‘Kim?’ Art Centre Rehoused in Riga

New Address: EDEN. Opening night. Photo by Ģirts Raģelis. Courtesy of Kim? Contemporary Art Centre, Riga

A pioneering Latvian contemporary art centre has secured a new venue which holds the promise of an art paradise for art lovers in Riga. But will it retain its uncompromising, radical spirit when backed by governmental support?

Riga’s art crowd is all abuzz with excitement at the news that the contemporary art centre Kim? has been allocated a new venue in the Latvian capital. By way of a celebration the centre has created a new annual contemporary art festival, the first edition coinciding with the launch of the new venue. The name of the festival, ‘New Address: EDEN’ smacks of utopian ambition and optimism and yet perhaps also turns a blind eye to potential future expulsion from the heavenly gardens of contemporary art.

This former yeast factory and later school, which had fallen into disrepair over the past decade, is an unusual setting even for a contemporary art crowd used to repurposed buildings. At the opening of the festival in the new space, I find myself peeking into what were once classrooms where paintings by local contemporary artists and video projections jostle for attention amongst abandoned blackboards and mnemonic tables. At launch night, everyone is taking about it, the vital statistics, how many years, the budget pledged to transform it. Then in the midst of all this guesswork, a crowd assembles in the central hall for a show by the Young Boy Dancing Group. Part performance art, part bdsm orgy the semi-naked dancers wearing ripped underwear begin by lighting candles and to a dark ambient soundtrack writhe erotically, dripping with wax while literally sticking their fingers up each other’s anuses. Yes, you read it, and while this definitely challenged my own inner prude it was an absolutely mesmerising performance, a cross between Bosch’s garden of earthly delights and Viennese actionism, lasting for over an hour. Riga’s seasoned art-goers were unflappable and fixated.

The overarching message: this new venue is to become the centre of everything radical, cutting-edge and international that the Latvian contemporary art world can possibly bear to take in and give out, and furthermore, that the state is behind it. Riga is the only Baltic capital still not to have its own permanent state-funded contemporary art venue - Lithuania has just opened its second, the Stasys Museum in Panevėžys. Kim?'s new building has set very high hopes. There is a lot of work to be done. The building has been supplied by the government on a 30-year lease on the condition that Kim? will renovate it, raising a budget of some three million Euros to achieve this, and will complete the task within the next five years. The launch is only a temporary intervention and once the euphoria passes there is a proverbial mountain to climb.

During the festival, a room upstairs is given over to the future plans with an architectural model on display by Vilnis Mičulis architects, a clean and contemporary building with generous exhibition spaces, a museum cafe, and upstairs, what is to be Latvia’s first international art residency.

Kim? has already been in existence for fifteen years, with a proven track record in pioneering contemporary art discussion, critique and questioning – its name being a question itself (“kas ir māksla?” – what is art?). It has been a nomadic institution, shifting from one place to another and the recognition it has been given by the state is clearly well-deserved, a literal seal of approval from the Latvian government. Yet one cannot help but regret that some of its raw underground energy will become sterile. Gentrification always eventually barks at the heels of cutting-edge art spaces, but thirty years is a long time so let us still believe in Eden and brush away the spectre hanging over its future.

New Address: EDEN

Kim? Contemporary Art Centre

Riga, Latvia

8 June – 28 September, 2024

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