Aldis Plaudis

Agnese Čivle


Could you say a few words about your art collection?

Our family’s collection mostly consists of works by Latvian artists—both graphic works and sculptures—yet 95% of the collection consists of Latvian paintings. The size of the collection approaches four hundred works, which encompass the period that, in my opinion, can be associated with Latvian painting in general, that is, the period from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day.

Do you remember the very first work you purchased, the one that could be considered the starting point for the collection?

As an opera lover, I was very impressed by the portrait of the famous opera singer Milda Brehmane Štengele painted in 1943 by Jānis Tīdemanis, in a frame beautiful carved by V. Pauzers. This work can be considered the start of my collection.

Which work in your collection do you consider a masterpiece?

Works that are usually considered masterpieces are exclusive, expensive works of art, yet I’d like to mention two works whose monetary value differs more than a hundredfold.

One of the works that I consider a masterpiece in my collection is an absolutely unremarkable 15x25 cm. coal drawing, the only known self-portrait of Voldemārs Irbe. The tarnished page proves how well the “Barefooted Irbīte,” the first Latvian hippy, knew how to store his works… But regardless of that, precisely this self-portrait was chosen as the title page of a monograph about Irbe published during the Soviet period. There were lots of caricatures, drawings, photographs, and satires about this folk artist, yet there is only one self-portrait.

The second masterpiece is a self-portrait in oil of Kārlis Padegs. The painting is torn and crudely patched up, yet it has its own special story… Legend holds that Padegs himself threw a brick at the portrait, in order to provoke a scandal in society and thereby attract more visitors to his exhibit Under the Lindens. This is probably the only torn and damaged painting that I will never entrust to the careful hands of a restorer… At a 1997 exhibited devoted to Kārlis Padegs at the National Museum of Art, K. Padegs: Dandy and Outsider, this self-portrait—known as “The Torn Painting”—was displayed not on the wall, as usual, but on the easel of Padegs’s old friend Valdis Kalnroze, in the place of honor.

You mentioned that you’re an opera lover. Does this love for opera have some influence on your collection (besides, of course, its very first work)?

A relatively large number of excellent Latvian painters have worked on set design. Many collaborated on the creation of performances at the Latvian National Opera—Suta, Norītis, Liberts, etc. I’m interested in their works of stage design and costume sketches for remarkable productions… These drawings form a separate part of the collection; a few of the works have a place in my permanent collection.

At galleries, you can still purchase works that are very significant to opera history, whose acquisition I would definitely dedicate to our opera house, the “White House.”

What is the decisive factor in purchasing a specific work of art?

Without a doubt, the decisive factor is my personal, subjective attitude toward a work, my liking it. The second is the stimulus to fill the “empty places” in art history. An example is the Cubist manner, which lots of excellent Latvian artists tried back when this style was all the rage in Europe. I want to gather examples of works from these painters’ Cubist periods, created before they returned to their accustomed style. The proportion of these works is very small in relation to the rest of the legacy they left, so they are rare and desirable works.

What gives you with the greatest pleasure in the process of collecting art?

I’m very satisfied when I see that my collection has a very good work by a certain artist (of course, looking through my own subjective prism). For example, if I go to an auction and see that my friends, acquaintances, and peers are haggling over a certain work, but I know that my collection already has a work that is unequivocally better than this one, I’m overcome with a sense of inner peace. There is a certain please in this—this peace! But I foresee that, at the next auction, the situation could be the complete opposite: I’ll see Mr. Belēvičs behind me, purring peacefully, but I’ll fight to acquire a work by, say, G. Šenbergs...

Do you ever switch around the exhibit at your home?

Just like at a museum, my home has a permanent exhibit and a rotating exhibit. There is the family’s classic, permanent collection, which has its own place—suited to the atmosphere and functional use of the space. Yet there are also a few easels on which the displayed work of art is regularly changed.

We’re a big family, and I hope that one of my descendents will “catch” the thrill of collecting. I like to change the paintings on the easels arranged in the hall, switching between classics and representatives of contemporary modern art. It’s interesting for me to observe whether the exhibited work generates an interest among my family members, or leaves them indifferent. If they are interested, then this leads to a discussion about the artist’s work. 

Almost a hundred works are set up in our family home in Mālpils, a manor house built by Wilhelm Ludvig Bockslaff. The interior of this cultural and historical landmark of national significance simply couldn’t do without paintings. In honor of the 150th anniversary of Bockslaff, the home’s remarkable Baltic German architect, Gļebs Panteļejevs created a monument to Bockslaff; we set it up in the manor’s park, which we own. I also consider this work, by a remarkable contemporary sculptor, to be a part of our collection, just like O. Mikāns’s bronze-cast sculpture Divi (Two), which won an award in Japan and now decorates the yard of our summer home.

You mentioned that you hope your children will inherit your thrill for art collecting. Do you see this interest in them today?

If my son were to collect something, it would definitely be sports cars. Yet I have five more children… (Laughs.) My three daughters are already married and live their own independent lives; they took with them several works from the family collection. These are mostly works by contemporary artists, like Ģirts Muižnieks, Helēna Heinrihsone, Vija Zariņa, Normunds Brasliņš, Oļegs Dzjubenko, and others. I couldn’t say that my children have bad taste. I’ve never had a problem finding good companions for exhibits and auctions… I think they’ve received an interest and education in art from their parents.

Does your collection also participate in national-level exhibits?

I consider it an honor if works from our collection are appreciated at that level by professionals. This collaboration takes place almost every time there is an exhibit of works by the Old Masters. At the Jānis Tīdemanis anniversary exhibit, my collection’s work Carnival Night in Paris was exhibited next to three other carnivals, owned by the museum. Mine was definitely not the worst. And in the last exhibit devoted to J. Valters, I had the honor of participating with works from my collection. This year there will be two exhibits—an exhibit dedicated to Kārlis Padegs’s hundredth anniversary and a Oskars Norītis exhibit—where paintings from our family’s collection may be exhibited.

From the standpoint of a colletor, how would you describe the current “supply/demand” situation in art in Latvia?

Since the Medici era, wealthy traders have commissioned works and remarkable artists have fulfilled these commissions—the artists create art because there are people to purchase this art. T

oday, I wouldn’t say that business development is being stimulated in Latvia. Therefore, of course, the number of people who can actively work on expanding their art collections is diminishing.

Meanwhile, Latvian art is going out into the world, and for this, of course, we can only be grateful! Kalvis Zuters, Normunds Brasliņš, and others won’t die of hunger. Some sell works in Russia, others in France and Belgium. But in Latvia… 

I’m pleased to say that I’ve always acquired more than a few works made by Latvians in exile. Even in exile, these artists continued to create works of art, in the United States, Germany, and Australia. Now these works have returned to Latvia.

So would you say collectors create an advantageous environment for contemporary artists in Latvia?

What else? There are collections, there are people interested in art who are able to purchase it. Of course, there are also centralized museum acquisitions, yet the budget that is intended for purchasing works by young artists is not too generous.

A wonderful example is Jānis Zuzāns’s Mūkusala Art Salon. I’ll try to create something similar in the Mālpils manor, only in a different style, a different cut, with a historical touch.

In the international context, patrons of the arts and owners of private galleries are valued very highly. At Mikhail Gorbachev’s recent grandiose eightieth anniversary concert at Albert Hall, “Gorby” mentioned and specially thanked patrons and supporters of the arts in his speech. In Latvia today, the attitude unfortunately is more restrained. 

What is your unfilled dream as a collector?

I’d really like to acquire a work by Kārlis Miesniekas from his Cubist period. I’d also like a work by Bruno Vasiļevskis, who is an important figure in Latvian art history. Unfortunately, most of his works were brought away to the United Sates. I’d like to return at least one of the artist’s best works to Latvia.  

What phenomenon in art history seems most inspiring to you?

As the father of a large family with six children, I’m most inspired by succession. The Skulme, Zariņs, Iltners, and Heinrihsons families…and I hope any families that I’ve neglected to mention don’t take offence. The inheritance of talent, heredity, familial culture.

I would be happy if my family inherited my sense of thrill in collecting.

Could you name your great recent ordeal in art?

What do you think about this story? Some time ago, three works by Purvītis were brought to my apartment—three landscapes of melting snow. Purvītis is already represented in my collection, but not these absolute classics—melting snows. I had firmly decided to purchase one of them. I strolled like a bear around the three works, and was thankful that they had been entrusted to me, because I hadn’t put down any money yet… Yet I allowed myself to invite a man who is, in my opinion, the most knowledgeable Purvītis expert. This gentleman came over, studied the Purvītis works from both sides for about an hour, and then spoke these words: “All three of these works were made by the same artist.” I asked whether they were works by Purvītis, and he answered, “I didn’t say that; I said that all three of these works were made by the same artist.” And so to this day I remain without Purvītis’s melting snows.