A website featuring information and online sales of Estonian contemporary art has been established in Tallinn.
Picturing the Baltic art scene as a unified architectonic structure, Kadri Uus and Andra Orn have placed the first cornerstone for this vision. One could say this cornerstone is made of porous rock, its cells representing several hundreds of expressions of contemporary art, thereby giving a comprehensive overview of Estonian contemporary art (for now), but later on – that of the other two Baltic States and Finland as well.
The stones blocking the pathway to the region’s art, and a unified internet platform as a solution to the blockage
In May of 2015, the Estonian-based internet platform for art sales and information, NOAR (noar.eu), was established. After eight years of directing Tallinn’s TAM gallery, Andra Orn was very aware of what were the stones in the pathway leading to the Estonian art market – complicated and restrictive access not only to the works created by artists, but also to information concerning the field of art. “The audience’s interest in art is great, but in the market, there’s a certain gap between this audience and the available art. We have so much good art that never ends up getting to a place where it can be appreciated. In addition, people often don’t comprehend that their acquired piece has cultural relevance.” Andra also sees problems in the artists’ ability to position themselves in the market: “It’s essential to help artists present themselves because not always are they able to self-represent, nor do they know how to set an appropriate price level.”
Milius: Golden hands full scale sculpture by Tiiu Kirsipuu
She saw the creation of a curated internet platform as a possible solution. Kadri Uus, experienced in business consulting, shared this idea, and a two-year-long process of creating a website was begun – a platform for Baltic and Nordic artists, permeated with the characteristic feel of the region. A country-based navigation system is planned to be introduced to the site to make it easier to browse art from different countries and identify both differences and similarities among the art scenes in the various nations: “This is especially interesting because we have many things in common in our cultural contexts – as well as in the academic base, due to the Soviet experience,” reveals Kadri Uus. “The key thing that sets us apart from such big platforms as Artspace (www.artspace.com), Saatchi Art (www.saatchiart.com) and Artsy (www.artsy.net) is our specific focus, which makes it noticeably easier for any interested party to discover art from our region.”
The curatorial process
NOAR works in close cooperation with the Estonian Artists’ Association, the Tartu Artists’ Union, and experts from the Estonian Contemporary Art Development Center (ECADC), which means that artists selected to NOAR´s platform have to comply with their requirements also. Regarding the selection of young artists and identification of talented students, this is done in cooperation with faculty members from the Estonian Academy of Arts, for they have the most experience in judging the potential of young talent. The same procedure is applied on an international level – through communicating with the Latvian and Lithuanian Academies of Art.
Man without Homeland (portrait of American writer Kurt Vonnegut) by Ilmar Kruusamäe
Currently the internet database contains more than 800 works of art, and the information on the page is updated daily. A number of artworks have not yet been posted because some of the older generation artists are not on familiar terms with computers and digital photography. Andra and Kadri believe that this issue will not become a hindrance in having these artists participate in NOAR, and see it as their duty to help them.
Conscious of the small size of the Estonian art field, NOAR has chosen the strategy of cross-marketing as one of their main instruments. This is based on a strong belief that cooperation between art institutions and organizations is needed to make great art more visible, and that a combination of “online and offline” works best.
In order to encourage an appreciation of contemporary art, NOAR tries to be present at the art scene’s largest events. In cooperation with galleries and exhibition halls, NOAR´s web platform functions as a tool to make works more accessible in terms of being chosen for important exhibitions, as well as accessible to people who, for a myriad of reasons, aren’t able to visit exhibitions in person. Such cooperative agreements have already been established with the Estonian Artists’ Association, Tallinn Art Hall and the Tartu Artists´ Union. And not only that. “In the autumn, for example, we worked together with the Estonian Photographic Art Fair, which took place for three days at the beginning of October. People would have had to visit the Fair within those three days, otherwise they would have missed everything; however, because of the cooperation with NOAR, the public had access to the artworks for a full three months after the close of the Fair,” say Andra and Kadri.
Models by Alar Tuul
On the road to an international stage – united, and with a clear identity
“Right now we’re trying to move on to cover the Baltic States and Finland,” say the platform’s creators about their starting position in terms of getting to know the artists and art institutions of the region in question. “We are such small countries that most of the world doesn’t even know where to look for us on a geographical map. Which is why we believe that to make it, we have to work together – then we’ll have more opportunities.” Kadri also stresses the importance of marketing one’s own country on an international level and the important role that culture plays in that: “How do we identify ourselves? As a country, what do people associate us with? Estonia has proven itself in the IT field, but how much does the world know about our culture, and specifically, about our contemporary art? What could serve as a flagship for the Baltic States? All of us have to work on this together and it´s important to make our region stand out.” Andra Orn concurs: “We believe that the cultural context is essential. That also interests collectors. There are some parallels to other big trends in today’s globalized world, e.g., supporting local farmers and food production, it is clear that people are increasingly looking for something real, something authentic.”
Since the opening of NOAR in May of this year, about 40 artworks have been sold. Most of the customers have been locals, as well as Estonians who live abroad. NOAR admits that the platform’s target audience is not made up of art collectors specifically, but is rather a much broader one: “And this audience is definitely much larger than just the ones who visit galleries.”
The Factory Church by Andris Vitolins
When asked about any predilections in the choosing of artworks to feature, Kadri and Andra admit that there are favorites, but they wouldn’t call it a predilection: “We can see which artists are the most popular, but that is closely connected to people’s awareness; for instance, icons of contemporary art, such as Malle Leis, who is well known from Soviet times. At the same time, many don’t know anything about contemporary art. They perceive contemporary art as something more like conceptual art or performance art. And here we see our informational and educational mission, to show people that painting, photography, printmaking, etc are still very much alive in our region.”
The platform was launched in May 2015. The artworks currently up for sale on the website range in time from 1968 to 2015, with the highest price set at 15,000 €. More than 100 contemporary artists from Estonia are in the system, as well as some from Latvia.
In addition to the online platform, NOAR organizes various international events and activities focused on topics related to contemporary art. For example, in cooperation with the Art Academy of Latvia, the Estonian Academy of Arts and the Vilnius Art Academy, a competition recognizing the best Fine Arts graduate from the Baltic States will be held in 2016; the ultimate objective is to make it easier for collectors, curators and all patrons of the visual arts to spot emerging talents from the Baltic States. A special sub-section will be created on the NOAR website for the displaying of works by the most talented students.
NOAR is also coordinating the first ever Tallinn Art Week, to be held in June 2016 (provisional dates: 11-17 June), which will give both the home audience and foreign visitors a comprehensive overview of what’s happening in Estonia’s contemporary art scene.
Author: Agnese Civle