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The exhibition Hyperrealism. Movement Manifestations in Latvia looks at the arrival and development of hyperrealism in Latvia over the course of half a century, encompassing the period from 1967 to 2017. The peak of hyperrealism in Latvia in the 1970s coincided with the propagation of photorealism – a movement originating in the USA – in Europe, where it acquired the name – hyperrealism. Yet other names are also used for the movement: superrealism, cold realism, radical realism, sharp focus realism. Hyperrealism in figurative art depicts reality in a precise and detailed manner and imitates the particularities of photography.

The mid-1960s, especially American art, saw the appearance of works which were created by transferring a reality captured in photographs onto a canvas. This trend was studied, exhibited and defined by American art dealer and gallerist Louis K. Meisel. In 1969, he organised the first consciously made exhibition of this movement, showing works that were created with the help of photographs. He called these artists – photorealists, thus also giving the name for the movement. Despite the unbelievably liberal atmosphere in all spheres of life in the 60s, painting from a photograph was almost like “going against the laws of art”, wrote Meisel.

American photorealism came under crossfire of attention of European viewers in 1972, when it was shown in the exhibition at Documenta 5 Questioning Reality – Pictorial Worlds Today in Kassel. From this moment the new movement turned into an international phenomenon, information of which was also available in Latvia. Therefore, the curator of the exhibition analyses the works from Latvian art of the second half of the 20th century not as local, hermetic and isolated facts which during the Soviet period were only to be described as part of socialist realism, but more broadly, turning to the context of Western art and culture.

Europe was surprised by the Americans' colourful everyday life and the goods of consumer culture. Realistic, enlarged portraits, people in the street, shop windows, urban street scenes, close-ups of car bumpers and panel polish, bright chromed motorcycle parts, colourful toys, shiny plates, food and cutlery, neon signs, restaurants and petrol stations, phone booths and advertising boards. The clichés of American lifestyle, quotidian and banal subjects – altogether constituted a radical blow to the already worn abstract expressionism. In Latvia, hyperrealism was a logical development after the so-called socialist modernism. The eternal engine of new currents – to overcome the methods of the dominant movements and bring in other means of expression as something fresh, is a logical algorithm for the necessary aesthetic change in art, and Latvian art of the second half of the 20th century also demonstrates that it works regardless or in spite of political processes. Part of the new generation of the 70s in Latvia were "antimodernists", constituting a reaction to abstracted forms and broad gestural brushstrokes, a kind of Soviet figurative expressionism, they clearly demonstrated the arrival of postmodernism in Latvian art.

Altogether, 170 works by more than 50 artists have been selected for the exhibition. Also exhibited are photographs, pages from magazines and books – the images the artists have used for their works. Its core is formed from the contribution by the first and most consistent generation of Latvian hyperrealists – Imants Lancmanis, Guntis Strupulis, Līga Purmale, Miervaldis Polis, Māris Ārgalis. At the same time, it must be noted, that there are few pure examples of hyperrealism in Latvian art. Nevertheless, the fact that hyperrealism appeared in Latvia simultaneously with its heyday in Western art was the motivation to draw attention to this movement. Louis K. Meisel calls the years 1967–1977 the first decade of movement in the USA. It is possible to correlate it with the chronology of the exhibition through Guntis Strupulis' 1967 still-life with photographical depictions of fetishes of modern lifestyle – the September 1966 issue of Italian fashion magazine BAZAAR and Converse sneakers. Imants Lancmanis' composition Riga. Suvorova Street (1971) is seen as a classic of Latvian hyperrealism. Yet the most significant year in the history of Latvian hyperrealism is 1974, when Līga Purmale and Miervaldis Polis held an exhibition in the Polygraphic Central Club, and now it was impossible not to notice the arrival of a new approach to the depiction of reality, taking the photograph as a basis and transferring it onto the canvas with the help of a grid or projection.

In Latvia, in most cases hyperrealist approaches manifest themselves within other artistic movements. The synthesis of the various movements is a theoretical problem in interpreting hyperrealism in Latvian art. For example, in the 70s, the heyday of hyperrealism, a string of still-lifes appeared in Latvian art, which reached photographic mimesis of reality, yet artists painted them from nature and did not use photographs in their work. Hyperrealist methods can also be seen in examples of socialist realist art. The co-existence of pop art and hyperrealism is well known, similarly, hyperrealism often manifests itself in surrealism. At the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, hyperrealism saw the revolution of modern technologies and immediately turned to the use of digital cameras, computers and online resources, never ceasing to surprise with exaggerated aspects of realism. Although hyperrealism of the digital era is mostly connected to conceptualism. Mimesis of photographic reality does not stop at aesthetic considerations, its conceptual goals are much more important.

LNMA Head of the Collections Department Arsenāls Dr. Art Elita Ansone

Andris Vītoliņš

Latvian National Museum of Art collection
ABLV Bank, AS collection for the Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art
Māksla XO Gallery collection
Riga Gallery collection
Zuzāns’ collection
Irina and Māris Vītols collection
Jānis Loze collection
Zaiga and Māris Gailis collection
Anita Vanaga collection
Private collection
The artists' private collections