Exhibition Dedicated to Voldemārs Matvejs at the Art Museum Riga Bourse
The exhibition “In Search of Future Art. Voldemārs Matvejs and non-European (African, Pacific, North Asian) Art” will showcase around a hundred photographs by Voldemārs Matvejs from the collections of the Latvian National Library and the Information Centre of the Art Academy of Latvia. Along the photo images will be displayed more than thirty sculptures from the said regions, which have come from the collections of the leading European museums such as the Branly Museum in Paris, the Leiden National Ethnographic Museum, and Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) at the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg.
The main exhibition will be accompanied by the exhibition in the Bose Hall “The Voldemārs Matvejs book “Negro Art” and Latvian Artists”, which will present the importance of Matvejs’ theoretical ideas for the development of the artistic practise of such artists as Marta Liepiņa-Skulme, Aleksandra Beļcova, Romāns Suta, Niklāvs Strunke, Ģederts Eliass, Emīls Melderis and others. Furthermore, the exhibition showcases a collection of wooden sculptures that sculptor Jānis Strupulis created at the beginning of the 1970s, inspired by Voldemārs Matvejs’ writings about African art. The exhibition will present paintings, graphics and sculptures from the collections of the Latvian National Museum of Art, Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, Museum of Aleksandra Beļcova and Romans Suta, Ģederts Eliass Museum of History and Art in Jelgava, Literature and Music Museum, and several private collections.
Both exhibitions are meant to foster the dialogue about the versatility and convergence of the global cultural heritage. Materials collected during the organisation of the project show that Voldemārs Matvejs’ contribution is a high-quality “thread of amber” which will further increase the international profile of Riga and expand our knowledge about ourselves and about the unquestioned leaders in researching the global cultural heritage.
The Latvian public mostly know Voldemārs Matvejs (1877-1914) for his paintings. Now the time has come to present the Latvian painter, theoretician and researcher’s unique contribution to research in regions beyond Europe at the start of the 20th century – he was one of the first persons in the world to assess the art of Oceania, Africa and North Asia from aesthetic, not ethnographic, viewpoint.
Voldemārs Matvejs was born in Riga on the 13th of October, 1877. He moved to St. Petersburg in 1905 where he studied at the St. Petersburg Art Academy. In 1910, Matvejs joined St. Petersburg’s Youth Association to later become its key ideologist and editor of articles issued by the association, he also participated in organising exhibitions.
Voldemārs Matvejs became interested and began to study art “of all nations and time”. In the summer of 1913, he and his friend and supporter Varvara Bubnova visited the main ethnographic museums in Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Great Britain, France and Norway, where he took photographs and collected materials for his articles on African and Oceanic art. In the autumn of 1913, Matvejs studied North Asian art at the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera). The artist wrote several richly illustrated books with extensive photographic material. Under the pseudonym Vladimir Markov he published “The Art of Easter Island”, in Russian, in St. Petersburg in 1914 – the world’s first book on the region’s art analysed from the aesthetic standpoint. Voldemārs Matvejs died a premature death at the age of 36 on the 16th of May, 1914 – shortly before completing his studies at the university.
Voldemārs Matvejs’ other book, “The Negro Art”, was published posthumously in 1919. The book on North Asian traditional sculpture was unfortunately never published, and the manuscript has been lost. However, a collection of photographs meant for the book has been preserved by the daughter of Kārlis Āre, a friend of Matvejs. At the beginning of the 1960s, the photographs were added to the collection of rare books and manuscripts at the Latvian National Library and the Information Centre of the Art Academy of Latvia. Thematically, Voldemārs Matvejs’ photographs can be divided into several groups. The largest one is made up of photographs for the book “The Negro Art”. The other part includes photographs of sculptures from Oceania and Easter Island. The third part includes photographs meant for the book about traditional sculpture in North Asia. Matvejs used a set of innovative methods to photograph sculptures. Where possible, he took several pictures of every sculpture, paying great attention to the angle at which pictures were taken so the picture would show the texture of the material (which was usually wood) and the sculpting technique.