Thinking Pictures 18/03/2022 – 14/08/2022

Kumu Art Museum
Adult: Kumu Art Museum
  • Family: Kumu Art Museum
  • Discount: Kumu Art Museum
  • Adult ticket with donation: Art Museum of Estonia
Sirje Runge. Geometry VIII (detail). 1976. Oil. Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers ‒ Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Soviet Nonconformist Art

Thinking Pictures

The focus of the research exhibition Thinking Pictures, which has been prepared in cooperation with the Zimmerli Art Museum in the United States since 2016, was supposed to be a dialogue between Baltic and Moscow artists in the 1970s and 1980s. A few weeks before the opening of the exhibition, Russia started a war against Ukraine, and the dialogue on recent history has acquired an entirely new context.

As of the second half of April, the exhibition that initially opened in the Kumu Great Hall devoid of any artworks as an anti-war protest will gradually be filled with works. Every few weeks, an artwork or series of works will be added to each thematic space, which will reveal the essence of the topic or establish a dialogue with the existing works. With this solution, the museum wishes to pose questions about the most recent current events and contribute to the debate on the role of culture in this situation.

The exhibition focuses on the dialogue between conceptual art from Moscow and from the Baltics in the 1970s and 1980s. In the late Soviet environment of the time, conceptuality meant the shifting of gestures, utterances, narratives, images and objects from everyday life in a way that undermined or even destroyed their meanings.

While in response to the demands of the art market in the rest of the world conceptual art was accompanied by the abandonment of the classical pictorial medium, in the Soviet Union it developed on a different basis. Soviet conceptualism did not abandon visuality, but rather defended and cultivated it, thereby creating thinking images in response to the proliferation of propaganda images in the public space.

In the Baltics, which were known as the most liberal and Western republics of the Soviet Union, there was a conceptual shift in art in the 1970s. In Tallinn, Leonhard Lapin invited his fellow artists to “think-paint”, “think-burn” and “think-carve”. In Riga, Miervaldis Polis started creating conceptual photorealism. And in Vilnius, led by Vladas Vildžiūnas, a group of artists organised conceptual games.

This exhibition grew out of Jane Sharp’s exhibition Thinking Pictures: Moscow Conceptual Art from the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection. Norton Dodge (1927–2011) was an American economist and Sovietologist who first travelled to the Soviet Union in 1955 when he was a student at Harvard University. During subsequent decades, Dodge, with the help of agents, collected a large number of unofficial art works from Russia and the other Soviet Republics, and smuggled them into the United States. Today, his collection of over 20,000 works is housed in the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University.

An exhibition in cooperation with:

Art Museum of Estonia
Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (USA)

Curators: Anu Allas (Estonian Academy of Arts), Liisa Kaljula (Art Museum of Estonia) and Jane Sharp (Zimmerli Art Museum and Rutgers University)
Consultants: Ieva Astahovska (Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art), Lolita Jablonskienė (National Gallery of Art in Vilnius)
Exhibition design: Mari Kurismaa
Graphic design: Tuuli Aule
Coordinator: Ragne Soosalu

Collections: Art Museum of Estonia, Artists’ Union of Latvia Museum, Estonian Artists’ Association, Estonian Museum of Architecture, Latvian National Museum of Art, Lithuanian National Museum of Art, MO Museum, Tartu Art Museum, Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers ‒ Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Soviet Nonconformist Art, Zuzāns Collection and private collections in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

With the support of:

The Avenir Foundation Endowment Fund
The Dodge Charitable Trust–Nancy Ruyle Dodge, Trustee
Estonian Cultural Endowment
Sorainen Law Firm
Art Museum of Estonia Friends of Art Society
Akzo Nobel Baltics AS