Andris Klavins

Agnese Čivle


Describe your collection.

The foundation of the collection is Latvian artwork. A large part of the collection is made up of works created in the period up to 1944. In addition, one boundary line that delineates one period from another is the modern day; another boundary is however long there have been Latvian artists. The collection consists of several hundred pieces.

When did you begin to create your collection? Which piece do you consider the first piece in the collection?

The collection began to take form at the end of the 1980's, when my mother gave me Henrijs Klebahs' “Vilnis” for my 30th birthday.

Which piece do you consider the “masterpiece” of your collection, and why?

The answer may sound trivial – all of your children are dear. Each art work comes with a story, such as the painting's backside – it may be written on, doodled on, dusty... Why has the painter created it, who has it belonged to...? Maybe it has been a struggle to obtain the piece... In my eyes, all of that gives a work of art its value. But I do have my favorites.

Which artists do you consider closest to you?

I think that would have to be the Baltic-German artist Johann Walter, born in Jelgava and known as Janis Valters in Latvia; he later emigrated to Germany. The art historian Kristiana Abele's monograph on Johann Walter (published by “Neputns”) provides a closer look at the artist, his work and life. In the second half of his life, Johann Walter switched from the Classical and Jugendstil painting styles to Expressionism, and helped raise a multitude of artists in Germany. Despite the prohibitions of Hitler's regime (Walter's work was even used as an example of what was considered bad), Walter stayed in people's memories doubly strong.

Do you change the pieces you have on display in your home, or do you keep the same ones up?

There is, perhaps, a preconceived notion that collectors cover their walls with pictures from top to bottom. I'd have to say that I don't have very many pieces of art on the walls at home, or in my office. I was once very influenced by the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg; it was built specially for Katherine the Great to display the collection that she had bought in Europe. 

The museum's rooms are full of masterpieces, but you end up not seeing very much at all. Every work is made individually. And it should be seen and enjoyed individually as well. That is why I occasionally switch the painting that I have set out on the easel at home with one from the collection.

I try to take part in the exhibitions organized by the Latvian National Art Museum. Works from my collection have been exhibited in Tallinn, Brussels, Helsinki, Luxembourg, Bordeaux and elsewhere.

What criteria do you use to select the works that will be included in your collection?

Working on an art collection, you grow and evolve personally along with it. A beginning interest begets the urge for deeper exploration, such as researching the literature (including fiction) and visiting foreign museums and galleries to see the works of both the world's artists and Latvian emigres. However, the subjective factor is always to be found at the core. Oftentimes your mind may understand that a piece should be acquired because it would be a noticeable addition to the collection, but the heart is always the ultimate decision-maker. There are many recognized and renowned artists whose works are not in my collection, simply because they don't speak to me.

It cannot be denied that when one collects (and thereby knows the value of a work of art), and suddenly there arises an opportunity to acquire a piece relatively cheaply, business-like thinking sets in.

What is it in art that speaks to you?

There are things that you like right from the start – be it a thing, a work of art, or a person. In time, you may come to realize that it actually may not be as great as your first impression led you to believe. Sometimes a piece requires a certain amount of time, and it catches your interest only after several viewings. At heart, though, is a coming together of thoughts and opinions – is the way in which the artist has portrayed what he has, acceptable to you?

How closely is collecting associated with the thrill of a game?

Collecting seems to be more of a man's game; there aren't many female collectors. Personally, I've never had that urge – to acquire something, no matter its price.

You most likely have on occasion “passed up” a good work of art. What does it feel like to loose out?

For some reason, I have at times passed up something that I wanted. And I know which collections those works are now in – so, there may be a crumb of envy there. But at the same time – it's OK!, I'll never have it all!

There are collectors whose goal is to acquire the very best painting of every Latvian artist. The question then is – which painting is the best? That's very subjective.

Do you have the unfulfilled dream of the collector?

In life, there must always be the furthest star, which is also the hardest to reach. But when it comes to art collecting, everything mostly depends on the supply.

In the history of art, which event seems the most inspiring to you?

That would be the time of the Riga Artist Group – Romans Suta, Aleksandra Belcova, Valdemars Tone, and Konrads Ubans, among others. That was like a breath of fresh air in Latvian art; up to that point, Latvian art was rigidly academic. In my opinion, this was the breaking point in Latvia's art history.

These things, however, can only be evaluated with the distancing effect of time. For instance, the Riga City Art Museum's catalogs from the 1930's feature names of artists that, today, nobody knows anything about.

Quite possibly, there are trends in art today that seem wonderful now, but in five year's-time, no one will be talking about them anymore; then again, they may still be talked about decades from now.

Describe your most recent big surprise or impression in contemporary art.

I was invited to be part of the jury for the 2011 Purvitis Award. That was a pleasant moment. In today's art, much is allowed, or rather, everything is allowed. Acquainting myself with the new (at the time) British artists at the Saatchi Gallery in London in the early 1990's was a shock. Since then, nothing in art surprises me.

And it is difficult to assess. Today, there are three galleries on one street; in one month there are numerous art happenings going on. The flood of information is huge – it's difficult to winnow, difficult to judge. In soviet times there were the Art Days, and large exhibitions in the Art Museum and the Artist Association's building on the riverfront – they were occasions in and of themselves. Every exhibition seemed like a  big occasion. Now it is different.