Printmaking from Soviet Estonia, Part II

Sep 08, 2007 - Jan 27, 2008
Dodge Wing Lower Level

Estonia has a long tradition of printmaking that continues to this day. While Estonia was a republic of the Soviet Union, the ruling regime concentrated on censoring two forms of expression to ensure that creative work adhered to dictated norms: painting and the written novel. Thus, during the Cold War, graphic artists in Estonia enjoyed a degree of creative freedom.

The Estonian people struggled to retain their artistic heritage under the pressures of Soviet power and its officially sanctioned art of Socialist Realism. Expression of individual national identity, such as depiction of the Estonian republican flag, was forbidden by official policy. The graphic print however, with its low visibility to censors, gave expression to a vast array of nonconformist subjects drawn from Estonia’s distinctive culture and geography.

Estonia’s proximity to Europe (Finland in particular), provided artists with access to Western culture that was less available to their counterparts in Moscow. Combined with the ideologically lax culture of printmaking, this relationship allowed artists an exchange with contemporary trends in art beyond the Iron Curtain, an exchange more restricted by the regime in the rest of the USSR. These printmakers engaged Western Pop, Minimalism, and Conceptual Art on an international level unique to Estonia. Maintaining forbidden modernist practices, artists proved expert in maneuvering vast swaths of art history—from photography’s past to abstraction and beyond—in their determination to be a part of that history. 

Leonhard Lapin

Man – Machine II, 1978

Screenprint on paper

Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers

Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union