Emerging Scholars Grant Report from Kädi Talvoja

Jul 13, 2022

AABS is pleased to recognize Kädi Talvoja for her completion of the project “The Baltic Art Triennials (and other major Baltic exhibitions in Moscow) during the Soviet era,” for which she received the Research Grant for Emerging Scholars.

©Kädi Talvoja, 2022

Kädi Talvoja is an art historian and research fellow at the Estonian Academy of Arts. From 2002 to 2010 she worked in the Art Museum of Estonia, during the last five years of which she held the position of Curator and Programme Manager of Soviet period art in the Kumu Art Museum. She specialises in Soviet era in Estonian and Baltic art history. Her interests are focused on historiography, exhibition history, national discourse and questions of agency. Her PhD thesis “Severe Style in the Context of Estonian Art History Writing”, was defended and published in 2019.  Her publications include “(Re)nationalizing Estonian Art During the Thaw: Lively Legacy of Kristjan Raud” – A Socialist Realist History? Writing Art History in the Post-War Decades (Das östliche Europa. Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte 9, eds. K. Kodres, K. Jõekalda, Köln, Weimar, Wien: Böhlau Verlag, 2018) and “Official Art Becoming Resistance. Adopting the Discourse of Dissent into Estonian Art History Writings” – Making Art History in Europe After 1945 (Studies in Art Historiography, eds. N. de Haro García, P. Mayayo, J. Carrillo, Routledge, 2020).


The Impact of an Award: Report from Kädi Talvoja

After the completion of her project, Kädi Talvoja submitted a reflection to AABS.
We thank her for her permission to publish her thoughts, which have been lightly edited.


The aim of the grant was to collect materials from the archives and libraries in Riga, Vilnius and Moscow for my study of the Baltic Art Triennials as well as major national exhibitions of the Baltic republics in Moscow during the Soviet era. My original plan to work in the archives in Moscow had to be abandoned for several reasons and as result, the focus of my research was reverted to the triennials exclusively.

The format of the Baltic triennials was invented by Estonian graphic artists who initiated Tallinn Print Triennials in 1968, the tradition which is still alive. This event was followed by the Vilnius Painting Triennial in the following year and a decade later a cross-media Baltic Triennial of Young Artists was launched, also in Vilnius. Although these exhibitions, organised at high level, became key events in the art life of the Baltic states and offered the most vigorous platform for transnational communication for Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian artists, the phenomenon has been so far overlooked in Baltic art histories. Thus, the opportunity offered by such a study to transcend the typical, national framework of art history has not yet been taken up.

In my research project, the Baltic triennials serve both as an object of study and a frame for analysing the functioning of the art world in the borderlands of the Soviet Union during the late Soviet era. The seriality of Baltic triennials makes them an especially valuable source to monitor the dynamics of changes in Soviet cultural politics, power relations, institutional mechanisms and value orientations in a comparative mode. They represent the changes in broader power relations: the partial replacement of a unified centre-periphery model with a more ambiguous peripheral-peripheral network. Also, the triennials undoubtedly offered a revitalising transnational perspective: the competitive climate of the exhibitions motivated the distinguishing characteristics of national art schools and had an important role in national identity creation.

Thanks to the AABS emerging scholar grant, I have made three fruitful research trips to the libraries and archives in Riga and Vilnius. Due to the Covid pandemic, the original timeframe had to be extended, but my research certainly benefitted from this prolongation, allowing me to review the research questions and methods meanwhile. As the archive documents consulted did not provide me with the answers to basic questions about the organisational principles of the triennials (e.g. who were the local authorities or main agents behind the scenes or what was the basis for the selection of works etc), I had to partly rethink the design of my research. E.g. I extended my archival study to include other local exhibitions which were well-recorded. The vast amount of collected material (archival documents including diferent discussions and seminars about exhibitions; exhibition reviews; newly conducted interviews with artists and officials etc) enables me to better understand the value orientations and hierarchies operating in Latvian and Lithuanian art worlds.

The lack of detailed information also forced me to consider the phenomena of the Baltic triennials in a broader context. The adoption of the transnational exhibition format places the Baltic triennials onto the global map of biennials, and into the second wave of biennialisation (1950s–1980s). So, trying to understand the functional means and meanings of the Baltic triennials in local and regional level I also ask how the commitment to the “nation branding” of Baltic triennials within the Soviet regime fits into the more global context of exhibition history. Contrary to my hypothesis of the existence of mutual influences of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian art, the exhibitions reviews of the triennials reveal quite indifferent attitudes towards the varieties, developments and similarities of the national schools, keeping alive the vocabulary of essential difference, expressed during first exhibitions. I ask if such indifference towards the “close others” might be a strategy more common for small (national) cultures.

Vilnius Painting Triennial 1981, Afterparty, Archive of Stasiulevicius

I regard the triennials as a point of intersection of national, international and Soviet discourses, and see the exhibitions operating in a local, regional and global scale at once. For the broader panorama, the specific format of Baltic triennials will be examined in the context of global biennial history, addressing especially the functioning of noncentral regional biennials (e.g. in Scandinavian countries). Theoretically, the concept of “glocalisation” – formulated to designate and study the processes of adaption of global systems by certain localities – seems to be a promising (neutral) analytical tool to examine the exhibition practice(s) in the midst of complex power relations, cultural communication, ideals, models and discursive fields.

The large part of the collected materials still need to be analysed. (As I do not speak either Latvian or Lithuanian, these study trips also developed my digital abilities: using the translation app to understand basic messages of printed texts, the work in the archives certainly proved to be more effective.) So far, I have tested my research ideas in several conferences, including the AABS conference in Seattle, and have published one article on the subject. The collected material will certainly form a basis for 2-3 more articles in the near future.

The terrible war has had quite a paralyzing effect on my work. At the same time, I do realize that the current unstable political situation has relocated the Baltic studies from the peripheries of Soviet studies to a more vital and significant position and I feel highly motivated to continue to participate in the process of unmarginalization our history. The AABS grant has provided me with a wonderful possibility to gather large amount of research materials to follow that task. Thank you!

What is the Emerging Scholars Grant?

The Research Grant for Emerging Scholars is an award for up to $6,000, to be used for travel, duplication, materials, equipment, or other needs as specified. Proposals are evaluated according to the scholarly potential of the applicant and the quality and scholarly importance of the proposed work, especially to the development of Baltic Studies. Applicants must have received PhD no earlier than January 1, 2013. Applicants must be AABS members at the time of application.

The application deadline for academic year 2023-2024 is February 1, 2023. Applications will be evaluated by the AABS 2023–2024 Grants Committee consisting of AABS VP for Professional Development Dr. Kaarel Piirimäe, AABS President Dr. Dovilė Budrytė, and AABS Director-at-Large Dr. Daunis Auers. Award notifications will be made in April 2023.

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