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EAGER FOR RIGA
There is no contemporary art fair quite like Art Riga. It is a tribute to the pioneering zeal of Dags Vidulejs and Gaļina Maksimova that it has already become an established event on the international art calendar, just prior to Russian Auction Week in London.
Latvia’s Railway History Museum is one of the more unusual venues on the global fairs circuit, but what it lacks in size is compensated by a charm and ambiance that provide the perfect backdrop to Art Riga’s eclectic programme. This is more than just another fair. Art Riga’s stated mission is ‘to provoke viewers through art conversation’ – a concept that has the lateral-thinking of Dags Vidulejs, that most loquacious o men, stamped all over it.
I have had the honour of doing some of the talking myself – and the pleasure of listening to speakers of the calibre of Marat Guelman, a heavyweight of Russian art whom not even the country’s current ownership has managed to silence.
You are just as likely to encounter a string quartet or a sultry songstress like Stella Viridis at this convivial fair. Art Riga is non-conformist in every sense, boldly re ecting the ‘Happy Art’ mantra of its organizers.
A quick look at this year’s exhibitor-list shows that Art Riga’s exotic appeal now extends from Mexico to Indonesia via Georgia – where, last May, I attended the inaugural Kutaisi Art Forum staged with tremendous panache by Shalva Khakhanashvili, another Art Riga stalwart.
Riga is an admirable venue for an art fair. It is the most important city in the Baltic States and the only one accessible from all Western Europe’s major airport hubs (London, Paris, Zurich, Frankfurt and Amsterdam) without a change of planes.
Riga is also a city of rare elegance, whether your taste is Hanseatic brickwork or Jugendstil swagger. The city’s splendid Art Museum has at last reopened after restoration and, although grandiose plans for a new contemporary art museum appear to have foundered, an inaugural Riga Contemporary Biennale is planned for 2018. Riga is also home to one of Europe’s nest contemporary art websites, Art Territory.
For those with time to spare, Latvia’s cultural hinterland demands exploration. I have combined previous visits to the Fair with excursions to the Tsarist naval base at Karost and the haunting spa town of Ķemeri, each time in the erudite company of Art Riga’s VIP Guide Anita Šiklova.
I’m not saying that to boast. Everyone who comes to Art Riga is treated like a VIP – and that is why we return with pleasure. Dags Vidulejs and Gaļina Maksimova SIMON HEWITT