100 Artists | Vija Celmins

100 Artists is a yearlong celebration of the 100 artists who have appeared to date in Art21’s award-winning film series Art in the Twenty-First Century. Throughout 2013, we are dedicating two to three days to each artist on our social media platforms—TwitterFacebookTumblr, and here on the Art21 Blog. Our current featured artist is Vija Celmins.

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Vija Celmins. “Untitled (Knife and Dish),” 1964. Oil on canvas.

On May 19, Celmins’s early still life Untitled (Knife and Dish) will go up for auction at Los Angeles Modern Auctions. The Los Angeles Times reported in January that the painting had been hanging in a household kitchen for almost 50 years. The original owners purchased the piece from Celmins in the ’60s, when she was based in Southern California and attending the University of California, Los Angeles. (Celmins has primarily lived and worked in New York since the ’80s.) From everyday interior objects to found rocks to spider webs to starry skies and ocean waves, Celmins’s subjects and styles have varied throughout her career. This is no more evident than in the array of solo and group exhibitions currently featuring her work. Accompanying this roundup are quotes from the artist pulled from Art21’s vast archive.

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Vija Celmins. “Heater,” 1964. Oil on canvas, 48 x 48 in. Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchased with funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee.

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“Heater” hanging in “Sinister Pop.”

Sinister Pop
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Closes March 30, 2013

“I remember kind of feeling the joy of being able to paint anything. At that time I painted a lot of different objects. Things that turned on, like my hotplate and the lamps…pretty much everything I had in the studio.”

Drypoint - Ocean Surface 1983 by Vija Celmins born 1938

Vija Celmins. “Drypoint – Ocean Surface,” 1983. One-colour drypoint on Arches Satine paper (first state). 7 x 9 1/2 in.

Vija Celmins: Artist Rooms
Tate Britain, London, UK
Closes May 6, 2013

“Most of the changes in the work occur when I have had some kind of an experience that has been like a little awakening. Usually, I’ve forgotten all about it and then somehow it creeps into the work. The night skies I think came out of the pencil, pushing the pencil so hard and getting in love with the black. The ocean came from maybe walking my dog on the beach all the time and beginning to think of this giant surface…The [changes] come out of poking around my own life.”

Celmins - Eraser

Vija Celmins, “Eraser,” 1967. Painted wood. 4 x 21 x 8 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Gift of Edward R. Broida (2005.142.8) © Vija Celmins

Celmins - Pencil

Vija Celmins. “Pencil,” 1966. Oil on canvas on wood with graphite. 4 1/2 x 33 1/2 x 4 5/8 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Gift of Edward R. Broida (2005.142.10) © Vija Celmins

The Pop Object: The Still Life Tradition in Pop Art
Acquavella Galleries, New York, NY
April 10—May 24, 2013

“I remember asking my mother to draw a flower for me when I was maybe about seven. (That was in Germany.) I thought she could do something that was really magical. She was not a draftsman, but she drew this little pansy—two little ears, one down, and then a little face. Like pansies have a little face! I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen; I loved it. I mean, who knows, maybe somehow I thought to myself, I’m going to be able to do this some day.”

Vija Celmins. "Eggs," 1964. Oil on canvas. 24 1/4 x 35 1/4 in. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Museum purchase with funds from George Wick and Ansley I. Graham Trust, Los Angeles in memory of Hope Wick. © Vija Celmins.

Vija Celmins. “Eggs,” 1964. Oil on canvas. 24 1/4 x 35 1/4 in. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Museum purchase with funds from George Wick and Ansley I. Graham Trust, Los Angeles in memory of Hope Wick. © Vija Celmins.

Lifelike
Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA
Closes May 27, 2013  

“There aren’t really rules for painting, but there’s certain facts and fictions about painting. Part of what I do is document another surface and sort of translate it. They’re like translations, and then part of it is fiction, which is invention.”

Vija Celmins, "Starfield," 2010. Mezzotint.

Vija Celmins. “Starfield,” 2010. Mezzotint. Stadel Museum Collection.

Give Me Five!
Städel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany
Closes June 23, 2013 

“I was sort of awed and scared of museums [as an adolescent]. I didn’t know how to look at paintings and it took a long time to learn, to figure out what it was about and to see them. I don’t remember one painting that really, totally knocked me over until I went to Europe and saw the Giotto Arena Chapel in Padua. Maybe it was all that glorious blue.”

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Vija Celmins was featured in Season 2 of Art in the Twenty-First Century. Watch her segment at Art21.org.

Contributor
Nicole J. Caruth is managing editor of the ART21 Magazine. Her writing has appeared in a range of publications, including ARTnews, C Magazine, Gastronomica, Public Art Review, and the Phaidon Press books Vitamin Green and Vitamin D2. A regular contributor to this site since 2008, she joined the ART21 staff in 2013.

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