Mu­se­ums in the era

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Michael Mustillo

The Art Mu­seum of Es­to­nia, es­tab­lished in 1919, col­lects, con­ducts re­search on and in­tro­duces Es­to­nian art dat­ing from the Mid­dle Ages to the present day. It is com­prised of five lead­ing Es­to­nian mu­se­ums: Kumu Art Mu­seum, which dis­plays Es­to­nian art from the 18th cen­tury un­til the present; Kadri­org Art Mu­seum, which houses the largest and most im­por­tant col­lec­tions of Rus­sian and West­ern Euro­pean art span­ning from the 16th to 20th cen­turies; Mikkel Mu­seum, ex­hibit­ing the art col­lec­tion of Jo­hannes Mikkel which was do­nated to the mu­seum in 1995, and is one of the few art col­lec­tions ob­tained in Es­to­nia in the post-war pe­riod, and fea­tures West­ern Euro­pean, Rus­sian, Chi­nese and Es­to­nian mas­ter­pieces; Niguliste Mu­seum, which is housed in the former St. Ni­cholas' Church, fea­tures a col­lec­tion of his­tor­i­cal ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal art span­ning nearly seven cen­turies, in­clud­ing me­dieval and post-re­for­ma­tion art in Es­to­nia; and the Adam­son-eric Mu­seum, which houses the art col­lec­tion of the mod­ernist artist Adam­son-eric, one of the most ver­sa­tile Es­to­nian artists of the 20th cen­tury.

The Baltic Times in­ter­viewed Sirje Helme, the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of the Art Mu­seum of Es­to­nia to gain an in­sight into the Es­to­nian art scene, plans for Es­to­nia’s cen­te­nary celebration in 2018, the im­pact of Es­to­nian artists around the world, the chang­ing role of mu­se­ums, and much more.

Helme grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Tartu with a de­gree in his­tory and art his­tory, and ob­tained her doc­tor­ate at the Es­to­nian Acad­emy of Arts, fo­cus­ing on post-wwii mod­ernism, and lec­tures at the Univer­sity of Tartu on this pe­riod. She has au­thored most of the fine art­sre­lated con­tent in two books of Vol­ume 6 of the His­tory of Es­to­nian Art (span­ning the pe­riod from the 1940’s to the late 1970’s and 1969-1991, re­spec­tively), and has pre­vi­ously served as the di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, Es­to­nia.

How would you char­ac­terise the cur­rent Es­to­nian art scene?

Con­tem­po­rary art in Es­to­nia isn’t in a bad sit­u­a­tion at all. We have very dis­tinc­tive artists, which is some­thing that’s very im­por­tant. Both in­ter­na­tional fund­ing and do­mes­tic eco­nomic sup­port , which has been avail­able al­ready for a few years, has made it pos­si­ble to ap­ply for an artist's fee, which has con­trib­uted a great deal in favour­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to work as an artist. The po­ten­tial of Es­to­nian art is also shown by the suc­cess­ful Venice Bi­en­nale ap­pear­ance of the in­stal­la­tion artist Katja Novit­skova who rep­re­sented Es­to­nia this year. Her work fo­cuses on is­sues of tech­nol­ogy, evo­lu­tion­ary pro­cesses, dig­i­tal im­agery and cor­po­rate aes­thet­ics.

In 2018, Es­to­nia cel­e­brates the 100th an­niver­sary of its found­ing. What are some of the ma­jor ac­tiv­i­ties which the Art Mu­seum of Es­to­nia has planned dur­ing 2018? Has it planned and is it par­tic­i­pat­ing in any ma­jor art ac­tiv­i­ties/pre­sen­ta­tions/ex­hi­bi­tions abroad?

We have three very se­ri­ous years ahead of us. In 2017, Es­to­nia holds the Pres­i­dency of the Euro­pean Union, 2018 is the na­tional cen­ten­nial, and in 2019 the Art Mu­seum will turn 100. The com­mon fo­cus of these three years at the mu­seum is in­tro­duc­ing Es­to­nian art into the in­ter­na­tional arena. We have planned seven ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tions in dif­fer­ent mu­se­ums, start­ing with the ex­hi­bi­tion that opens in Septem­ber 2017 at the BOZAR cul­tural venue in Brus­sels, Bel­gium. Right af­ter that, in Oc­to­ber, we will open an ex­hi­bi­tion de­voted to the great Es­to­nian pain­ter Konrad Magi at the Gal­le­ria Nazionale d’arte Moderna in Rome. Five ex­hi­bi­tions are planned for 2018, in­clud­ing two gen­uinely ma­jor events. In April, a joint ex­hi­bi­tion of Es­to­nian, Lat­vian and Lithua­nian art will open in the Musee d'or­say in Paris, the theme be­ing early 20th cen­tury Sym­bol­ism. Our own most am­bi­tious project is to “repa­tri­ate” the work of the 15th cen­tury artist Michel Sit­tow and or­gan­ise an ex­hi­bi­tion of his paint­ings in the city in which he was born and died, although he worked most of his life for the crowned heads of Europe. This project has been four or five years in prepa­ra­tion. The works come from the most im­por­tant mu­se­ums in Europe (the Lou­vre, Vi­enna Mu­seum of Art His­tory, Ber­lin State Mu­se­ums, Mau­rit­shuis and oth­ers), as well as from the US (the Na­tional Gallery of Art in Wash­ing­ton, and the Detroit In­sti­tute of Art) and Moscow. The ex­hi­bi­tion is be­ing pre­pared in co­op­er­a­tion with the Na­tional Gallery in Wash­ing­ton and will open on 28 Jan­uary 2018 in Wash­ing­ton, and then on 9 June in Kumu, the Art Mu­seum of Es­to­nia. In the same year, we will also open ex­hi­bi­tions in Nantes (con­tem­po­rary Es­to­nian art), the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and in Ja­pan (a Kaljo Pollu ex­hi­bi­tion). Ex­hi­bi­tions out­side Es­to­nia will also con­tinue in 2019, but the fo­cus that year is more on the lo­cal ex­hi­bi­tion pro­gramme, and on com­mu­ni­cat­ing with lo­cal art au­di­ences.

What im­pact are Es­to­nian art and Es­to­nian artists hav­ing around the world? What ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tions fea­tur­ing Es­to­nian art/ artists are be­ing staged around the world?

When the gen­eral his­to­ries of Mod­ernism and post­war art in the 20th cen­tury were writ­ten, Es­to­nia and other Soviet re­publics were omit­ted, and they did not fig­ure in the stereo­typ­i­cal ways of read­ing early to mid-20th cen­tury art. Es­to­nia es­sen­tially didn’t ex­ist in gen­eral his­to­ries, much less in art his­to­ries. In the last cou­ple of decades, much has been done (works writ­ten and con­fer­ences held) to break the mould and en­rich the gen­eral pic­ture of Euro­pean mod­ernism with art that is from places more dis­tant than the tra­di­tional art cap­i­tals, that has its own clear per­son­al­ity and high pro­fes­sional cal­i­bre. We are hold­ing our own ex­hi­bi­tions with this aim in mind. Putting one’s own cul­ture on the map takes a lot of time, ef­fort and money. Es­to­nian con­tem­po­rary art has had an eas­ier time, es­pe­cially for artists who left a mark in the 1990s, as dur­ing that time there was great in­ter­est in art from the “new coun­tries”. Jaan Toomik, the Es­to­nian video and film artist and pain­ter, ap­peared at many of the ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tions dur­ing this era, in­clud­ing the Venice Bi­en­nale Cu­ra­tor’s Ex­hi­bi­tion, and in­ter­est re­mains high in his work. Right now, I see a bright in­ter­na­tional fu­ture for quite a few emerg­ing artists.

How is the role of mu­se­ums chang­ing. Are they be­com­ing more open and en­gag­ing cul­tural struc­tures? What role do you see the Art Mu­seum of Es­to­nia play­ing in the fu­ture?

The role of mu­se­ums in so­ci­ety is con­stantly chang­ing and Es­to­nian mu­se­ums have been very open to de­vel­op­ment. Hav­ing long been a mem­ber of the Euro­pean Mu­seum Fo­rum an­nual award judg­ing panel, I’ve seen changes that have en­gulfed most Euro­pean mu­se­ums in waves. For ex­am­ple, there was a time when mul­ti­me­dia be­came such a mas­sive pres­ence in ex­hi­bi­tions that the im­por­tance of the orig­i­nal ob­jects de­clined. To­day, mul­ti­me­dia is a com­mon but not main part of ex­hi­bi­tions. There was a great deal of dis­cus­sion on what roles a mu­seum should take on in com­mu­ni­cat­ing with au­di­ences, and some­times it seemed that the mu­seum was be­ing del­e­gated roles that ex­ceeded our pro­fes­sional skills or led us to make de­ci­sive changes to the struc­ture of our work­forces. To­day, public out­reach in ev­ery con­ceiv­able form is a self-ev­i­dent ne­ces­sity; there’s no point in build­ing a mu­seum that no one goes to or if no one is in­ter­ested in the trea­sures stored there. Still, there are bound­aries and du­ties that per­son­nel in the so­cial sphere in par­tic­u­lar have to come to terms with; mu­se­ums can as­sist in this re­gard, but they can’t play the lead­ing roles. There have been many ex­per­i­ments, both pro­duc­tive and un­pro­duc­tive, but in gen­eral, mu­se­ums are in­creas­ingly user-friendly and in­tro­duce them­selves not just as trea­sure houses, but above all, as friendly places that of­fer ex­pe­ri­ences.

The new Mod­ern Art Cen­tre in Vil­nius and the Lat­vian Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art are be­ing built with pri­vate fund­ing and are set to open in a few years' time. It is ex­pected that this may pro­vide a boom in plac­ing the Baltic States on the world con­tem­po­rary art map.

What role will the Art Mu­seum of Es­to­nia play in this re­gional art dia­logue? Will there be greater co­op­er­a­tion? What are some of the ma­jor co­op­er­a­tion projects that the mu­seum has un­der­taken within the Baltic States re­gion, and plans to un­der­take in the fu­ture?

The Art Mu­seum of Es­to­nia is pleased by the open­ing of new mu­se­ums in both Riga and Vil­nius. We at Kumu were the first to de­velop a new sys­tem for oper­at­ing an art mu­seum and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the public. This has proved suc­cess­ful. The new mu­se­ums in our area can only in­crease the role we’ve hoped to give mu­se­ums in our so­ci­ety, and in­ter­est in the whole re­gion is likely to in­crease.

Our co­op­er­a­tion with both the Riga and Vil­nius mu­se­ums has been go­ing on the whole time. We bor­row works from each other for our ex­hi­bi­tions and we’ve also pro­duced ex­hi­bi­tions to in­tro­duce each other’s art (such as an Es­to­nian pop art ex­hi­bi­tion in Vil­nius). We’ve had ex­hi­bi­tions de­voted to Sarunas Sauka (Lithua­nia) and Vis­valdis Ziedinsi (Latvia) at Kumu. Our mutual co­op­er­a­tion is a nat­u­ral part of the mu­seum's way of life.

The Art Mu­seum of Es­to­nia is com­prised of five mu­se­ums, which form an or­gan­i­sa­tion with a col­lec-

“Con­tem­po­rary art in Es­to­nia isn’t in a bad sit­u­a­tion at all. We have very dis­tinc­tive artists, which is some­thing that’s very im­por­tant. Both in­ter­na­tional fund­ing and do­mes­tic eco­nomic sup­port, which has been avail­able al­ready for a few years, has made it pos­si­ble to ap­ply for an artist's fee, which has con­trib­uted a great deal in favour­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to work as an artist.”

tive iden­tity and de­vel­op­ment plan. Are con­tem­po­rary cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions find­ing them­selves learn­ing through hor­i­zon­tal struc­tures and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing grow­ing de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion?

The Art Mu­seum of Es­to­nia is un­doubt­edly a com­pli­cated or­gan­i­sa­tion, be­cause mu­se­ums like Kumu, the Kadri­org Art Mu­seum and the Niguliste Mu­seum are above all ori­en­tated at ex­hibit­ing and or­gan­is­ing public out­reach; they are the dif­fer­ent brands of one or­gan­i­sa­tion that we use in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and mar­ket­ing. The sys­tem it­self is much big­ger; it is com­prised of col­lec­tions, archives, the li­brary, the whole ad­min­is­tra­tive and fi­nan­cial sphere, and our com­mon “hor­i­zon­tal” co­he­sive­ness: re­search de­vel­op­ment, pub­lish­ing, all in­for­ma­tion sys­tems (web­site,etc.), con­ser­va­tion and so on. It seems in our world to­day that small in­sti­tu­tions can’t sur­vive in the long term, es­pe­cially when the fi­nanc­ing sys­tem re­quires con­stant growth in rev­enue gen­er­ated by the in­sti­tu­tion it­self. I firmly be­lieve that smaller and more flex­i­ble struc­tures are ex­tremely im­por­tant in the art world. They are cre­ated and change and some­times dis­ap­pear, and with­out them there’d be no nor­mal art scene, but in my role in charge of the largest state-owned art col­lec­tion, I see the pos­si­bil­ity for suc­cess in act­ing to­gether: to put it fig­u­ra­tively, balling our five fin­gers into a fist.

Re­search projects con­sti­tute an im­por­tant part of the Art Mu­seum of Es­to­nia’s work plan. What are some of the ma­jor pan-baltic projects which you have un­der­taken, and will be un­der­tak­ing in the fu­ture?

Sup­port­ing re­search and re­search projects truly have spe­cial im­por­tance for us. Based on the top­ics, our re­search projects are ap­proved by the Con­ser­va­tion Coun­cil or Re­search Coun­cil (post­war art, for ex­am­ple). Each project has its own bud­get, goal and per­son(s) in charge, as is cus­tom­ary. It isn’t pos­si­ble to be a cred­i­ble mu­seum if we don’t work in a re­search­based man­ner with our col­lec­tions. For that rea­son, we also sup­port our staff ’s PHD stud­ies. The lat­est ma­jor recog­ni­tion came re­cently: the con­ser­va­tion project “Rode Al­tar­piece in Close-up” re­ceived the pres­ti­gious Europa Nos­tra prize. We now have the sta­tus of an as­so­ci­ated mem­ber of the Es­to­nian Acad­emy of Sciences, and that’s a big hon­our for the mu­seum.

Nat­u­rally, we have dis­cussed co­op­er­a­tion with our col­leagues on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions. To­day this oc­curs mostly through con­fer­ences. The big­gest on­go­ing co­op­er­a­tion project – which is also re­search for us – is un­doubt­edly the joint ex­hi­bi­tion to be held in the Musee d'or­say, Baltic Sym­bol­ism. This has mo­ti­vated us to re­view a num­ber of top­ics from the start of the last cen­tury.

What is the an­nual run­ning costs of the five mu­se­ums of the Art Mu­seum of Es­to­nia?

It varies a lit­tle each year. Ev­ery year, we ap­ply for state fund­ing and con­trib­ute a min­i­mum of 1/4 our­selves (out of the mu­seum’s own in­come). The 2017 bud­get is 7.6 mil­lion Euros.

What is the an­nual rev­enue/profit gen­er­ated by the five mu­se­ums of the Art Mu­seum of Es­to­nia?

The 2017 bud­get pro­vides for an obli­ga­tion of con­tribut­ing 1.85 mil­lion Euros of our own rev­enue.

Could you also share with us some of the ma­jor con­ser­va­tion ef­forts which the Art Mu­seum of Es­to­nia has un­der­taken in Es­to­nia. Have you un­der­taken any con­ser­va­tion projects with Lat­vian or Lithua­nian in­sti­tu­tions? And what have the projects been?

When Kumu opened 11 years ago, the most im­por­tant thing was to ex­plain to Es­to­nian so­ci­ety the role and im­por­tance of mu­se­ums in so­ci­ety. I firmly be­lieve that our ef­forts back then have done a great deal to con­trib­ute to the rise of the pres­tige of mu­se­ums in Es­to­nia. An­other con­stant sub­ject of dis­cus­sion is the role of con­tem­po­rary art; our cu­ra­tors take part in this dis­course when­ever pos­si­ble. A mu­seum is able to present its po­si­tions mainly through ex­hi­bi­tions, and we have done so. I think the same themes can be found in many places.

Nat­u­rally, we or­gan­ise var­i­ous sem­i­nars and con­fer­ences to dis­cuss dif­fer­ent top­ics, but so far the or­gan­i­sa­tional side has ex­isted separately at all of the mu­se­ums, although we present and par­tic­i­pate in all three Baltic States.

I’d like to wish all of us in Es­to­nia, Latvia and Lithua­nia the great­est suc­cess! You have to have some good luck in art, be­sides ev­ery­thing else.

Open­ing hours

Kumu Art Mu­seum 18th cen­tury un­til present Es­to­nian art. July–sept: Tue–wed 10am–6pm, Thu 10am–8pm, Fri–sun 10am–6pm www. kumu.ekm.ee

Kadri­org Art Mu­seum 16th - 20th cen­tury Rus­sian and West­ern Euro­pean art. July– Sept: Tue, Thu–sun 10am– 6pm, Wed 10am–8pm www. kadri­o­ru­muu­seum.ekm.ee

Mikkel Mu­seum West-euro­pean, Rus­sian, Chi­nese and Es­to­nian mas­ter­pieces. July– Sept: Tue, Thu–sun 10am– 6pm, Wed 10am–8pm www. mikke­limuu­seum.ekm.ee

Niguliste Mu­seum Es­to­nian me­dieval and post-re­for­ma­tion ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal art. July–sept: Tue–sun 10am– 5pm www.nigulis­te­muu­seum.ekm.ee

Adam­son-eric Mu­seum Art col­lec­tion of most ver­sa­tile Es­to­nian 20th cen­tury artists. July–sept: Tue–sun 11am– 6pm www.adam­son-eric.ekm. ee

Sirje Helme is Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of the Art Mu­seum of Es­to­nia

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