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ICYMI: Vija Celmins in her own words

May 6th, 2019

Vija Celmins, Untitled (Web #1), 1998. Charcoal on paper, 56.5 x 64.8 cm. Tate Modern, London, acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d’Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008 © Vija Celmins. Photo courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

The wait is finally over! The celebrated retrospective Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory is now open on Level 5 in the Vivian & David Campbell Centre of Contemporary Art. Touring from SFMOMA to The MET, this stop at the AGO features over 110 mesmerizing drawings, paintings and sculptures, and marks Vija Celmins’s Canadian debut.

A perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, the intricate details of Celmins’s work asks viewers to slow down, look closely and contemplate the space between reality and recreation. Whether painting an object in her studio or recreating the endless night sky in graphite, Celmins’s commitment to the artmaking process is clear. She explains that “the meaning is in the making,” resulting in works that help calm and centre the mind.

While visiting the exhibition, pick up an audio guide and hear the artist describe the incredible effort and care used to create each piece. To give you a taste of what to expect, here are some of our favourite excerpts from the audio guide.

Celmins: “I fell into this period where I was throwing away a lot of ideas. So I started painting these simple paintings of objects in my studio, like the heater you see here… The idea was that I wanted to kind of quiet down and just look and paint – eye to brain.”

Vija Celmins, Heater, 1964. Oil on canvas, 121.9 x 121.9 cm. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, purchase with funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee © Vija Celmins. Photo: courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

Celmins: I found this little piece of wood out on the dunes in the middle of Death Valley in California, which had little cracks on it and it was so dry…. Later when I came back to New York, I took it out and it had his very wonderful quality of fineness – the cracks were so tiny. And I thought that I might try to make a painting that had that same surface on it… It’s like a little inspiration moment… Getting very, very close, you see how very handmade it is. Then stepping back a little bit, it just crystalizes together.”

Vija Celmins, Desert Surface #1, 1991. Oil on wood, 45.7 x 56.2 cm. Private collection © Vija Celmins. Photo: courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

Celmins: “Some people thought that I had found two stones that look exactly the same. And they ask me where I found those. So there’s an element, I think, of inviting you to look. And a sort of an element of surprise and maybe a chuckle… This piece took about four to five years … I painted it chip by chip myself, having the experience of looking very intensely. And I mean it was like trying to fix it in my memory so that it really stayed.”

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

Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory is on view now on Level 5 in the Vivian & David Campbell Centre of Contemporary Art and is included in General Admission.

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