esmaspäev, märts 26, 2012

AB cubed presents: Gregor Taul x Art Allmägi

Some paragraphs on Art Allmägi and young Estonian sculpture
Translated by Merli Kirsimäe

Art Allmägi I Had a Dream Last Night (photo by Gregor Taul)

The artist I have chosen for reviewing is Art Allmägi (b. 1983), because he, along with Edith Karlson, Jass Kaselaan and Jevgeni Zolotko, is one of the few young Estonian sculptors who seems to have the objective to create his art for galleries – a more delicate and milder direction compared to creating permanent works of art meant for the public space. Art Allmägi comes from the parish of Lohusuu (reputedly the area that has the greatest density of sculptors in Estonia), at first he studied to become a blacksmith-stonemason at the Vana-Vigala Technical and Service School, then went on to study sculpture at Tartu Art College (TAC) after which he obtained a Master’s degree from the Department of Installation and Sculpture at the Estonian Academy of Arts (EAA). In January 2012 his first solo exhibition I Had a Dream Last Night… opened in Hobusepea Gallery in Tallinn.


There is an awkward 6-year gap yawning in the young Estonian sculpture, on one side of which stand the artists born in the first half of the seventies: Indrek Köster and Taavi Talve (known as Johnson and Johnson) (both b. 1970), Neeme Külm (b. 1974) and Kirke Kangro (b. 1975), and on the other side there are Jass Kaselaan (b. 1981), Edith Karlson (b. 1983) and Jevgeni Zolotko (b. 1983) (1). While the first group started their careers as artists at the beginning and middle of the 2000s, then when we get to the beginning of the 2010s, it’s the new generation’s turn to shine. It is worth mentioning that while in photography, painting, art criticism and also in poetry and dance, the centre stage has been taken by the new twenty-somethings, then the newcomers trying to make their way in sculpture have recently turned or will soon be thirty. Of course sculptors do have exhibitions also when they are younger, but the typically time-, energy- and material-consuming art of sculpture only gets those with a strong will staying true to it. The author of this review sure hopes that Estonian sculpture manages to get rid of this stereotype of the ‘scary challenge’.


Zolotko, Kaselaan and Karlson all had their exhibition debuts in 2009. Jevgeni Zolotko, a TAC sculpture graduate, had his first exhibitions in the Central Estonian Art Gallery pArt and in Vaal Gallery. In 2010 he successfully took part in the Artishok Biennale and in 2011 he managed to beat off strong competition and won the Köler Prize presented by the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia. Jass Kaselaan, who has a Bachelor’s degree from TAC and a Master’s from the EAA, is known for his large-scale spatial installations in Tallinn City Gallery and Tartu Art House. In 2011 he was awarded the Anton Starkopf Prize for sculpture. Edith Karlson, graduate of the EAA was presented with the EAA Young Artist’s Prize in 2006. In January 2012 her solo exhibition opened in Sur la Montagne Gallery in Berlin.


In addition to that trio there are other artists also worth mentioning: Eike Eplik (b. 1982), who also first studied at TAC and then did her MA in the EAA in 2010. Eplik’s first solo exhibition opened in the summer of 2011 in Y Gallery, Tartu (2). In this year’s spring, Maigi Magnus (3), whose portfolio so far promises exciting art to come, will defend her Master’s thesis in the EAA Department of Installation and Sculpture.

During the last three years a grouping called SUHE (4) which is formed of sculpture students of the EAA (Sigrid Uibopuu, Ulla Juske, Hanna Piksarv, Eva Järv), has also been very active. Its members have held wonderful feasts of sculpture in Raja Gallery and at the Tallinn Art Student Expo (TASE) festival and these exhibitions have been almost textbook examples of relational aesthetics. The members of this group are also working as individual artists, Ulla Juske (b. 1986) (5) lives and works in Dublin where she will open her first solo exhibition this spring, Hanna Piksarv (b. 1989) (6) has taken part in many group exhibitions and in June 2011 took part in the festival of construction foam sculptures in Tallinn Old Town.


At this point let us compare a little the sculpture studies in Tartu and Tallinn. In TAC the students, instructed by Jaan Luik (before Jaan Luik, Mati Karmin was the instructor), are mostly taught to become skilled craftsmen. Great attention is paid to completing practical assignments, i.e. they work on objects made of marble, granite, dolomite, wood, plastic or some other materials. Although work is carried out on different materials at the EAA as well, the main emphasis there is on the artist’s own work and its critical conceptualisation.

TAC is almost like a separate little microcosm into which students disappear in the mornings and are let out again in the evenings. This kind of persistent emphasis on manual study results in young craftsmen rather than artists. This tendency towards craftsmanship is also contributed to by the fact that courses on art history at TAC serve to reinforce what has already been learnt at secondary school – during the four years of studying, students are dragged through Egyptian, Ancient Greek, mediaeval, etc. art, and then, if you are lucky, you just might get as far as pop art. (However, specialised art history covers also contemporary art practices of the chosen subject). Then the school is over and the world has to welcome young graduates who have grown to see contemporary art with certain preconceptions, if not hostility. (This dreadful situation has hopefully started to change thanks to the founding of Gallery Noorus and to the addition of young instructors.)

In the Department of Installation and Sculpture as in other departments of fine arts at the EAA on the other hand, people have been moving on the course of contemporary art for quite some time already. The recent renaming of the department (Department of Sculpture became Department of Installation and Sculpture) was also rather long overdue and essential if only to justify the existence of a department that has not given us a sculptor-monumentalist in a long while.

Indeed, it seems that the best solution for young sculptors is to first acquire the necessary manual skills from TAC and then move on to obtain a critical approach from the EAA.


Young sculptors do not usually create monumental art under their own names. If they create it at all, then by helping older colleagues in order to earn a little. In a way the explanation is obvious – there is no demand for sculptures, (memorial) monuments, fountains, etc. in the public space, therefore also no competitions. Fortunately, none of our young sculptors has decided to follow Tauno Kangro’s lead to almost forcibly thrust their works upon others. On the other hand, it is a pity that young sculptors do not make use of the full potential of their specialty’s core, which is the sculptural structuring and interpreting of a space. The author of this review finds that young sculptors in particular could be the vanguard of installations and actions, interventions in city spaces. Instead they remain toothless onlookers in the safe distance, they are ‘ten-toothed agents of decadence’ as the surrealist Ilmar Laaban described Rroosi Selaviste (or Rrose Sélavy).

As significant exceptions, we must first mention the 2010 sculpture symposium “Lühiajaline. Suuremõõtmeline” (Short-term. Large-scale), curated by Jevgeni Zolotko in Raadi, Tartu – the art created demonstrated how large-scale sculptures, or ‘poor monuments’ can also decay over a period of time. Also in 2010, Edith Karlson, as part of her exhibition “Tsirkus” (Circus), smuggled a figure of a rhinoceros on the back of Tauno Kangro’s sculpture “Korstnapühkija” (Chimney-Sweep). In relation to monumental art, Karlson, along with professors Jaak Soans and Jüri Ojaver, took part in the exhibition “Etteütleja” (Sufleur), where representatives of three generations dissected the topic of popular demand for public sculptures and monuments. Jass Kaselaan, Edith Karlson, Hanna Piksarv and Maigi Magnus took part in the exhibition of construction foam sculptures as part of Tallinn Treff Festival in 2011 (7).


If we want to say something about some general tendencies then Karlson, Kaselaan and Eplik all tend to create their sculptures out of some kind of plastic. The sculptors’ distinctive style is usually determined by the extent to which, if at all, the author decides to process, smooth, dye, etc. the work’s surface.


Art Allmägi. Similarly to other holders of a TAC BA degree, he also decided to do his MA at the EAA. He has taken part in numerous group exhibitions (8) and recently had his first solo exhibition in Hobusepea Gallery. During the last five years, Allmägi has made his living helping professional sculptors. Thus, the artists who have benefited from his help include Simson from Seaküla with his Tallinn pigeons, Kristina Norman with her Golden Soldier and Mati Karmin with his marble statue of the poet Marie Under.

The author of this review first noticed Art Allmägi during the exhibition “Raske samm” (Scary Challenge), curated by Jüri Ojaver, which took place on the second floor of Postimaja in the autumn of 2009. It was a very big exhibition with 24 participants, therefore it was easy to get left unnoticed, which indeed happened to many. However, very good works, such as Allmägi’s group of sculptures, which had its references to Oleg Kulik, Simson from Seaküla and Hannes Starkopf, got well-deserved attention and were real treats for the eye. Indeed, his works were absolutely wonderful, but as they will soon be exhibited again in Tartu Art House, I will not spoil it for you. I promise to write about these works once the exhibition has opened!


Art Allmägi’s exhibition, which was also a further development of his Master’s project, in Hobusepea Gallery has been written about by Signe-Fideelia Roots (8) - written about well, in a summarising, supporting way. Since all in all I agree with what has been said in that article, I have decided not to write a separate article about his exhibition and will instead reproduce our conversation which might be of help when wanting to understand Allmägi’s exhibition and keep an eye on his future works.

Gregor Taul: First of all, can you please tell me a little bit about the materials that you primarily use in your work?
Art Allmägi: Simply put, they’re just plastics – polyester resin and polystyrene foam. They can both, of course, be worked on quickly and are also cheap. And lasting as well, as long as you don’t leave the sculptures in direct sunlight for too long. I make the sculptures out of polystyrene foam and then cover with polyester resin which is better to process. Jass Kaselaan, on the other hand, leaves the surfaces of his sculptures uneven, he is after a more rustic outcome. Time-wise, plastic of course makes my work significantly easier, but it took me 40 hours to create the necessary rough texture of the blue bear…

G. T.: Tell me about your schools, please.

A. A.: First I studied at TAC. Studying is a lot more rigid there than at the EAA. It’s very much like having a nine-to-five job. But you will get a good technical skills’ foundation. For which you must of course also find time to study. I spent most of my time in the school.

G. T.: How do you work, are you in the studio day in, day out, constantly working on something?

A. A.: No, that’s not me. I am more of a project-based worker. I try to find times that would suit me and the galleries, and then I write the projects and if I get the times, start working towards these deadlines.

G. T.: Do you write exhibition applications to galleries abroad as well or only Estonia?

A. A.: Ha-ha… I’m a ‘small-scale’ person, so at least for now, it is Estonia only. But you never know, maybe sometime in the future.

G. T.: What is your relationship with monumental art?

A. A.: Monumental art… Absolutely no relation. I think and work focused on galleries. I don’t wish to say anything about the public space. I choose to say nothing about the Tauno Kangro matter as well. Since I do not work in or for the public space, then I don’t feel I have a say in the matter. If I wanted to say something, I’d have to do so with my art as well.

G. T.: That reminds me, when I asked this from your course mate Jevgeni Zolotko, he said that Tartu is so full of sculptures that if he ever wanted to do something for the public space in Tartu, then maybe for Annelinn where there is almost no public art at all… But coming back to the schools, why did you decide to do your MA at the EAA?

A. A.: Actually I didn’t see that there were any other options. Several friends had already done the same – Jass Kaselaan, Eike Eplik, Berit Talpsepp – it seemed and seems that it’s worth it. I came to the EAA to search for what was missing at TAC. The EAA is a lot more bohemian compared to TAC. Yes, there are general lectures in the main building, but outside – wander about and see for yourself how you manage to get your things done. Because, let’s be honest, they have problems getting the students to attend at the Raja street sculpture building…

G. T.: Let’s talk about your exhibitions now. The essence?

A. A.: Oh… difficult, very difficult to answer. There are lots of little bits, I should explain them piece by piece. For me, this exhibition is primarily a text. A sculptural storybook.

G. T.: The works that featured in the Postimaja exhibition were rather vulgar. And I suppose an ‘average’ person would probably also have used the word ‘rude’ for your exhibition in Hobusepea Gallery.

A. A.: Hmm… I would like to approach the answer by saying that one has to fight and compete for the viewer’s attention. Especially in a group exhibition. If we look at things from a broader perspective then it can be said we are living in a world loaded with advertisement, where you need to fight for attention at every step. I, as an artist, also have to work hard for attention. If I get the visitor to come to my exhibition, to see my work, then that is already a major achievement. To make sure the attention will not wander while at the exhibition, I am, in a way, forced to take advantage of people’s most vulgar instincts, both in a good and bad sense. For example, if I use real people in my art, then I tend not to make use of these people in particular, rather the social instincts and institutions that determine which public figures you can exploit and which you cannot. People have turned into roles, and that is what I want to show in my work.

G. T.: And the main themes you analyse?

A. A.: The themes also often come to me when thinking about the viewers. I often come across exhibitions where the artist hasn’t unfortunately given the viewers any thought, hasn’t even tried to relate to the viewer through the art. By the way, after my exhibition at Hobusepea Gallery, many people came to me to say how good the exhibition had been… but why did I have to use Tõnis Mägi like that? For me, choosing Mägi was exactly that aspect which was supposed to trigger irritation and questions in the viewer. Had I used some sort of “typical gay” instead, everything would have been OK, but would that have been a propelling thought? I have been interested in the subject of sexuality for about ten years now and this interest has gone hand in hand with my interest in native peoples and different forms and norms of social behaviour in general. While working on my Master’s, I wanted to explore why we process some things in our heads as we do. Thanks to writing my thesis, looking into the matter, reading, creating the work, I became a lot more tolerant. Not that I wasn’t already tolerant before, I just began to understand some processes much better.

G. T.: Let’s talk about your contemporaries – Edith Karlson, Jass Kaselaan, Jevgeni Zolotko. How would you evaluate their work?

A. A.: Complicated… Jass – a great friend. Jevgeni – also a friend and a very talented one. It is hard to evaluate your friends’ work. Jass’ and Jevgeni’s methods of work are similar from their starting points – both of them create large-scale spatial installations. For Jevgeni, the conceptual side is also very important. Because both of them work a lot with space and object, then I guess you could make a generalisation and say – Tartu schooling. Edith, although through and through a student of the EAA seems to have become one of the ‘Tartu school’ group because of all the influence from the ones who came from TAC. I think, on the whole, ‘Tartu school’ means having complete control over the object.

G. T.: Have you got your own Teacher?

A. A.: …no, no, I haven’t.

G. T.: But from art history?

A. A.: No. I don’t know actually, whether that makes me lucky or unlucky. Perhaps Damien Hirst, but only because of what he once said. A journalist asked him once how he would like to be remembered. And he answered: as a great lover…

Gregor Taul is an MA student of art history at Estonian Academy of Arts. He also works as a curator in this very school and gives lectures on contemporary art to graphic design students.

AB cubed is a preparatory essay series for the III Artishok Biennale where X young Baltic and Scandinavian writers have chosen for their gesture of courtesy X young Estonian artists who have caught their eye with a witty personal exhibition or an absorbing work of art in a group show in recent years. Artishok tests experimetal editorial practice and self-inititative readiness in the art field with the series, giving writers the opportunity to take the initiative - but also the responsibility - and do one chosen artist a favour. The writers do not receive honorary for their work whereas the suggested artists automatically get an invitation for participation in Artishok Biennale in the autumn. Read more...

(1) In broad terms, these five-year-intervals could also be applied to the previous decades:

50s: Jüri Ojaver (b. 1955), Terje Ojaver (b. 1955), Tiiu Kirsipuu (b. 1957), Mati Karmin (b. 1959), Simson from Seaküla (b. 1959).

60s: Villu Jaanisoo (b. 1963), Hannes Starkopf (b. 1965), Vergo Vernik (b. 1967).

70s: Indrek Köster (b. 1970), Taavi Talve (b. 1970), Elo Liiv (b. 1971), Neeme Külm (b. 1974), Kirke Kangro (b. 1975).

80s: Jass Kaselaan (b. 1981), Edith Karlson (b. 1983), Jevgeni Zolotko (b. 1983), Maigi Magnus (b. 1983).

What we might conclude from this is that if the young sculptors’ wave comes, then the next five years will be theirs. Sculpture is just slow?


(3) and and Sandra Jõgeva’s review on her first solo exhibition:



(6) and


(8) Group exhibitions that Allmägi has taken part in: 2011: “5 kevadist hetke” (5 Moments of Spring) in Merikarvia, Finland; Group exhibition of the EAA MA students in the Rotermann Quarter, Tallinn; 2010: The Estonian Artists' Association’s X annual exhibition “Vastandumised” (Confrontations) in Tallinn Art Hall, Tallinn; “Skulptuur ja palimpsest” (Sculpture and palimpsest), exhibition of the MA students of the EAA Department of Fine Arts, Riga, Latvia; 2009: Scary Challenge, exhibition of the EAA Department of Sculpture in Postimaja, Tallinn; “Diskussioon” (Discussion), exhibition of TAC Department of Sculpture, Gallery Noorus, Tartu; 2008: “Isiklik ja avalik” (Personal and Public), Raja Gallery, Tallinn; joint exhibition of TAC and University of Tartu Department of Painting, Tartu Art Museum Leaning Building, Tartu; “Class of 2008”, exhibition of TAC graduate’s works, fair hall of Tartu Fairs, Tartu; 2007: The Keniuses’ exhibition, Y Gallery, Tartu; 2006: TAC exhibition as part of Tartu Art Month in Vana Kaubamaja, Tartu.


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