We, 5.10.2022
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Art again belongs to the people: Estonia prescribes percentage

Nils Niitra
, reporter
Art again belongs to the people: Estonia prescribes percentage
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Stuck away at galleries for a while, art is again among the people like in the times Soviet when state agencies were artists' golden clients. Thanks be to Commissioning of Artworks Act. 

By end of this year, state and public law institutions have already placed orders with artists for the worth of €1m – to adorn buildings new or reconstructed.

An arts adviser at culture ministry, Maria-Kristiina Soomre says over 30 orders have been placed during the five years soon passed since the Act entered into force, and by New Year a whopping 40 procurements will have been organised. «In many cases, it’s not one work but several or a series, and I think this is an excellent result,» she said. We are talking about buildings where in addition to officialdom the man from the street has access at least partially or temporarily. 

Art must be ordered to at least a percentage of construction cost of a building, but a price ceiling of €65,000 has still been set in place. To culture ministry’s knowledge, works that dear have thus far only been ordered thrice – Tallinn Construction School got the multiple part work called «Golden Hands» (Kuldsed käed), Tartu University Hospital area is beautified by installation named «Tree of Life» (Elu puu), and Viljandi State Gymnasium sports a series of paintings and sculptures in the yard. The building still under construction, stage background textile (also €65,000) is being looms-woven for conference and cinema hall at Estonian National Museum.  

50 m2!

Just yesterday, artists Peeter Krosmann and Nadežda Tšernobai vacuumed dust from 50 square metres of mural painting in nursing hospital to be at Puusepa St, Tartu. Christened «The Garden» (Aed), the order sets the hospital back €44,000.  

«Thanks to these state orders, over a long time sums are available again allowing monumental art, among other things,» said Mr Krosmann. «There was a time it wasn’t possible. During the Soviet times, sgraffito murals (a technique either of wall decor, produced by applying layers of plaster tinted in contrasting colours to a moistened surface, or in ceramocs, by applying to an unfired ceramic body two successive layers of contrasting slip, and then in either case scratching so as to produce an outline drawing; as also used by Mr Krosmann at Puusepa St hospital – Wikipedia; N. N.) filled all collective farm centres and eateries.»

The then arts institute, reminisces Mr Krosmann, featured a monumental arts department but regrettably these artists had to find new jobs as independence was regained.

As far as Mr Krosmann knows, the work by himself and Ms Tšernobai is the largest of the style in Estonia for 20 or 25 years. «The reason is simple – work like that is rather expensive,» he said, adding it was about a year from idea to execution – true, it was not 8 am to 5 pm exactly. Of that, putting the work on the wall took two months and a half.

Preservation of such monumental art is very difficult, though exceptions exist – thus, a mural by Elmar Kits dating 1960ies was saved from Tartu’s old department store before it was demolished, now at Estonian National Museum.

«The Garden» by Krosmann-Tšernobai depicts Paradise before the creation of man. «This is when all was yet unspoilt,» explained Mr Krosmann.

With art like this, he said it is important to consider the context. Nursing hospital would not be a place for dreary and morbid motifs. Rather, the patients need encouragement. «With monumental art, one needs to take two steps back in your artistic liberty and think where the work will be – kindergarten, concert hall, prison?» added Mr Krosmann.

Mr Krosmann realises the art-obligation is a bit of a pain in the neck for those ordering the buildings. «They are in a hurry anyway and all are nervous, and then there’s this artist messing around to top it all,» he said. «Meanwhile, we should realise this isn’t just an obligation but something that will be filling the room for a very long time.»

Targeted competitions

Maria-Kristiina Soomre said works of art are ordered by state agencies aware the Act exists. «Some need to be reminded we have it,» she admitted. If a precept to order art goes unheeded, the maximal mandatory amount is actually mere €1,500.

Ms Soomre bears the burden of monitoring alone. But then, she said the ministry is yet to issue precepts. «Rather, it is well with fulfilment of the law,» she said. «State Real Estate Ltd is a major builder and they are diligent to do the duty.»

Addition to Tartu Heino Eller Music School was completed last fall but though it is state owned art hasn’t been ordered. Headmaster Kadri Leivategija said they would do it, planning to pay €25,000.

«The school has earmarked the money,» she said. «We’ll want the work for the outdoor area that is completed next year.»

More often that neglecting to order art, it happens that the procurement is not executed as prescribed by law, said Ms Soomre: «For instance, it happens that the committee lacks sufficient numbers of specialists – the law says two thirds must be representatives of artistic associations.»

On the other hand, at times the orderer develops a rigid understanding of the kind of art they want. «They tend to set strict limits that suffocate the artist’s fantasy,» said Ms Soomre. «Targeted competitions have also been a problem.»

At the beginning of the year, the law was also amended to offer artists a minimum of 50 days to propose their ideas – seeing the artists are not accustomed to the tempo and routine of public procurements.


The major mandatory art orders

Tallinn Construction School – «Golden Hands» by Oliver Soomets, Tõnis Hiiessalu and Bruno Lillemets (Kuldsed käed) for €65,000.

Tartu University Hospital 2nd building stage – «Tree of Life», an installation by Tiiu Pirsko and Mati Veermets for €65,000.

Viljandi Gymnasium – «Globe», series of paintings and sculptures by Merike Estna (Kera) for €65,000.  

Estonian National Museum – «Cones and Stumps», textile by Eve Kask and Anna Kaarma (Käbid ja kännud) for €65,000.

Nõo Science Gymnasium – sculpture «The Final Crib» by Peeter Leinbock (Viimane spikker) for €54,000.

ERR radio house at Gonsiori St 21 – «Megaphone» and «Curtain», works by Jass Kaselaan and Edith Karlson (Ruupor, Eesriie) for €45,000.

Tartu University Hospital building at Puusepa St 6 – wall mural «The Garden» by Peeter Krosmann and Nadežda Tšernobai (Aed) for €44,000.

Räpina School of Horticulture – «A Look into the Future», sculpture by KAOS Arhitektid (Vaade ajalukku) for €42,000.

Source: ministry of culture