Rita Valnere. Paintings
Rita Valnere "Zelta kauss", 2003
From August 11th till September 25th at the Large hall of Riga Art Space will be on display a comprehensive exhibition of paintings by one of the most remarkable Latvian painters Rita Valnere (b. 1929). The exposition is made of more than hundred paintings from collections of museums all over the Latvia, private collections as well as nine paintings from the prominent State Tretyakov gallery in Moscow. With a kind permission of author in the exhibition has been exhibited also for a long time unseen works from her studio and striking exposure of sketches.
“Conversations about Painting” (1971) is a painting with which many people in Latvia are familiar. It is a gallery of noble portraits, as well as a structure of space. The painting shows current and former artists who are portrayed as careful thinkers. They provide an identity and era to the space. The painting is a grand allegory of culture, the place and the ego, but artist Rita Valnere is an artist who, to quote Eduards Kalniņš “is always looking for something beyond the boundaries.” Allegories are used by Rita Valnere to define reality, but they also help people to move toward the world of free fantasies. In a manuscript of memoirs and ideas, Rita Valnere writes: “It is not enough to deal with that which is. That which is cannot ensure spiritual fulfilment. My paintings speak to the unfulfilled and the impossible, but also to the desirable. I have come to the conclusion that art creates a yearning for that which does not exist and cannot be found in terms of one’s development as a creator and one’s self-understanding in relation to one’s personal and everyday life, in the family, in love or in social justice – in life as such. Without such yearning, no one would want to read books, improve things, learn things, teach others or criticise that which exists. Neither would there be art with all of the range of its emotions – emotions which bring vibrations to one’s soul so that one yearns for fulfilment as an understanding of the omnipresent God.”
This exhibition is focused on the paintings of Rita Valnere, representing a trip between now and the 1950s, when Rita Valnere entered the world of art. The Rīga Art Space worked with Latvian museums and private collectors to assemble the exhibition. There are paintings from the Latvian National Museum of Art, the collection of the Latvian Artists Union, the Latvian Museum of Literature and Music, the Madona Regional Research and Art Museum, the Ģederts Eliass Museum of History and Art in Jelgava, the Tukums Museum, and the Rainis and Aspazija memorial summer home in Majori. Private collectors who have been kind enough to entrust their artworks to the exhibition include Ģirts Rungainis, Guntis Belēvičs, Ainārs Gulbis, and Dr. Auškāps. Many older and more recent paintings and sketches have come from the artist’s own studio.
A special element in this exhibition is the opportunity to see nine of Rita Valnere’s paintings which come from the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. The artworks were sent to Latvia thanks to the Russian patron of art Petr Aven and his charity fund “Generation”.
Rita Valnere is a member of the generation which has been described by Ģirts Vilks with the inspirational words “Powerful community” (Māksla, No. 1, 1956). Rita Valnere is part of a team which has developed thanks to exhibitions of work by young artists ever since 1956. Others on the team include Edgars Iltners, Gunārs Mitrēvics, Aleksandrs Stankevičs, Uldis Zemzaris, Biruta Baumane, Bruno Aide, Tālivaldis Strautmanis, Indulis Zariņš, Džemma Skulme, Henrijs Klēbahs, Vilis Ozols, Boriss Bērziņš, Imants Vecozols, and Gunārs Cilītis. The artist herself, however, remembers that despite the Communist Party’s slogan which said that young artists must be supported, young artists were accused of being influenced by Impressionism, Formalism, and an absence of the correct ideology.
Rita Valnere is one of the masters of Latvian art thanks to the paintings which she produced as a young woman and, particularly, as a mature artist. Her latest artworks represent a search for that which is contemporary in painting. In chronological terms, we must focus on openly Expressionist and Cubist paintings from the latter half of the 1960s. These artworks are fully modern, and they may well lead many people think about the “unknown Valnere.”
No matter how radically one feels the absence of the expected logic of succession in Rita Valnere’s work – colour and its denial, the gentle documentary texture of form and the harshly distanced abstract schematics, the mirror-smooth peace and ploughed excitement – and no matter how unexpected Valnere’s much-praised but also criticised shifts may be, the fact is that her art is consistent when it comes to the duty of the artist. Art is not a matter of self-expression or self-confirmation in individual or social terms. Art is up high. Art has power. Rita Valnere is often accused of rejecting her own brilliant discoveries, but that just makes her laugh: “I don’t think about any painting in terms of it being put up on the wall. It is a special concentration of thoughts which express ideas, movement and purpose.”
The spatial structure of the exhibition “Rita Valnere. Paintings” is conceptual (designed by Christian Helwing). The environment is appropriate for every painting and every style, not allowing Valnere’s intensive forms to “destroy” each other. The process of denial, revolt and transformation is left in the laboratory of art, not brought to the exhibition hall. Space is also clearly defined in each one of Rita Valnere’s paintings, irrespective of whether they contain a classic perspective, elements of Modernism, or a merger of several spatial structures in a postmodern way.
Rita Valnere’s paintings are based on major allegories throughout the exhibition, throughout her life as an artist, and in the context of all of her stylistic twists and turns. Her graduate painting “In a Flower Shop” (1956) is separated by the painting “Metaphor” (2008) by more than 50 years, but also by a difference in resources of expression. Rita Valnere herself has said that in the 21st century she is powerful because of her physical lack of strength – something which is seen in harsh dissonances of colour which are atonal, uncontrollable and loud. Similarly different is Valnere’s fairly dry “ethnographic Cubism” from the 1990s – “Mother’s Road” (1994) and “Prayer” (1995). Here we see a major difference in comparison to the thickly applied oil colours in paintings such as “Cradle” (1987), “Morning” (1986), or with sensual figures in “Opening” (1983). Allegories related to war and violence in the 1970s take on a completely different context in the present day. Examples include “Scream” (1978) and “Speaking of the Living” (1979). Here we see form and composition which resembles a cinema scene and the dramatic nature of the story is reminiscent of a movie. Rita Valnere unquestioningly rejects any discovery of form if the content does not demand it. This leads to different textures, “violations” in the logic of design, and an ongoing battle related to the correspondence of content and form. It can be added, by the way, that Rita Valnere respects something once said by Vilhelms Purvītis – that nothing in art that is easy is good.
The portraits which Rita Valnere has produced are unbeatable in terms of atmosphere and professional mastery. She depicts people in a way which shows the strength of their spirit and the fragility of their soul. The subjects are presented in her own space, creating the unbeatable miracle of classical art – the aura of a work of art. The paintings are unexplainably deep in their sense of the beauty of the world. The same can be said of her paintings of flowers.
When Rita Valnere’s paintings from various periods of time are brought together, I feel more certain than ever that the strategy of the Riga Art Space of establishing readings of contemporary art from the phenomena of today to the idea of succession is a continuation.
Inga Šteimane, curator
“Riga Art Space”
Phone: +371 67181330