More than 6 000 people visited the German contemporary art exhibition “Elective Affinities”
One of the most outstanding international projects of 2016 has come to an end – the exhibition “Elective Affinities: German Art Since the Late 1960s” at the ARSENĀLS Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga (1 Torņa Street). In two months – from 17June to 21 August – the exhibition attracted 6 057 visitors.

Elective Affinities was the first retrospection of German contemporary visual arts in Riga of such large scale. Among the artists that were exhibited such prominent European and global masters must be mentioned – Georg Baselitz, Josef Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, as well as the artists active in the current art scene – Jorinde Voigt, Alicja Kwade, Bettina Pousttchi, Norbert Bisky, Philipp Fürhofer, Andreas Gursky, Neo Rauch, Willi Sitte and others.


“It is all but impossible to show the enormous canvas of contemporary German art with the help of 70 or more artworks”, says the originator of the concept for the exhibition, the well-known art critic and international exhibition curator Mark Gisbourne. “This project represented an attempt to offer a more or less objective scene, with the exhibition being divided up into four thematic blocs so as to mark out the main aspects, themes and developmental trajectories of German art and culture in the post-war period. I wanted to provide the audience in Latvia with a look at the diversity of German art so that they could examine the work of world-famous artists in a direct and intimate manner.”


Already the opening of the exhibition on 16 June 2016 turned out to be a real festival of contemporary art, since such artists as Sabine Hornig, Christiane Möbus, Norbert Bisky, Philipp Fürhofer, Thomas Florschuetz, Martin Kobe, Julian Rosefeldt and Ruprecht von Kaufmann who specially came to Riga and participated in the press conference organized for this exhibition.


The exhibition was widely discussed in Latvian and international (especially German) media. In Germany and elsewhere in Europe, the art public relations agency Artpress informed about the ongoing events regarding project Elective Affinities, while in Latvia substantial support was provided by the portal and Diena newspaper.


The exhibition and activities related to it raised the interest of art professionals, the media, as well as many art fans. A notable event was a visit of the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media Professor Monika Grütters to the ARSENĀLS Exhibition Hall. This visit certainly showed that the uniqueness of the project is also appreciated in Germany. It is an interesting fact that among the exhibition visitors was a large number of tourists from Germany.


“The necessity of Elective Affinities exhibition in Latvia is unquestionable, and the choice of artworks is truly brilliant. Such large-scale retrospection of the biggest internationally renowned names of German contemporary art is very meaningful to the wider public. One can also recognize the policy of the Latvian National Museum of Art, which has paved the way to the opportunity for people to view the originals of great cultural valuables”, in her exhibition review states the art scholar Elza Kampara.


“The ambition of the exhibition, as well as the work and resources invested makes it almost an unprecedented event in the local art life (..). The exhibition is so saturated that its interpretation, hopefully, will attract the attention of many art and current interaction observers”, writes the Latvian art critic Pēteris Bankovskis.


A few quotes from the visitors in the Museum’s Guest Book and on Twitter:

“A lot of thanks to the organisers of the exhibition! Very interesting – unique perspective, dynamic, expression! Best of luck with future projects!”

“If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain! It gave great joy to see the great German artists here in our lovely Riga.”

“Many thanks to the organisers! Julian Rosefeldt enchants me for the third time in my life. Great to see his work in Riga.”

Elective Affinities @LNMM_ARSENALS is a fantastic opportunity to get to know German contemporary art. An exhibition with a special atmosphere.”

 “The place to go for German contemporary art is... Riga! Exhibition @LNMM_ARSENALS features works spaning 60 years.”


The exhibition was enriched with an interesting event programme – meetings with art specialists, guided tours and creative lessons for children and adults. As an important contribution to the interpretation of the show the Museum Talks with the exhibition curator Mark Gisbourne, artist Leonards Laganovskis and the art critic, project manager Astrīda Rogule must be mentioned. During the Talks the visitors were able not only to get more detailed insights into the exhibition, but also to find out about the most important processes of the German art scene in the context of global tendencies in the last 50 years.


Thanks to the curator Mark Gisbourne’s initiative, support of the Goethe-Institut Riga and the main sponsor of the project SIA Forta Medical, on 18th and 19th of August the exhibition was concluded with an international conference offering a great spectrum of information regarding the last half a century in German art processes and their roots in the context of Germany, Latvia and Europe as a whole. The participants of the forum were art experts and field professionals from Latvia and Germany. German expertise was represented by well-known artists, curators, art critics and art life organizers: sculptor Prof. Christiane Möbus, Director of the Karl Hofer Foundation Dr. Sabine Ziegenrücker, art critic and curator Mark Gisbourne, Artistic Director of the Exhibition Centre Das Haus am Lützowplatz, Fördererkreis Kulturzentrum Berlin e.V. Dr. Marc Wellmann, Artistic Director of the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien Christoph Tannert, gallerist Volker Diehl. Latvian representors were the art critic, curator and historian Jānis Borgs, art scholar, critic and curator Inese Baranovska, art scholar, curator Astrīda Rogule, philosopher, researcher, Associate Professor of the Art Academy of Latvia Jānis Taurens, exhibition organiser, critic, cultural theorist Kaspars Vanags and art patron, collector Jānis Zuzāns.


“This conference successfully brought together specialists from different fields of experience from Germany and Latvia, which allowed some rather provocative discussions regarding the ways the contemporary art developed on the both sides of the Iron Curtain from the 1960s till the German reunification, as well as the variety of art perception nowadays. Questions about the role of art and cultural practice and its influence of the society were raised, as well as the question of what could be the function of art during the times of capitalistic catastrophes. Discussions also touched upon such unpleasant themes as the feeling of guilt, scars left by the history, the role of art in the making of a unified national identity. By reflecting on the artworks in the exhibition and by sharing opposing opinions, the experts concluded that the contemporary art practice is dominated by continuity and polyphonic diversity when modernity entwines with mythology. A trend that was stressed was also the idea that the interpretation of the work nowadays is put on the art viewer rather than on the art creator”, the Head of the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design Inese Baranovska tells in her analysis of the conference.


Although the project has come to an end, the exhibition catalogue Elective Affinities released by a German Publishing House Kerber is still available in Latvian, German and English. The book provides a rich conception not only about the works and authors exhibited, but also about the cultural processes and their social and political background. The catalogue can be purchased at the ARSENĀLS Exhibition Hall as well as in all trade places of the Publishing House Kerber in Europe, America and New Zealand.


The project Elective Affinities is a brilliant example of how the ideas of art patrons – the company Forta Medical and its owners Guntis Rāvis and Leons Zilbers – can realise into a high quality art event. Such large-scale projects could not become reality without the help of supporters and cooperation partners. Forta Medical has shown itself as an ambitious cultural patron with an excellent understanding of the contemporary culture.


SIA Forta Medical board member Ermīns Sniedze: “I wish to thank the Latvian National Museum of Art and its management for responding to our idea about this exhibition. Our successful partnership led to this unique exhibition, inspiring art specialists from other countries to visit Latvia to view it. We are honoured to have this opportunity to merge resources and knowledge so as to bring at least a small part of German art to Riga, allowing the people of Latvia to sense and learn about European art today.”


The construction, design and the architectural solution of the exhibition planned by the artist Martins Vizbulis could not be realized without SIA H and the support of many other professionals (Hasenkamp, Zebra Cargo, Megadžouls, Art Services).


Head of the project, art scholar, curator of the Contemporary Art Collection at the Latvian National Museum of Art Astrīda Rogule tells: “For me as a curator this project was very special and meaningful. First of all, it was meeting the curator Mark Gisbourne and the superb collaboration we had all through the project – in making the exhibition, in organising the international scientific conference and in working on the catalogue. I have to admit that it also was extremely challenging because it is almost impossible to go through 45 collections and to organise the transportation and insurance in such a short period of time (starting November 2015). Secondly, this incredible exhibition gave me the chance to meet many wonderful people – German artists, collectors and experts. And thirdly, this gave me a deeper understanding of German art in the last half a century, which undeniably is great personal gain.


The making of an exhibition is teamwork and perhaps all went so well because its supporters and initiators from Forta Medical, especially Leons Zilbers, Yelena Grīnberga and Ermīns Sniedze, were unbelievably involved and understanding. That being said, my colleagues at the Latvian National Museum of Art helped with great advice as well as their work, which I am very thankful for!


Since as the place for the show of Elective Affinities the ARSENĀLS Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Museum of Art was chosen, it had to exhibit 77 large format pieces so that they would be displayed for the visitors the best possible way. Here I have to praise the perfect work of Martins Vizbulis and his team, whose job was also appreciated not only by the curator Mark Gisbourne, but also by all the German artists, private collectors and everyone who came to the opening and other events of the project. It was also pleasure to hear many good words about the concept and realization of this exhibition from the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, Professor Monika Grütters since she herself is an art scholar that is well acquainted with German art history and contemporary processes.”


The Latvian National Museum of Art wants to express great gratitude to the main supporter of the exhibition – Forta Medical company, and to all cooperation partners, artists, art institutions and collectors in Latvia, Germany, Switzerland, the United States and Israel for excellent collaboration and their contribution to the project.



The exhibition Elective Affinities: German Art Since the Late 1960s was opened from 17 June until 21 August 2016 at the ARSENĀLS Exhibition Hall in Riga. The title of the exhibition is based on Elective Affinities (Die Wahlverwandschaften, 1809) by the outstanding German writer and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). The novel discusses interaction among human beings and is derived from a term that speaks to “chemical compatibility” or “chemical relationships.”


The concept and the content of the retrospection was developed by art critic and international exhibition curator Mark Gisbourne (Berlin). Artworks came from 45 different collections, including German exhibition centres and museums, as well as private collections in Germany, Switzerland, the United States and Israel. The show consisted of 77 works by 53 artists – paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, video art and few singular examples of Conceptual Art – produced between the late 1960s and the present day.


The installation of the exhibition was divided into four blocs: 1) Expression, Imagination, and Subjectivity; 2) History and Narrative; 3) Abstraction and Conception; 4) Presentation and Critique, creating an impressive panorama of contemporary German art. “In order to avoid chronological division into periods four main themes were chosen – ones that relate, overlap, but definitely give a common characterization of German art by highlighting its peaks. Such principle of exhibiting ideas and material allowed to direct the viewer towards a more complex perception of artistic expressions”, reveals Mark Gisbourne.


Represented were distinguished artists such as Josef Beuys, Andreas Gursky, Anselm Kiefer, Georg Baselitz, Gerhard Richter, Neo Rauch, Norbert Bisky, Willi Sitte, Sigmar Polke, Bettina Pousttchi, Sabine Hornig, Alicja Kwade, Jorinde Voigt, Philipp Fürhofer, Thomas Florschuetz, Willi Sitte, and many others. The importance and scope of the exhibition are based not just on the number and size of the artworks, but also on their total value – more than EUR 100 million.


The initiators and supporters of the exhibition are the Forta Medical company and its owners Guntis Rāvis and Leons Zilbers.



Mark Gisbourne



Astrīda Rogule, Senior Curator, Contemporary Art Collection 




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