Exhibition by Israeli artists canceled by national museum comes to Tartu

Tenno Pent Sooster and Sergei Bunkov.
Tenno Pent Sooster and Sergei Bunkov. Source: ERR

The exhibition by Israeli artists Tenno Pent Sooster and Sergei Bunkov, which was canceled by the Estonian National Museum (ERM) for unclear reasons, will nevertheless be displayed in Estonia, albeit at the Tartu Art Museum (Tartu Kunstimuuseum).

Sooster told ERR's Russian-language portal that they were approached by the director of the Tartu Art Museum, who suggested that the exhibition could be held there.

"We decided it is a good idea to have the exhibition in Tartu, where we had originally planned it," Sooster explained, adding that the upcoming museum's schedule is already full, so their exhibition will be on display in 2026.

On social media, Sergei Bunkov said that they had received multiple bids to organize the exhibition and had opted to accept the invitation from the Tartu Art Museum because they regard it as an act of professional integrity, which is very important to them as artists.

"We therefore consider the incident with the Estonian National Museum to be resolved," Bunkov said.

Katrin Lõokes, communications specialist at the Tartu Art Museum, said that the exhibition's specific dates and other details will be revealed as the collaboration progresses.

The exhibition by Sooster and Bunkov will include 22 3D-annotated representations of the Hebrew alphabet. The exhibition's goal is to present the Hebrew letters in a fresh light, using unexpected meanings and connotations.

The exhibition was supposed to take place at the ERM, which had invited the artists last year, but ERM director Kertu Saks notified them in June that it would not take place. The international situation, she argued, made it impossible to organize exhibits of the works by people who identify themselves as Russian artists, regardless of their nationality. According to Saks such collaboration is prohibited by the Estonian state.

One of the artists, Sooster, is the son of Estonian modernist classicist Ülo Sooster and a member of the Estonian Artists Union. Despite growing up in Moscow, the artist has had ties to Estonia from childhood, spending summers with his grandfather in Hiiumaa. Both Sooster and Bunkov live in Israel and were surprised by the ERM's announcement, as neither has ever identified as a Russian artist.

As a result of the outcry, the ERM sent a new letter to the artists, stating that the reasons given in the original notification for the exhibition's cancellation were incorrect, and that the museum requires all resources to carry out its core functions and has been forced to reduce the additional program.

A few pieces from the series "The Letters of the Sooster and Bunkov Hebrew Alphabet" were shown in Ukraine's Uman and Kherson in 2022, shortly after the country was liberated from Russian occupation. 

The works of Sooster and Bunkov were on display in 2019 at the exhibition "Tracks. Circulum Serpentibus" and in 2015 at the Freedom (Vabaduse) Gallery in Tallinn. Sooster's work has also been shown in other Estonian cities.


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Editor: Karin Koppel, Kristina Kersa

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