“Continuity must be understood – without the past, the present and the future are impossible,” emphasizes the head of the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, art historian and curator Inese Baranovska, with which we look back at the history of the museum, take a look at the carefully created art collection, and also find out how the museum is going to celebrate its 35th birthday.
Very soon – on February 8 – the anniversary year will be opened with the exhibition “Skārien-jūtīgs” of the Rotu Art Society, in which many well-known artists in Latvia and the world will participate…
Inta Zegner: The museum, whose previous name was the Museum of Decorative Applied Arts, was founded on July 6, 1989. It was the time before the Revival, and in the newspaper “Literatura und Māksla” there are already articles about the first exhibitions, including your articles, Inese. Who was in these rooms before?
Inese Baranovska: The history of our building is very old, it goes back to the beginning of the 13th century, when Riga was founded.
There are no exact data, but it could be said that the history of the building began already in 1204. At the time it was St. George’s Church, also a monastery and a hospital, and after several fires during the Reformation in the 17th century, the central building was converted into a warehouse.
And it was a warehouse both in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as in the 20th century – throughout the Soviet era, and only in the mid-1980s, when the renovation of Old Riga took place rapidly and, thanks to Polish restorers, the whole block of the Convention courtyard was renovated, the Riga City Council had the idea that such a museum would be necessary. Because the eighties are the time when decorative applied art or decorative arts museums of this format were founded everywhere in Europe and the world. However, times are changing, and the term design has become more relevant – thus the identity of the museum has changed as well. If initially our collection was based on decorative applied art and it was more the unique works of artists – ceramics, textiles, wood, metal, leather, plastic products, glass, then since 2005 we have been creating a design collection and focusing on the story of design.
We currently value the term design much differently. If at the beginning of the century, when talking about Jūlija Straumi, Jūlija Maderniek or Ansi Cīruli, we did not say that it was design, then now, looking back at the work of these masters from today’s perspective, we can say that they were all designers as well.
What are the greatest values that can be found in the museum and which do you like to dwell on the most?
The works created in the porcelain and earthenware painting workshop “Baltars” are, of course, one of our peaks, but there are also other pillars of ours: Jūlijs Madernieks, Jūlijs Straume, Ansis Cīrulis, Romans Suta… Also Rudolfs Heimrāts textile works, Pēteras Martinsons ceramics. There is also a continuation – the sixties, seventies and – today. We continue to replenish our stock. Succession must be understood: without the past, the present and the future are not possible. So we have both design classics and the works of kinetic art classics – Valdis Celms, Artūrs Riņķis, and we also have the young artist Germans Ermićs – a very promising designer who is currently nominated for the “Kilograms of Cultures” award. We are very happy to be able to add to our stock with very current and new works of creative and unique design, creating a story of succession.
How do you plan to celebrate your anniversary? Well, the year has already begun…
The real birthday is in the summer, so we have a special program called “Design Processes Close Up” that will start in April. It will be five pop-up exhibitions related to current design and industrial design, which is less represented in our collection, stock and exposition, but that is exactly why we want to talk about it.
We are creating this project in cooperation with the “Design Export Alliance” association founded in 2023, which brings together the most important suppliers of export goods and design companies, such as “an & angel”, “Madara”, “Vaidavas keramika”, “Mamma Lampa” and others. In cooperation, we will create small ones pop-up exhibitions based on stories, meetings with designers: let’s talk about the design process, starting with a white sheet and a pencil, when the artist first embodies his idea, and what happens after that and how it all comes together, so that people understand that any cup or the bowl is a whole story.
But you already have the classics too. Last year we celebrated the 140th anniversary of Ansim Cīrulis, but in 2020 there was an exhibition and a book in honor of the 150th anniversary of Jūlijas Madernieks. Perhaps a special anniversary is planned this year as well?
Yes, we will celebrate the 150th birthday [tekstilmāksliniekam]For Julii Straum, but this format will be a bit different – it will not be an exhibition, but a larger series of events called “Laikmeta straume. Julii Straum – 150”. These will be scientific readings with two sessions – in spring and autumn, a special program of education and public events. On the other hand, in the permanent exhibition “Classical Values” on the second floor of the museum, there will be a very interesting exhibition of rarely seen works by Jūlija Straume from the collection of graphic works of the Latvian National Art Museum. They will be Julija Straume’s textile works. On the other hand, in the spring there will be an interesting project in cooperation with Azerbaijan – Azerbaijani carpets will be exhibited, but with a bridge to the past, because at one time Júlijs Straume had gone on a scientific research expedition to the Caucasus, where he studied Caucasian carpets, including carpets from the Azerbaijan region, and we will make this exhibition also about the research and inheritance of these traditions. Although Latvia is so far from Azerbaijan, carpets and ornaments are a very important indicator of the importance of ornamental patterns, ornamental symbols and textile works in the cultures of our peoples.
In general, this year our exhibition program will be dense, dedicated to cultural heritage, dedicated to its view and reading from a modern perspective.
And we will open the year very soon – on February 7. From February 8th to April 21st, together with current contemporary art, the exhibition of the Jewelry Society “Touch-sensitive” will be on display…
More in the audio recording.
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