Tuesday, November 12, 2019

New York: The Met Breuer – Vija Celmins – To Fix The Image in Memory – Retrospective Exhibition

The Met Breuer

Vija Celmins – To Fix The Image in Memory

Retrospective Exhibition

At The Met Breuer the retrospective exhibition - Vija Celmins – To Fix The Image in Memory - until January 12, provides a comprehensive view of her work through a selection of approximately 120 works—from her earliest paintings made in Los Angeles in the 1960s to objects completed in New York in the last five years. Celmins bases her exquisitely wrought paintings, sculpture, drawings, and prints on the world around us—sometimes through direct observation, but more often mediated by photography. 

Pink Pearl Eraser – 1966-67
Balsa wood and acrylic paint

“Nostalgic images… reaching back and taking care of these memories…and sort of connecting with myself.”

This work marks a key moment in Celmins’s transition from depicting objects in her studio to working with wartime imagery. Through such - nostalgic images - as Celmins has called them, she revisited her childhood in war-torn Europe.
Vija Celmins – T.V. – 1964
oil on canvas

Celmins based her wood models on real buildings – one in Venice, California and another, a saltbox farmhouse in Indiana where she lived as a child. She painted them with favorite motifs such as airplanes, trains, smoke and clouds.  While Celmins acknowledges an interest in Oppenheimer and Magritte in these pieces she was also inspired by Tony Berlant, a friend and fellow UCLA student who was making assemblage sculptures of houses in the mid-1960s.
House # 2 – 1965
wood – canvas – oil paint – fox fur – metal

Explosion at Sea – 1966
oil on canvas


“It occurred to me that the image and surface were interlocking with the picture plane so the work could invite one in and keep one out at the same time.”

Celmins’s second Los Angeles studio was not far from Venice Beach and in 1968 she began taking photographs of the Pacific Ocean, a subject that would command her attention for the next decade.    
Ocean – 1990
oil on canvas


“The black images of the night sky invite you in, you come close, and then you’re kept out by their physical flatness…which begins to have this strange, quality. You think you may be seeing something that isn’t there…the feeling of a deeper space, but also solid structure before you.  Both things at the same time.”

Night Sky #15 – 2000-2001
oil on linen mounted on wood

“I tend to do images over and over again, because each one has a different tone, slant, a different relationship to the plane, and so a different special experience.”

Celmins stopped painting and switched to graphite as a new and more precise medium and she usually prefers to have her drawings shown without mats to underscore the notion that they are physical objects rather than windows framing an illusion.
Clouds – 1968
graphite on paper

  “Already made by schoolkids and me… a way of engaging somebody in what you have done.  Because when you look close, of course, you see one of the tablets has been painted.”

This group of blackboards includes three found objects and seven produced in wood by sculptor Edward Finnegan that were based on vintage tablets.  She painted each side of the facsimiles, inscribing traces of wear, cracks, and splinters.  Her inclusion of a meticulously stained tag further extends the work’s optical illusionism.  She was delighted by the consistency between handmade replicas and the originals.

Blackboard Tableau #1 – 2007-10
Found tablets – wood – acrylic paint – alkyd – pastel – string – paper – graphite
Blackboard Tableau # 14 – 2011-15
Found tablets – wood – acrylic paint – alkyd – pastel

“For a while the subject was the photograph… So whatever the photograph told me, I did.  I found a great freedom in this.”

In the late 1960s Celmins began collecting pictures of the moon from newspapers, magazines and astronomy books.  Her large personal archive became a basis for a number of drawings and became more of a starting point which she sometimes complicated her sources by placing pictures on top of one another or by doubling or enlarging details. Her shifts emphasize the constructed nature of the images and their distance from directly observed reality.
Untitled (Moon
Surface Luna 9 - #1) – 1969
graphite on acrylic ground on paper

Vija Celmins – To Fix The Image in Memory


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