An Interim Summary of a Vas t and On-going Work


  • Jaak Kangilaski



Jaak Kangilaski: An Interim Summary of a Major and On-going Work
Keywords: Sirje Helme, art in the Soviet period, Estonian avant-garde, art in Eastern Europe, art theory
Sirje Helme has been a leading figure on the Estonian art historical scene for several decades. From the beginning, her art criticism skilfully linked the approaches to the bodies of work of individual artists and individual works to topical art theory issues, and the comparison of Estonian art history to international developments. The history of Estonian art during the Soviet era, especially in the post-Stalinist period, has been one of Helme’s main topics of interest. She also dealt with this in her doctoral
thesis, which she successfully defended at the Estonian Academy
of Arts this January. Although the articles that included in the  dissertation were published starting in 2000 with intervals of several years, two topics link them all together – firstly, the nature of Modernism and the way it is expressed in post-war Estonian art, and secondly, how the concept of the avant-garde has been used to characterise Estonian art during the period under observation. Helme maintains that a unique art world was created by the political conditions in Eastern Europe, and therefore, it should be recognised that great differences exist locally in the Modernist discourse and a definition of the avant-garde that differs from the one in Western art history is valid in Eastern Europe. The discussions will surely continue, but the analyses, propositions and arguments of Sirje Helme’s thesis are so weighty that they demand to be taken into consideration by everyone that deals with the history of Estonian art during the Soviet period.
Jaak Kangilaski is professor emeritus of art history of Tartu University. His field of reseach covers Western 20th century theories of art as well as Estonian history of art during the Soviet period. Aside from his work of teaching and research Jaak Kangilaski has held influential posts such as rector of Estonian Academy of Arts 1989–1995 and prorector of University of Tartu 2003–2006.


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