Photo reportage from the exhibition 'Portable Landscapes: Memories and Imaginaries of Refugee Modernism at the The James Gallery, The Graduate Center, New York

December 24, 2019
Author Echo Gone Wrong

The James Gallery, The Graduate Center,
CUNY, 365 Fifth Avenue, First Floor, New York,

The Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art in collaboration with the James Gallery at the Graduate Center, CUNY opened an exhibition “Portable Landscapes: Memories and Imaginaries of Refugee Modernism” on November 19. The exhibition is part of the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art research and exhibition project “Portable Landscapes” examining stories of exiled and emigree Latvian artists and locating them within the broader context of 20th century art history, and wider processes of migration and globalization.

The exhibition at the James Gallery brings into the foreground exiled Latvian artists’ and writers’ collective Hell’s Kitchen that was active in New York from the 1950s through the 1970s. The exhibition and programs developed in collaboration with the James Gallery examine artistic and political expressions of refugee artists that unfold diverse narratives of both past and present processes of crossing borders and traversing territories.

Through the story of the Hell’s Kitchen group the exhibition reveals a parallel chapter in the history of Latvian art and culture – one produced as a result of the 1944 Soviet occupation, which drove many artists into exile. Thus, departing from the Hell’s Kitchen collective, the exhibition looks at and highlights personalities and artistic phenomena that have resulted from migration, bringing forward a web of lesser known stories. It concerns the movements, individual artists and groups of artists that played supporting roles in, but also worked to diversify and challenge, the overarching art historical narrative. In addition to pursuing these stories with the help of archival material, historical works of art and artefacts, the exhibition also gathers works by contemporary artists working on the theme of migration and its attendant questions. Emphasizing the importance of diversity, different modernisms and alternative undercurrents to main narratives the exhibition suggests that both present and history are a living process constantly updated and shaped by us.

Artists: Daina Dagnija, Yonia Fain, Yevgeniy Fiks, Hell’s Kitchen collective, Rolands Kaņeps, Boris Lurie, Judy Blum Reddy, Vladimir Svetlov & Aleksandr Zapoļ (Orbita Group), Viktor Timofejev, Sigurds Vīdzirkste, Artūrs Virtmanis.
Curators: Katherine Carl, Solvita Krese, Inga Lāce and Andra Silapētere.

Public programs in February, 2020:

February 5. 6.30pm

Workshop, reading, and film screening “Yonia Fain: With Pen and Paintbrush” by filmmaker Josh Waletzky, with participation of Yiddish literary scholar Sheva Zuker and Yiddish actor Shane Baker

February 11, 2020. 4pm to 8pm


Talk by exhibition curators Inga Lāce and Solvita Krese

Judy Blum Reddy in conversation with curators Inga Lāce, Solvita Krese, Katherine Carl

Artist talk and a discussion with Karol Radziszewski about his film “America is Not Ready for This” (2012)

Presentation of Boris Lurie book “In Riga” (2019) with participation of poet Igor Satanovsky

Discussion about younger Latvian art scene in New York with exhibition artists Artūrs Virtmanis, Viktor Timofeev and curator and art historian Ksenia Nouril

Exhibition “Portable Landscapes: Memories and Imaginaries of Refugee Modernism” at the James Gallery is the last exhibition in the series of the exhibition and research projects “Portable Landscapes” that took place starting 2017 with exhibitions at: Villa Vassilieff, Paris (2018), Latvian National Museum of Art, Riga (2018), Körsbärsgården Konsthall, Gotland (2018) and District, Berlin (2019). The project’s culmination is planned in spring 2020 when Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art together with Berlin based publisher K.Verlag will launch a book “Portable Landscapes: Art Histories of Latvian Exile”, that views together all the project’s stories.

Photography: Cameron Blayloc