For the first time, an exhibition is being opened at Kumu Art Museum in Tallinn where gray shadows will be denoting the spaces where works of art were supposed to hang. In the works since 2016, "Thinking Pictures," an exhibition focusing on conceptual art from the 1970s and 80s that was critical of Soviet powers, acquired an entirely new context after the escalation of Russian attacks on Ukraine on February 24.
Preparations for the exhibition together with the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University have been underway for the past five years, including interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This was culture's way of communicating with the world at the time — creating works that appear one way, but actually mean something else entirely," curator Anu Allas told ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera." Viewers and readers would know that the true meaning of the works differed from what they appeared to be.
"This is a different world than our current one," Allas continued. "War isn't ambivalent; war is unequivocal, and in the current global context, many of these works started coming across as very cruel jokes. That was one thing that gave us pause."
According to Kumu, this exhibition was supposed to be a dialogue between Baltic and Moscow artists in the 1970s and 1980s. It grew out of Jane Sharp's exhibition "Thinking Pictures: Moscow Conceptual Art from the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection."
Norton Dodge, an American economist and Sovietologist, collected nearly 20,000 works of art from Soviet Russia and other Soviet-occupied countries and smuggled them to the U.S., where the collection is currently housed at Zimmerli Art Museum.
Following the outbreak of the current war, however, the curators chose to pivot.
"All of the exhibition's materials, and the topic itself of a dialogue of Russian art during the 1970s and 80s, were thrust into such a new context that this exhibition did not deserve and that neither the participating artists nor we could not have foreseen while working on the exhibition," Kumu director Kadi Polli said.
Following lengthy discussions, the decision was made to launch the exhibition with an empty hall, where the original texts accompany gray shadows indicating the locations where the selected works were supposed to hang. "Thinking Pictures" will remain open to the public in this form for a period of one month, after which the original pieces themselves will begin to appear on the walls as planned.
During its first month, admission to the exhibition is free; visitors will also be given the opportunity to donate in support of Ukrainian refugees.
An English-language introductory event will be held at Kumu Art Museum on Saturday, March 19 beginning at 4 p.m. Scheduled to speak are exhibition curators Jane A. Sharp (Zimmerli Art Museum) and Liisa Kaljula (Art Museum of Estonia).
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Editor: Aili Vahtla