Miervaldis Polis’ (1948) field of creative activity is characterised by the conceptual consideration of the illusory nature of reality, the search for identity and self-reflection on the individual and society. For more than 40 years, this intellectually restless, passionate artist has strongly influenced the visual culture of Latvia, being in its avantgarde and simultaneously strengthening the understanding of classical values. His postmodern works and performances have become symbols of widely recognised aesthetic and socio-political changes introducing the paradigm of contemporary thinking in the art of the socialist period.
While still a student at the Art Academy of Latvia in the 1970s, Polis bravely and loudly entered the art scene as one of the first representatives of photorealism in the Soviet Union, developing this movement through subjective variations of form and subject. Unlike other photorealists, he also willingly worked in small formats, using his own and other authors’ images for the imitation of photographs, occasionally combining them with fantasy. Both in his creative practice and careful studies of art history and philosophy, Polis was interested in the means of perception and the representation of reality. During several periods, he turned to painting from nature or free composition in his works, but mostly he used photographs as the basis for his paintings and drawings. In his still lifes with books, postcards and newspaper clippings he conjured an optical illusion of the objects’ materiality and physical volume with remarkable technical virtuosity.
Polis’ actions and performances, which he called spontaneous or phantom theatre, almost always took place in open public spaces and were oriented towards interaction with the viewer, often a chance passerby. The Ego centrs (Ego Centre), established in 1986, and the character of the Bronze Man, conceived in 1987, became popular in the broader public. Polis’ most vivid performances were the Bronze Man’s walk in Riga, collective begging in Bremen, his meeting with the White Man at a summit in Helsinki, his sale of sunflower seeds by the Laima Clock and his transformation into the White Man.
Having consciously withdrawn from the public art scene since the end of the 1990s, Polis continues to paint portrait commissions in a carefully cultivated realist manner. His models are notable businessmen and political elites and also include two Presidents of the Republic of Latvia and three Riga City Council chairmen. Many of these portraits have not previously been exhibited.
This exhibition is the first retrospective of Polis and encompasses the entire trajectory of the artist’s creative interests, showing paintings, drawings and performance documentation of various periods in his career and testifying to his significance in Latvian art history.
The exhibition includes works from the Latvian National Museum of Art, the Chancery of the President of Latvia, Riga City Council, Mūkusala Art Salon, the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University (USA), the Artists’ Union of Latvia Museum, the Tartu Art Museum (Estonia), the Tukums Museum, the Jūrmala City Museum, the Museum of Latvian Agriculture, the Dobele Music School, the ABLV Bank Collection for the Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art, Radisson Blu Daugava and the private collections of Dr. Guntis Belēvičs, Valeri Belokon, Gregory Berman, the Tchebotarionoks family, Čiris, the Gailis family, Raimonds Gerkens, Ainārs Gulbis, Atis Ieviņš, Jūlijs Krūmiņš, Dr. med. Trutz-Hagen Legarth, Guna Leiškalne-Rokk, the Leiškalns family, Uldis Razums, Sarmīte Sīle, Nellija Zonne, Dina and Jānis Zuzāns, Astrīda Zvirbule, the author and others who wished to remain anonymous.
The exhibition contains documentary materials from the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, Latvian Television, the Latvia State Archive of Audiovisual Documents of the National Archives of Latvia and the ABLV Bank Collection for the Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art as well as the private archives of Atis Ieviņš, Aivars Liepiņš, Zigurds Vidiņš and Miervaldis Polis.