Let’s start with your location. What does it mean to run a contemporary art gallery in Tallinn? What are the limits and what are the possibilities?
Estonia is a relatively young country with its recent past as a part of Soviet Union. Private property, collecting and philanthropy used to be quite new or undeveloped phenomenons. The infrastructure used to be quite fragmented, and the market was non-existent.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union everything started changing fast. With the intellectual non-conformist base the Estonian Art Academy had in the Soviet Union, strong friendly links with Moscow Conceptualism, the newly opened Soros Center of Contemporary art, a strong desire of the citizens to preserve their cultural legacy, and the pretty consistent, transparent state support, we accelerated to the point where we are now.
It sure could probably be better, but to be completely honest we have done well and there is a great deal of potential still to be realized.
The limitations are probably the size of the country and because of that, the local market, but even so, and even though Estonia is slightly off the common art world grid we’ve managed to do well.
The advantages include various factors such as the number of great artists living in Estonia, a strong sense of community, and the very special geographic and cultural location on the border of EU/NATO and Russia, along with a growing awareness of the role of our recent past, relatively low rents and salaries combined with well-educated population. Add to that a general trend of dispersion of existing cultural centers has transformed Estonia into a destination for contemporary art.
Your gallery is said to be the only real commercial art gallery in Estonia so far. Can you tell us more about this?
We are the only private gallery in Estonia that does not charge artists rent and has a stable group of artists we collaborate with regularly. We represent artists in a classical way – helping with their communications and artwork production. But we do receive some state support for some of our most ambitious international projects along with support from non-profit public organizations, which is quite a common practice in Scandinavia.
Our gallery established the Estonian Contemporary Art Redevelopment Center – a publicly funded foundation working to foster international collaborations, educate artists and new gallerists etc. The Center then initiated the Estonian representation in Tate Acquisition Comity, our gallery was the one our gallery was the one helping ECADC establishing Outset Estonia.
What motivated you and to open a gallery in 2012 together with Indrek Kasela?
I was always interested in dialogue and I felt that Indrek is a person who combines the guts of a financier with the open-mindedness and playfulness of an artist. I was director of an art gallery for five years before deciding to establish my own and I saw that the dialogue between the artistic community and the local political and business elite was becoming too formal for such a small and advanced country as ours. I thought it was important to change that, and we have. And we both were rather interested in international collaborations, so we took that on as well.
What brought you into contemporary art in the first place? What is your background?
My father is a total bohemian with a background in engineering, ship-model making and painting, I was always surrounded by art, artists and historians. I hold a degree in Graphic design from Estonian Art Academy along with several unfinished ones.
Is there someone who has particularly influenced you in your career?
I am constantly inspired by the people around me, so there really are many, such as the curator Rael Artel, the historian Andreas Trossek, our gallery former program director, the curator (and amazing musician) Alina Astrova aka Lolina or Inga Copeland, also artists such as Merlin Carpenter and Josephine Pryde.
How do you see the role of a gallery today?
Oh this is difficult now… I constantly think about it and our goals are constantly shifting. Some parts of the market seem ugly and I refuse to have connection to it or go along with that.
The gallery as a white cube or a plinth can be something rather escapist. My dream is not to be too connected to the space, but to provide a location for important statements, a place for friends from all over the world to meet and a place for reflection. Our next projects will also be engaging the public, and in the process, we’ll attempt to combine a residence/studio space with exhibition function – a luxury we can afford only by being slightly off the grid and avoiding direct market pressure.
Tell us about a difficult moment and a happy moment in your career as a gallerist.
A sad part of working in the arts is when you meet people who are all about power. The happy moments – include the movement we have thad with our artists and colleagues – most recently, is that our ECADC received funding for building a new exhibition space in Tallinn, so that is the next chapter of our story!
How does digitalization affect your work?
Estonia is a very digitalized country, we use the internet to sign documents, vote, do our taxes in just few clicks, besides mention online banking, Skype, Transferwise and Teleport, so certainly it does affect us. So far I hope in a good way. It is true that nowadays exhibitions are viewed more as PDFs than in person, but it does add more visitors. Online platforms make possible better research, so we win again. Hopefully digitalization saves us a bit of time to be able to slow down meanwhile – to get a lot of things done faster than usual, get on the boat and escape for a walk on one of the nearby sparsely populated islands – to take an occasional break.
Let’s talk about your program. What kind of art do you represent?
On the one hand we represent artists from the region – several established ones and some emerging. On the other – we bring in artists from abroad we are interested in and whose process is different and enriching for the local scene. We also started looking closely at Russia – there are a lot of exciting things happening, the regime has had a great and surprisingly positive effect on younger generation of artists.
What connects the artists you represent?
I’d say – the quality. But also an interest to the local context, and an ability to strongly project it into global scene and last but not the least – mutual friendship with us.
How do you decide to add a new artist?
We are in touch with numerous artists and galleries, and when the time is right we propose a project and see if collaboration works. We take our time and let the relationship develop and in most of the cases it does.
If you could choose to exhibit any artist, even from the past, who would you pick?
What are your plans for the future?
We are testing out new formats of gallery program residency/integration/studio in process, and we are trying limit our participation in art fairs, keeping it to just a few we really enjoy we’d been doing too many before. We’ll also work more on educating local audiences and developing local institutions – some more good news is coming soon!