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Traveller's Guide to The Depths of The Galaxy

Das Kollektive Unbewusste aus Reval (2/2014)

A discussion about the exhibition "Raul Meel. Dialoogid lõpmatusega" (Raul Meel. Dialogues with Infinity) among members of the group of critics Das Kollektive Unbewusste aus Reval (KUR).

 

9. V–12. X 2014
Kumu Art Museum
Curators: Eha Komissarov, Raivo Kelomees.

 

H. T. (name known to the board of editors): Okay, let us begin then. The topic of discussion for our collective of critics is the exhibition "Raul Meel. Dialoogid lõpmatusega" (Raul Meel. Dialogues with Infinity) in the Great Hall at Kumu Art Museum. What are your first impressions, how do you feel about it?

T. T. (name known to the board of editors): Raul Meel is a living legend in 20th century Estonian art. So far, this exhibition is the most thorough display of his work covering nearly four decades. The exhibition has been set up in the Great Hall at Kumu Art Museum. And that kind of says it all. His myth as an artist is already quite well-known. There's nothing much more to do than conclude the story. The curator of the exhibition, Eha Komissarov, also says: "Between Konrad Mägi and Raul Meel fits the whole history of Estonian art in the 20th century," and that kind of says it all. At the opening, Raul Meel donated all the works on display owned by him to the museum. A donation on such a large scale to the Art Museum of Estonia is an unprecedented act and that kind of says it all.

A.T. (name known to the board of editors): Yes, the artistic biography and the creative legacy of Raul Meel is definitely one of the core texts of the "new art history" after Estonia regained its independence. It is the story of an artist living in the Soviet Union who made art that had nothing to do with the official doctrine of socialist realism, but had a lot to do with scientific-technological progress as a slogan. Still, the most important thing – here was a man who made art which was similar to that in the West. When hotel Olümpia was built to accommodate people coming to Tallinn for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, it also displayed the works of Raul Meel. You remember, don't you? Прибалтика: советский Запад.

T. T.: Hey, I still think the task of a critic, first of all, is to ask the question – what does this kind of art and this exhibition say within the current context. And not what it used to say at some point in the recent past. Hello, this is a retrospective! Many of these works were made several decades ago! I, for example, wasn't even born when the artist started working on the series "Under the Sky" (1973), which is considered to be the most famous of his series. Obviously, I do understand the logic of these works ending up in this museum here. But what do these works say right now? What is their message?

H.T.: I think the message could be about staying true to yourself. No matter what others say about you, stay true to yourself. Raul Meel is an artist with a strong character and is almost entirely in control of his persona as an artist, of almost every detail of the narrative. He hasn't been broken. He will not break. Nothing else matters. Everything else is evanescent, like footprints in the sand...

T. T.: (interrupts impatiently): Yes, but what is the position of Raul Meel as an artist within the current context? He is like an engineer with a wooden ruler in the time of post-internet art, he is like a giant from the beginning of times!

H. T. (calmly continues): The first attempts to deconstruct Raul Meel's myth as an artist won't probably be made before long after his death, if at all.

A. A. (name known to the board of editors): On my part, I would say this. We should definitely commend the design of the exhibition. It leaves the impression of being very contemporary, virtual and almost immaterial. The industrial aesthetics it uses, unmistakably positions the works on display in the 21st century and provides a fascinating background to them although the works are formally characteristic of the 20th century. We should also compliment the book accompanying the exhibition, even though it is still not published at the time of this discussion. But we know that it features texts by Eha Komissarov, Raivo Kelomees, Virve Sarapik, Erkki Luuk – people who are basically the heavy artillery PhDs writing about art.

A. T.: I'd like to bring an international point of view into this discussion. We can't ignore the fact that in some ways we are still living in the geopolitical reality of the Post Cold War era that has unsurprisingly produced its own particular discursive shifts and delays. This applies both to the study and the interpretation of the legacy of Eastern European art. In the western world, the history and study of conceptual art are doing quite well – at least the classics have been dealt with thoroughly and nicely placed on podiums in museums – whereas in Eastern Europe, there is a whole plethora artists who have worked for decades and whose work is characterised – figuratively speaking – by a similar vocabulary, albeit using different syntax. So, could we even talk about a certain branch of conceptualism, about an "Eastern European conceptualism"? Or is it still the same conceptualism, only – again, figuratively speaking – Ilya Kabakov had his museum exhibitions and books before his Estonian friend Raul Meel?

A. A.: I think it is a very complex and interesting question. If we want to clear up these issues, maybe a PhD student should start studying this and do some thorough research and analyse...

A. T. (interrupts): I'm actually asking maybe Ilya Kabakov was just luckier. I mean, after Perestroika, that infamous auction took place in Moscow that later had people saying that even five decades of Soviet rule had not created so much envy and ill feelings among the nonconformist artists than five minutes at Sotheby's.

H. T.: Yes, and already then Estonians were kind of left aside. Ülo Sooster who died before his time was actually a mentor to Kabakov, but the international art market was not concerned with nuances like that. I'm not sure if anything really has changed since then.

A. A.: The joint exhibition of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov and Raul Meel at the Tallinn Art Hall in 2004 was actually an unforgettable event, especially as a spatial experience...

 

Raul_Meel_Under_the_Sky

Raul Meel
Under the Sky. DM90/CS-180
silkscreen
1973
Courtesy of Art Museum of Estonia

 

 

Das Kollektive Unbewusste aus Reval (KUR) is a collective of critics with Baltic-German roots that produces texts for Baltic art journals that usually have no interest in publishing them.

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