Art academy rector: Päts monument hardly great achievement in Estonian art

Architectural historian and rector of the Estonian Academy of Arts (EKA) Mart Kalm says the winning work in a competition to build a memorial to Estonia's first president Konstantin Päts is not a great achievement from the point of view of Estonian art.

In an interview with ERR, Kalm said there is a very strong segment of society who believe that Päts, who was president on the eve of the first Soviet occupation of Estonia, having already served as prime minister, needs to be commemorated with a monument.

Kalm said he understands the desire for such an edifice somewhere dignified, adding that its intended location, the area behind the Estonia Theater in central Tallinn, is as good as any.

"There is no better place in my eyes," Kalm said, adding the history of the home of the Estonian National Opera (Rahvusooper) is richer and more important from the point of view of the entire history of Estonia than the opera and ballet itself.

The winning work, entitled "Head of state" (Riigipea), is as much as anything, a bust, in the artistic sense. However, Kalm called it a compromise that aims to satisfy the needs of diverse interest groups. 

Päts' bust being unveiled by Triivimi Velliste, chair of the Konstantin Päts Museum Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

"I have lost hope that the historically political monument could take Estonian art and architecture forward in seven-league boot-steps. This is not the case here, but we could also say that there is nothing so embarrassing about this monument that it has to be taken away," Kalm added. 

Aesthetically, Kalm said he also cannot appreciate the monument. "From the point of view of Estonian art, this is not a great achievement, but it is not embarrassing either," he said. 

Jury member: You can never please everyone

Krista Kodres, a professor at EKA's art sciences and visual culture faculty and a member of the jury which picked the winning design, admitted the choice was not to everyone's taste.

"It's absolutely clear that not everyone will like this choice. Absolutely everyone in an entire society will never like any one thing," she said, adding that a provocative choice could often be the best one.

The design competition for the Päts monument took place from December 2019 to April 2020. A total of 24 ideas were submitted to the competition, of which 23 qualified for the jury's evaluation.

The jury included Trivimi Velliste and Krista Kodres, as well as architects Ott Kadarik and Peeter Pere, sculptor Elo Liiv, writer Jaak Jõerüüt, head of Tallinn Urban Planning Head of the Public Utilities Board Ain Valdmann and literary critic Maarja Vaino.

Konstantin Päts (1874-1956) was the first president of the Republic of Estonia (1938–1940). He is considered to be the most remarkable politician of the pre-war Estonian Republic, and repeatedly led Estonian governments including during the most difficult time the state faced – at the beginning of the War of Independence.

At the same time, he remains a controversial figure to some due to perceptions of authoritarian rule, particularly during the so-called "era of silence" in the mid-1930s. He died in Siberia in 1956 after being deported by the Soviets.


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Editor: Katriin Eikin Sein, Andrew Whyte

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