Latvian art 1945–1985

After World War II, socialist realism was declared the only method of creation and artists were given the task of engaging in the building of communism. Socialist realism is represented by two paintings in the exposition – Eduards Kalniņš' The New Sails, which Soviet criticism called the first Latvian work of socialist realism, and Jānis Osis' Rowing Race at a Latvian Fishermen's Festival.

Following Stalin's death in 1953 and the denunciation of Stalin's cult of personality, came the Khrushchev Thaw, which introduced a period of illusory creative freedom. The first modernist endeavours in official art in the late 1950s acquired the label 'the harsh style', characterised by monumentality of form, the surpassing of the everyday, in order to imbue Soviet characters with heroism and generalisation. The culmination of the harsh style is Edgars Iltners' painting Masters of the Land – monumental, heroic, generalised figures. In the 1960s, Soviet modernism took the form of figurative expressionism, which often did not have any Soviet content. The subtext of these works frequently contained criticism of the Soviet regime. For example, Džemma Skulme's Folk Song was painted under the influence of the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968.

 

The next new generation in the 1970s were, in a sense, antimodernists with a negative reaction towards socialist modernism. This postmodernist reaction can be seen most clearly in the works of the so-called French group – Bruno Vasiļevskis, Imants Lancmanis, Maija Tabaka, as well as Miervaldis Polis and Līga Purmale. They studied realistic form, strove for clear plasticity, were interested in the classics and refrained from expressive exaggerations.

 

Following World War II, photography in Latvia was not seen as a form of art, it was practiced by amateurs. In the 1960s, photography clubs Rīga and Ogre became the centres of the photography scene in Latvia. Today, most attention is devoted to an unembellished photographer's observation of the Soviet everyday. The exposition shows photographs by Egons Spuris, Gvido Kajons, Inta Ruka, Māra Brašmane and Andrejs Grants.