The Wiiralt Prize and the Estonian Contemporary Graphic Art Exhibition have become a traditional part of the Estonian art world, aiming to support, encourage and unite creative authors from different generations. The thorough overview of professional graphic art has deserved the attention of both the artists as well as the art’s audience. The Wiiralt Prize is awarded every three years.
The contest exhibition is organised by the National Library of Estonia, Tallinn Department of Culture, the Estonian Artists’ Association, and the Association of Estonian Printmakers.
This year, 47 authors submitted 118 works to the seventh competition for the Wiiralt Prize at the National Library. From these, the jury selected 100 works from 45 authors. Wiiralt established a tradition in the Estonian graphic art, where mastering techniques serves the creation of self-abundant, expressive artistic image. The bar has been set quite high, but there have been a surprisingly large number of artists who have surpassed it. The older, or semi-older generation of graphic artists who practice mostly traditional techniques, demonstrating the opulent opportunities these provide for personal approach, sets the tone for the current selection, too: Evi Tihemets, Marje Üksine, Sirje Eelma, Silvi Liiva, Reti Saks, Virge Jõekalda, Vello Vinn, etc. The proportion of digital prints, having its own specificities and standards, has inevitably grown. Here, senior artists also stand out: internationally widely renowned Benjamin Vasserman with his imagery that has been inspired by high technology, Inga Heamägi with her laconic giclée prints that convey meditative mood, Naima Neidre with her airy fabric of lines, familiar from her etchings. Even the grand old man Enn Põldroos has channelled his somersaults of thoughts via digital printing. Fortunately, quite an active succeeding generation of artists has emerged. From among graphic artists under 35 years of age, Hannah Harkes, Gudrun Koppel, and Lauri Koppel already have long track records of participating in exhibitions; Margus Kontus, who displays his mezzotint, also deserves encouragement. However, today even youth lasts longer, so that one can also classify Toomas Kuusing, whose linocuts have been somewhat inspired by the works of Peeter Allik, and Lilli-Krõõt Repnau, who was awarded the Art Museum of Estonia Prize at Tallinn Print Triennial last year, as “young” artists.
Mai Levin, Chair of the Jury
The Panel of Judges of the Wiiralt Prize 2019:
Mai Levin (expert, Chair of the Jury), Marje Üksine (the Wiiralt Grand Prize winner of 2015), Lea Hein (National Library of Estonia), Aini Härm (Tallinn Department of Culture), Sirja-Liisa Eelma (Estonian Artists’ Association), Lembe Ruben (the Association of Estonian Printmakers), Elnara Taidre (Art Museum of Estonia), Oliver Laas (Estonian Academy of Arts), Harry Liivrand (expert), and Loit Jõekalda (expert)
Project managed by Virge Loo
Coordinated by Ave Tölpt, Loit Jõekalda
Graphically designed by Viktor Gurov
Exhibition designed by Loit Jõekalda, Viktor Gurov
Texts edited by Gerli Randjärv
Translated by Tiina Büttner
Exhibition technically executed by Alden Jõgisuu, Valge Kuup
Last year — in 2018, already twenty years passed from holding the first Estonian Contemporary Graphic Art Exhibition and the competition for the Eduard Wiiralt Prize. The establishment of Wiiralt Prize fell into the period of swift changes in the history of Estonian graphic art — into the age of “photographic revolution” in the 1990s, when younger graphic artists neglected traditional techniques in favour of other artistic media that appeared more convenient and modern and new photographic and digital imaging systems emerged next to the aesthetics inherent to printmaking.
Two decades later, it can be said that the enthusiasm for new media has gradually dwindled and young authors return to printmaking, enriched by new technologies and image experience inherent to them. They consider traditional techniques of graphic art as one of the many possible means of expression that are regarded both with respect as well as with experimental, searching spirit, widening the limits, techniques, formats, and iconography of graphic art. At the same time, it is most thrilling to observe the creation of these graphic artists from different generations, who have never given up printmaking. They are also full of surprises: in addition to demonstrating their excellence, they make experiments within the limits of their medium, expanding the possibilities of graphic art with its own means.
Thematically, the works submitted to this year’s competition for Wiiralt Prize mostly are aesthetical and poetical treatments on the level of phenomenological observation of the moments in everyday life or on the level of profound philosophical generalisation. The number and diversity of allegorical compositions is remarkable. Here, the allegory based on the artists’ personal visual language turns into a kind of universal way of expression. It can touch upon both timeless as well as timely themes by addressing the burning issues of our era that leave no one indifferent in addition to reflecting on the heritage of the past.
Elnara Taidre, member of the Jury