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Night skies and desert floors

February 11th, 2019

Vija Celmins, To Fix the Image in Memory I–XI, 1977–82. Eleven stones and eleven made objects (bronze and acrylic paint), dimensions variable. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of Edward R. Broida in honor of David and Renee McKee © Vija Celmins. Photo: courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

“I don’t think there was ever a point I thought, ‘I’m going to be an artist; I’m going to be a drawer; I’m going to be a painter.’ [The art] just seeped in,” says Vija Celmins. And lucky for us, it did.

Opening May 4, Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory is an expansive retrospective of over five decades of the artist’s paintings, drawings and sculptures. These delicate and subtle artworks invite the viewer to slow down and contemplate Celmins’s distinctive artistic process. From night skies to deserts, oceans and spider webs, the natural imagery offers a welcome respite to the hectic pace of everyday life.  

Born in Latvia in 1938, Celmins’s family was forced to flee Soviet occupation, immigrating to Germany just before the Second World War. After the war, her family moved to the U.S. where she completed her degree and launched what would become a long and celebrated career.

The exhibition opens with her early work, made in Los Angeles in the ‘60s. A quiet force, at the time Celmins was one of only a few female artists to gain recognition. From there, the exhibition follows a loose chronological order highlighting the various subjects and phases of her career including studio objects, WWII fighter planes, ocean vistas, lunar drawings, desert floors, night skies and spider webs.

Listen to Vija describe her creative journey in this video created by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), one of the co-organizers of the exhibition.  

As detailed and demanding as her work is, Celmins’s patience and skill are clear. “Sometimes I think that the only part that has any value is the making itself,” she muses in this next video. “I adjust everything to the reality in front of me, not to any other kind of imagined truth.”

Take a look and learn about the creative process that drives this remarkable contemporary artist to produce such detailed and mesmerizing works.  

The AGO is excited to welcome Gary Garrels, the Elise S. Haas, Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at SFMOMA, for a Curator’s Talk about the exhibition. Join us Friday, May 3 to learn more about Vija Celmins and her extraordinary body of work. 

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