The Parenthetic 1980s

January 19 – September 2 2007
Kumu Art Museum, 4th floor, B-wing


Art in the Eighties was very diverse. Influence was asserted by Neo-Expressionism, the New Savages, and Transavantgardism, Performance art, the grotesque and irony. However, what differentiated the art of the Eighties from that of other decades was its turn toward mythological subjects. This exhibition has collected those works and ideas, which did not develop according to evolutionary development models, but emerged suddenly. Therefore too, the name of the exhibition — “The Parenthetical Eighties”. The exhibition includes the works and ideas that remain particular to this decade.


Due to its socio-political background, the art of the Eighties differs somewhat from the evolutionary development models of the previous and subsequent decades. Recollect the keywords “glasnost” and “perestroika” and recollect that this was a dramatic decade, which prepared the way for the destruction of the empire called the Soviet Union and for the independence of Estonia.


The art of the Eighties reacted to the changing society in a surprising way. Many artists reintroduced Kalevipoeg as a national hero and liberator. The works of Lembit Sarapuu and Leonhard Lapin can be brought as examples. The Kalevipoeg theme would have been totally unthinkable in the artistic ideology of the Seventies and Nineties.


The ideology and state of mind of that time is perhaps most clearly expressed by Lembit Sarapuu in his work, Kalevipoeg in the Underworld. It is interesting to note that the underworld is also used as a metaphor for the mental environment of the time by Jaak Arro in his work Underground Dancers.

If with Kalevipoeg, we are dealing with a heroic figure, then Jaak Arro and Epp-Maria Kokamägi, who are among the artist who attracted the most attention in the Eighties, create their own myths, although this can also be treated as references to myths as yet unknown. The figures in Jaak Arro’s works that seem to be openly lethargic call to mind Valhalla and the music of Wagner, which was very popular at that time, for instance at performances.


Creating one’s own myths was also characteristic of Raoul Kurvitz. As opposed to the monumentality of Arro and Kokamägi, Kurvitz is closer to the Italian Transavantgarde in his treatment of form. Einar Vene builds his mythical world from a totally different standpoint toward form. In the case of Andres Tolts and Tiit Pääsuke, we can speak only of details, hints of the mythical in our everyday life. The same narratives also occurred in graphic art (Eve Kask and others) and sculpture (Ahti Seppet, Ülo Õun, Ellen Kolk, Mati Karmin, Kadri Metsik, Mare Mikof and others)


When the Soviet state collapsed, the meaning of art from the 1980s also changed, because the environment in which it functioned no longer existed. For history, this art infused with pathetic, passionate, and ironic myths and rituals became parenthetical.

Ando Keskküla, Curator