Among the central motifs in the work of New York-based artist Vija Celmins, one encounters moving ocean surfaces, sparse desert landscapes, or vast starry skies. In her paintings, drawings, and, especially in her prints, she manipulates her prototypes, always going far beyond reproducing photographic images in her work. The Museum Ludwig
now dedicates a comprehensive solo exhibition to her that includes over 60 works, thus paying tribute to an artist who is still rarely shown in Europe. The exhibition is on view from April 15 through July 17, 2011.
The exhibition Vija Celmins. Desert, Sea, and Stars concentrates on subjects the artist has returned to time and again since 1968. Celmins models are black-and-white illustrations she photographs herself or finds in professional journals. It is not her intention to transform one medium into another. Instead, she utilizes the photographic example to create distance, suspension, and reflection.
Vija Celmins chooses her picture details and her motifs with precision, depicting boundless nature. Just as the nocturnal sky is potentially infinite, Celminss allover-structures also appear to continue endlessly beyond their frames. Therefore, she refers to them as impossible images. Although the subjects appear to be intangible, Celmins takes possession of them in processes that often go on for years. She collects and edits her motifs, reflecting them in drawings, ultimately reaching a point where the concentration shifts from subject to material and technique. While the same model can appear heavy in graphite, it may seem light in charcoal. A woodcut can come across three-dimensional, whereas an etching may seem flat. Black, white and grey develop differently in a lithograph than they do in a woodcut, and differently again in oil, charcoal or graphite. The very fact that she will use a harder pencil for one drawing than for another produces a minimal shift that can change everything.
Celmins has a way of animating a surface that gives back a physical embodiment to her depicted images, which is why no reproduction will ever completely capture their magic. Her art is a triumph over the reproductive medium of photography and an intense observation of things. Celmins wants to bring what she finds in flat images back into the real world and real time of the viewer and creates pictures of timeless beauty.