Published 18/03/2024 | 10:37

Kumu’s new exhibition explores the dreams and desires of Baltic Germans and Estonian peasants through the works of Elisàr von Kupffer and Jaanus Samma

Elisàr von Kupffer. The New Covenant. 1915–1916. Centro Elisarion, municipality of Minusio

The exhibition Elisarion: Elisàr von Kupffer and Jaanus Samma will be on display at the Kumu Art Museum beginning 22 March. Elisàr von Kupffer (1872–1942) was a Baltic-German artist, writer and philosopher, and was born and raised in Estonia. This is the first time that his art has been exhibited in Estonia, offering rare insight into the social upheavals and religious utopias of the early 20th century, the artist’s childhood in Estonia and the unique homoerotic world created in his works.

In the exhibition, Kupffer’s art is in dialogue with works by the Estonian contemporary artist Jaanus Samma, who explores the sexuality of Estonian peasants. The curators of the exhibition are Andreas Kalkun, Kadi Polli and Hannes Vinnal.

The exhibition features Kupffer’s Symbolist paintings, mostly on religious subjects and showing influences of Classical and Renaissance art, as well as his views of Estonia created in his early youth, depicting places that were important to him.

Also exhibited are Jaanus Samma’s works inspired by Estonian folk culture. Samma has created a brand new video work for the exhibition, The Clear World of the Blissful, in which he explores Kupffer’s masterpiece, a 25-metre cyclorama of the same name, which is on display at the Monte Verità Foundation museum complex in Switzerland. Samma’s work is complemented by Karl Joonas Alamaa’s installation Limited Fun.

“Elisàr von Kupffer, also known as Elisarion, was a visionary, a colourful personality and a versatile creator. He was one of the founders of the neo-religious movement Clarism (German klar “clear”), which was based on his own world-view. We may describe him as the painter of Clarism, expressing the divine as an erotic force. He often depicted himself in the nude, provocatively displaying nudity and blurring gender boundaries. At the same time, Kupffer represented the Baltic-German cultural space, the elite of Estonian society of the time. The dialogue between Kupffer’s and Samma’s works highlights the relationship of Estonian peasants with their Baltic-German rulers: a fusion of fear, hostility and desire, and a juxtaposition of the high and the low,” said Andreas Kalkun, one of the exhibition’s curators.

“Different shades of sexuality were present in both worlds: the world of Elisàr von Kupffer and that of simple peasants. I am interested in the manifestations of queer identity in folk culture. As a collective phenomenon, folk culture leaves more room for interpretation and is far more mysterious,” said the artist Jaanus Samma.

The exhibition is accompanied by the book Elisarion: Elisàr von Kupffer, edited by the exhibition’s curators Andreas Kalkun, Kadi Polli and Hannes Vinnal. The book provides an overview of Kupffer’s life and work, illustrated with historical photographs and reproductions of paintings. The book includes Kupffer’s short story Sein Rätsel der Liebe (His Riddle of Love) (1901), translated into Estonian by Hannes Vinnal.

On Saturday, 23 March, visitors are invited to the opening programme of the exhibition. From 12 to 2 pm, the artist Karl Joonas Alamaa will hold the workshop Creating an Installation from Flax Twine. At 2 pm, the curators Hannes Vinnal and Andreas Kalkun and the artist Jaanus Samma will give a guided tour of the exhibition. At 4 pm, there will be a panel discussion on Estonian queer art history from the 19th century to the present day, with the participation of Jaanus Samma, Andreas Kalkun and Rebeka Põldsam. The discussion is moderated by Uku Lember.

The exhibition in Kumu’s 3rd floor gallery of temporary exhibitions will remain open until 8 September 2024.

The exhibition is being held in collaboration with the municipality of Minusio in Switzerland, in particular with the cultural centre and museum Centro Elisarion, the custodian of the legacy of Elisàr von Kupffer. The centre is housed in the artist’s home, the villa Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion.

Curators: Andreas Kalkun, Kadi Polli and Hannes Vinnal
Technical manager: Tõnis Medri
Graphic design: Tuuli Aule
Exhibition coordinator: Magdaleena Maasik

We thank: Comune di Minusio – Centro Elisarion, Fondazione Monte Verità, University of Tartu Art Museum, University of Tartu Natural History Museum, Estonian National Museum, private collections, Claudio Berger and Nicoletta Mongini

With the support of: Cultural Endowment of Estonia, law office Cobalt, Embassy of Switzerland to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia