Post-Everything in a Single Café


Date Night exhibition by Daria Melnikova at Vartai Gallery in Vilnius

Daria Melnikova is one of the most interesting Latvian artists of the thirty-something generation, mixing a great variety of styles, media, and formats together into an idiosyncratically original and well-considered incarnation. The first winner of the Kim? Residency Award, she has had solo exhibitions in Sweden, the Czech Republic, Russia, and Switzerland. She has just returned from Vilnius, where her show entitled Date Night opened on February 6 at the prestigious Vartai Gallery, one of the key venues of the Lithuanian art scene. According to the press release, the exhibition ‘is set as a café in which her drawings, collages, sculptures, and objects from various periods act as the cafe’s inventory and decorative elements. The exhibition takes the visitor on a visual journey through the motifs of different historical art styles and their pastiches that could be found in furnishing departments of hardware stores, interiors of corporate and private spaces. By blending craftsmanship and the pure decorativeness of fine arts together with eclectics of our post-everything condition, Melnikova’s works raise questions about escapism in contemporary art, artists' social image, labor, leisure and sources of inspiration.’

We contacted Daria to ask her about her recent project in Prague and the details of the current exhibition in Vilnius.

We last spoke in 2017, when you had a solo exhibition at the Moscow gallery ISSMAG. What has changed during this time?

I am now focussing all of my attention and efforts on a new project entitled Palette. It is a long-term story or perhaps even a platform. When I am invited somewhere to mount a solo exhibition, I don’t do it in the traditional way; it is more like a set design, a certain ambiance where I invite other artists. I sort of ‘conduct’ it like a musical piece. The first project of this kind was shown in Prague, at Karlin Studios, in late 2019. I came up with the concept partly due to the fact that I had accumulated a lot of my own works, but galleries always ask for something new to show. And so it happens that many things have been shown somewhere once and then they just lie around gathering dust. Whereas I am all for letting them live a life of their own. So this Palette project is based on the principle of me bringing a basic skeleton of works and coming up with the rest on the spot, at the gallery ‒ like set design.

And you include works by other artists?

Yes, I invite them to contribute to the exhibition and to certain events; it could be performances, it could be concerts. It is a very eclectic format that does not focus exclusively on visual arts. Various genres, various people. And that is very important to me ‒ socializing, in a way sharing the things that you do. I need to have people around me.

Things are somewhat different in Vilnius, however. That’s because this is quite a spontaneous exhibition, and so it is more like a retrospective featuring works dating since 2014.

And yet it is also supposed to be a certain ‘social space’, even something like a café.

The thing is, all these pieces were originally created each for a different exhibition, and I never thought I would be showing them all together. And when I was offered to mount this exhibition, there was very little time left, so we immediately started considering a retrospective. And I had this fear thinking of how these works would look together. Then I went through my works and tried and select ones that, although made each at a different time, did share some thematic or visual line. There is a certain development in them. However, I did not want to hang them on naked white gallery walls. I find that boring as well. So I decided to make a sort of art café with its own set design. And my works are like part of the décor at this café. Visitors are offered coffee. There are tables, not the ordinary kind but with a reference to museum podiums. Anyway, people are able to not just come and view the show but also sit down and take a closer look at the works over a cup of coffee. Incidentally, there is also a section of the Palette project that I call ‘the catering stall’, a sort of counter-slash-art object where my co-authors and I make and serve specials drinks that are in some way related to whatever is going on there ‒ objects or performances.

The press release regarding your exhibition at the Vartai Gallery says that it is a journey through motifs of various historical styles…

That is more about my eclectic sources of inspiration. I very often mix different styles together, for instance, architectural styles, from ancient Greek orders to post-modernism.

The description even features an excellent term, post-everything.

Yes, I also liked it a lot. That is a very contemporary term. I do like all things ‘post-’.

But are there still any new works featured at Date Night?

Yes, three new graphic works, a sort of further exploration of a theme I first turned to in late 2018. However, of the previously existing works that appear in Vilnius, only three have been shown in Latvia. And there are some that have not been on public display before at all.

So it is not a repetition but rather another facet of things that you have been doing.


Well then, good luck!

Thank you!


Photos by Ramūnas Danisevičius, Дарья Мельникова 

Related articles