Janis Zuzans

Agnese Čivle


Describe your artwork collection – which artists and what time periods are represented?

It is a collection of Latvian and Latvian-related artists' works (including the Russian artists S. Vinogradova, N. Bogdanova-Beļska and others). The represented time periods can be divided into three parts – 19th century to WWII, the second half of the 20th century, and the 21st century.

How do you keep and display your collection?

The collection's main home is the gallery “Mūkusalas Art Salon” in Rīga, which opened at the beginning of 2011.  The gallery's opening featured an exhibition dedicated to the Rīga Artist Group and the beginning of classic modernism in Latvia (represented authors – J. Grosvalds, V. Tone, Ģ. Eliass, O. Skulme, R. Suta, A. Beļcova and others). Whereas the next exhibition, “Ulmanis-period New Farmers” (authors – Ģ. Eliass, O. Skulme, L. Liberts, Ā, Skride, J. Strazdiņš, A. Štrāls and others), was put together as a glimpse into the processes that created the Latvian national identity in rural life of the 1920's – 1940's. These exhibitions consisted only of pieces belonging to the family's collection.

The current exhibition, “Mutants” (curator – S. Kāle, authors – K. Brekte, H. Brants, K. Vītols and others), contains pieces from the personal collection, as well as those of the associated artists. The summer months will be accompanied by the exhibition “Mūkusala's Flowers”, which will be represented by such painters as L. Āriņš, A. Artums, A. Beļcova, J. Tidemanis, V. Irbe and U. Zemzars.

Which was the very first piece of art that you acquired and can, therefore, be seen as the beginning of the collection?

That was a long time ago. The beginning of the collection could be seen as an early landscape of a bog by Edgars Vinters. Although the collection wasn't being consciously formed at that time. The first purposefully acquired piece was a painting by Indulis Zariņš. Focused searches then followed, which included calculating which artists' periods were missing and, therefore, necessary to obtain. 

Describe the searching and acquiring processes for works of art.

It could be described as a certain kind of detective work, with a certain number of “agents” involved. It is the creation of lucrative contacts that provide useful information. 

I must admit that in this time of electronic communications, the process is simple. When a certain piece is of interest, an agreement of acquisition follows.

Have there been situations when you didn't get a longed-for piece of art?

There have been times when agreement couldn't be reached; sometimes, a person understands only at the last minute that they are not ready to part with their piece. Of course, I would have wanted this piece... You see, the more contact you have with art, the more you look at it – the more it tells you. There are times, when looking at a picture, you can feel the author's emotions at the time of the work's creation, the state of his soul. Especially looking at J. Pauļuks' works, you can tell if the artist was depressed, in positive ecstasy, or maybe just drunk. But, if you can't get the piece, you just don't...

Is this “feeling” of the artist's emotions the deciding factor in the acquisition of the work of art in question?

Mostly, it's whether the work speaks to you, or it doesn't. Of course, art as an investment factor has weight as well. In economic crises, a work of art doesn't loose its value. But at the same time, if something happens, you won't be able to carry the work with you, not very far anyway... Just as significant is the collector's way of thinking. Sometimes a piece may not speak to you, but you know that it is needed to create an anthology of the represented artist's work. Taking this factor into account can lead to the decision to acquire the piece.  

Which piece do you believe is the masterpiece of your collection, and why?

A clear answer is hard to give. Personally, the Riga Artist Group's working period is closest to me. My collection has very rare pieces from the works of Uģis Skulme and Voldemārs Tone. I take great pride in these pieces. They are worthy of museum exhibits.

In turn, from the postwar period artists I have three favorites – Boriss Bērziņš, Jānis Pauļuks and Auseklis Baušķenieks. Each one is completely different. (On the walls of Jānis Zuzāns' office, where the interview is taking place, are works by A. Baušķenieks and B. Bērziņš).

Which of your latest acquisitions are you most happy about?

A recently acquired work by Ivars Poikāns – ironic, a little cynical and amusing.

What are the emotional and artistic forms of expression that always speak to you directly?

It's different with every artist. One plays around with form, another with color, another with tonality.

J. Pauļuks always “gets you” with his expression, not paying much heed to the foundation – a juicy explosion of color is often found on a completely worn-out piece of cardboard. This illustrates how a person puts everything on the altar of art, has done nothing for the sake of selling it, has never betrayed himself by accepting an order.

In turn, Boriss Bērziņš confronts with the drollness in his painting. Bērziņš is very deep, the works of his imitators cannot compete. They just can't! It doesn't work! That's because Bērziņš is a genius.

Auseklis Baušķenieks, on the other hand, captivates with his stories. His social irony and philosophy speak to me. The artist, however, did once admit that he doesn't have a good sense of color. That is why he created special color testers, which he then used to try to understand which colors should be used so his work would be consistent and harmonious.

What event in the history of art seems the most inspiring to you?

In the context of Latvia, that is definitely the Riga Artist Group's period of work. Before them we had the three big masters – V. Purvītis, J. Rozentāls and J. Valters. And some others before them. But this period is definitely the most beautiful. As the Italians are proud of their futurists, so are we, with these artists. That is Our Period, Our Classics.

How do you rate today's contemporary art? Or do we need the distancing of time to properly appreciate it?

There's a popular saying in English – No comment! (laughs)

The function of contemporary art is to surprise and entertain. You can agree, or disagree. To entertain, in my opinion, not always. In conceptual art you have to invest a lot of energy by tensely thinking and trying to follow the artists thoughts. Surprise is largely accented. But due to the massive amounts of information now available, it is increasingly harder to surprise today's people.

If an artist hasn't lost anything of that, which was a hundred years ago, if he speaks through himself and from himself, and if he has this connection with the Above, then whether making a classic, a contemporary art object or a video work – that can be read from his work. If it is a solicitation, then it can also be read.

I, for instance, don't think highly of Damien Hearst. A tradesman with his fish and sheep. Nothing more. But the element of surprise is there.

I think that time will put everything in its place.

How do you regard Latvia's art scene today?

On the Latvian art stage, Kaspars Podnieks looked interesting with his levitation photographs in the exhibit “Joined Dishes”. Interesting. 

I really like the new painter Anita Arbidāne; her work reveals a perfect sense of color. In my opinion, that is contemporary art. Some may argue with that. Katrīna Neiburga did a good job with her exhibit at the Latvian Railway History Museum, “In Truth: Work, Family, Love, God, Children and Musical Performances”.

I don't get carried away with works on video; I sometimes lack the patience to watch them from beginning to end. For me, as a collector, it would be hard to conditionally collect a group of objects and to call it a work of art. But I shouldn't say, that never... 


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