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Monumental human frailty

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

TALLINN 17 October – 20 December 2020 May you be loved and protected

Dénes Farkas, Tõnis Saadoja and Jevgeni Zolotko

Tallinn Art Hall

The current exhibition in the main gallery at Tallinn Art Hall is a pure and unadulterated wonder.

There are many different ways that a curator can approach the process of assembling an exhibition, whether it involves a single artist or a group. Since the 1980s, it has been increasingly common for curators working in major institutions – be they fixed in a venue or moving from location to location (e.g. Manifesta) – to assemble a curatorial concept that becomes the basis for marketing the exhibition. This connection to advertising means the curating process cannot escape the polluting influence of the cut and thrust of the market economy.

This exhibition of work by three Estonian artists (Dénes Farkas, Tõnis Saadoja and Jevgeni Zolotko) alongside reproductions of works from the Prinzhorn Collection includes no such pollution. Rather than an exhibition where it is the curator that is interviewed by the press and where he or she has to answer questions about the stance they have taken and the works selected for display, this exhibition intentionally puts the artists in the foreground.

The result is an engaging exhibition that avoids trickery or posturing in the pursuit of increased ticket sales. Visitors find themselves entering the world of the artists as they use their preferred medium to explore the public and private. Walking between the forest of columns installed in the largest space, we can glimpse the workings of Dénes Farkas in his studio based photographs. Most of his objects are actually not totally in frame but peek in from the edges, giving the sense that we are looking at a portion of a larger whole, almost randomly captured, but at the same time clearly painstakingly arranged, with careful use of focal length and depth of field to generate a sense of intimacy.

On the reverse side of each column, reproductions of works by the inmates at the Psychiatric Clinic of the University of Heidelberg from before WWII (now known as the Prinzhorn Collection) complement the intimacy of Farkas’ photographs. These are a curious inclusion in what is otherwise a straightforward exhibition by three artists. What do these images, mostly executed with simple materials on poor quality paper, add to the exhibition as a whole?

At the rear of the same space there is an installation by Jevgeni Zolotko involving a large wooden structure reminiscent of a gate or large barn doors, but which also made me think of an altar piece in a medieval church. The video screens arranged in front of this structure continue the church-like symmetry, but present a more modern scenario, a trip in a car, something we might see on YouTube, but which is handled partially like a Gothic tale and partially a modern nightmare (saying more would require a spoiler alert).

In the front rooms, Tõnis Saadoja presents two series of monumental paintings. The first are new monochromes of portions of buildings, and again we are left with only part of a larger scene, this time bathed in a gentle evening light and presented in such a narrow tonal range that the images are quite difficult to see clearly. You will find yourself squinting to coax the details out from the painted surface. The second is an older series of paintings of a young boy in a built environment. These are hauntingly nostalgic on the one hand while also presenting the isolation and loneliness of urban life. This time the afternoon light is harsh, using strong contrasts and deep shadows to generate a kind of psycho-drama.

Finally, in the small last space at the Art Hall, we find two more works by Jevgeni Zolotko. Both involving video and again drawing us into the inner world of the artist. Through a combination of photographs, video and sculpture Zolotko references religion and the mystical while seeming to confront or challenge normalcy and sanity through a direct and almost abstract use of language.

This is an exhibition that requires a solid hour or two to fully enjoy. But by the time you are ready to leave, there is not even a hint of fatigue, but rather of having been energised by a well-designed space where the language of the images can work their magic on you. A magic that lingers for days afterwards and may draw you back for a second viewing.

On until 20 December

May you be loved and protected

Dénes Farkas, Tõnis Saadoja and Jevgeni Zolotko

17.10 – 20.12.2020

Tallinn Art Hall

Open Wed – Sun 11.00 – 18.00

Adults €8

Concession €4

Families €12

Children up to 7 years are free along with one accompanying adult


By Michael Haagensen

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