic States are not often regarded as artistic centres of Eastern Europe, but these vibrant countries have always been home to a thriving art and crafts scene, one that is decidedly local and communal. This has blossomed in recent years with the establishment of galleries and museums devoted to the promotion of the arts in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and to the creation of a network of arts hubs stretching across the Baltic region.
Lithuanian Art Museum
Founded in 1933, the Lithuanian Art Museum is a venerable institution central to the preservation and promotion of Lithuanian art. It holds an immense fine arts collection that includes over 230,000 items, ranging from Old Masters to contemporary icons of the international art scene. The museum also maintains a network of branch organisations throughout the country, which includes the Vilnius Picture Gallery, the Museum of Applied Arts, Museum of the Radvilas Palace and the National Art Gallery, all of which are popular destinations for the arts in their own right. The reach and influence of the Lithuanian Art Museum thus stretches across the country and the wider Baltic region.
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Contemporary Art Centre
The largest contemporary art centre in the Baltic States, Vilnius’s Contemporary Art Centre has become a hub for artistic practitioners from throughout the region. It features a cinema, reading room and a ‘Fluxus room’, which is devoted to the works of Lithuanian born artist George Maciunas, an influential figure in the neo-Dadaist Fluxus movement. The centre also includes a 2400 square metre exhibition space devoted to the promotion of local and international arts, and regularly hosts educational events such as lectures and seminars as well as exhibitions, performances and music events. Recent exhibitions have included the 15th Vilnius Painting Triennial: ‘Painting and Its Contexts’ and Gintaras Didžiapetris: Color and Device. For an insight into the rapid ascendancy of the Lithuanian art scene, a visit to the CAC is a must.
Panevėžys Art Gallery
Located in the more relaxed enclave of Panevėžys, on the road between Vilnius and Riga, the Panevėžys Art Gallery is a haven for art lovers within rural Lithuania and offers a comprehensive range of educational programs throughout the year. The exhibitions hosted by the Panevėžys Art Gallery include fine art, photography and textiles, whilst the gallery is home to a quaint sculpture garden. The gallery also represents a range of artists from throughout the surrounding region, and organises cultural projects which involve artists from across the Baltic States. As well as exhibitions of contemporary fine art, the gallery has become famous for its international ceramic symposiums, which it runs in collaboration with the Panevėžys Glass Factory.
Opened in 1990, Arka Gallery has come to define Vilnius’ contemporary art scene, hosting various cutting edge art exhibitions from both local and international artists over the course of its existence. The gallery is located in the Old Town of Vilnius in a former convent, and these atmospheric surroundings are particularly evident when juxtaposed with the contemporary art within the gallery. The gallery hosts a range of exhibitions, events, talks and cultural exchanges every year, and plays a central role in organising art events throughout Lithuania and the Baltic region. Through its representation of emerging artists it has given many young Lithuanian artists a forum for expression and created a cultural community throughout the region, through which they can promote their work.
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Kumu Art Museum
The headquarters of the Art Museum of Estonia, Kumu Art Museum brings together innovative design and architecture, a conservationist approach to Estonian art history and an aspiration to become a multi-disciplinary arts hub for the Baltic and Eastern Europe. Following the museum’s grand opening in 2006, it has expanded its operations exponentially and was recognised for its achievements by winning the European Museum of the Year Award in 2008. Kumu combines a thorough collection of Estonian art, ranging from the 18th century to the present day, with an educational ethos which has seen it host a range of cultural forums and lecture series. The Kumu Art Museum’s success has been a catalyst for the emergence of more Estonian artists, and its work in reaching out to artists from across the region has nurtured the Baltic art scene immeasurably.
Contemporary Art Museum of Art
Located in a former gas plant, this dynamic gallery is at the cutting edge of Estonian contemporary art, in its conception as much as its collection. It was founded by a group of Estonian artists who had become disillusioned with the art scene in the Baltic States, and the lack of opportunity for real innovation and creativity. They started squatting in a disused heating plant and decided to use the space to exhibit and create their own art works and those of their peers. Despite an initial lack of funding and artworks, the gallery can now claim to be an inclusive centre for contemporary art in Estonia, in which the innovative and avant-garde is celebrated and outsider artists are offered a home for their works.
Tallinn Art Hall
Constructed in the 1930s, this magnificent building is home to a wide variety of art related activities, including exhibitions, libraries, performance spaces and more. The main activity of the Art Hall is to preserve and promote its collection of art, both from local artists and international icons. The Art Hall hosts exhibitions both in its own space and in its City Gallery, both of which offer a variety of free exhibitions throughout the year. The space is renowned for its quirky takes on contemporary Estonian art and for its architecture, as the building features an incredible illuminated glass ceiling and an avant-garde façade which make it a destination in its own right.
Latvian National Museum of Art
The largest depository of professional art in Latvia, this offers an incomparable introduction to the art of the Baltic region, with a particular focus on educational projects which reveal the profound depths of Latvian art history. The museum is divided into a main gallery and exhibition hall, a museum of decorative arts and design, and two specialist museums in different locations. The first of these is the Museum of Romans Suta and Aleksandra Beļcova, which is located in the former apartment of these iconic Latvian artists and reveals the narrative of their lives as they came to define early 20th century Baltic art. The other specialist museum is located in Riga Old Town in ‘Riga Bourse’, a national architectural monument that was created in the Venetian palazzo style.
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Located in Riga Old Town, Riga Gallery is the foremost proponent of contemporary art in Latvia and is an influential presence on the Baltic art scene. The gallery represents a range of artists, many of whom have exhibited in Biennales and international art fairs throughout the world. The gallery also holds an impressive collection of 20th century art from Latvia and beyond, including items by such iconic Latvian figures as Janis Rozentāls, Konrad Ubans and Aleksandrs Apsītis. The gallery is located in a historical building in Riga Old Town, facing both the National Opera and the National Monument.
Founded in 1993, this quaint gallery has offered a forum for artistic exhibition both within its own gallery space and through a range of public art works, and collaborations with other galleries both within the Baltic region and abroad. The gallery is currently located in a 17th century warehouse in Riga Old Town, and it uses this space to exhibit works in a range of mediums and from both local, emerging artists and more established international figures. It has since expanded into art publication and regularly releases publications about its artists and their works. Some of the artists represented by Gallery Daugava include Kaspars Zariņš, Biruta Delle and Aija Zarina.
By Thomas Storey