September 29, 2012
A new retrospective exhibition titled “Evalds Dajevskis: Place, Art and Identity,” opening October 3 at the Art Space in the Embassy of Latvia in Washington, United States, explores Dajevskis’ artistic expression at different periods over his lifetime. It also interprets 20th-century events that shaped his life and molded his identity, as an artist in Latvia, postwar Germany, and the United States.
The Latvian artist Evalds Dajevskis (1914-1990) lived between two watershed events of the 20th century: the beginning of World War I in August 1914 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Latvia regained its independence.
The exhibit, developed by his son, Peter Dajevskis, kicks off a two-year farewell tour of Evalds Dajevskis’ art in the United States. At the end of the tour, the collection will reside permanently at the Liepaja Museum, where a 100th-anniversary exhibit in 2014 will celebrate the artist’s life and career and the new home for his works.
The exhibit will offer audiences, both in the United States and Latvia, the opportunity to gain insights on Evalds Dajevskis as an artist and on his art within the historical context of major 20th -century events. The personal accounts go back to Evalds Dajevskis’ childhood days living outside St. Petersburg, Russia, and moving to his grandfather’s farmstead near Valka, located in northern Latvia close to the border with Estonia. The exhibit explores Dajevskis’ work on an artistic level but also in terms of his contributions to sustaining Latvian heritage, in Germany’s displaced persons camps, and within the multi-cultural American setting in which he lived for over half of his life. As part of the opening day program at the Embassy, Peter Dajevskis will present a lecture describing his personal journey of discovery as he sought the stories and the places where his father once lived and worked over the course of the 20th century.
Peter Dajevskis’ approach to his father’s career is from a cultural geographer’s perspective. He addresses thirty-four pieces from his personal collection of paintings. He looks at his father’s artistic roots in the ancient traditions, vernacular architecture, and folkways of the ancient Baltic peoples. With Evalds Dajevskis paintings and set designs as a source for reflection, Peter Dajevskis examines his father’s experience as a displaced person as well as during other significant moments of the 20th century. The collection on display reveals Evalds Dajevskis’ contribution to the creation of a traveling theater that performed throughout western Germany’s displaced persons camps during the post-World War II era. For instance, the scenography that Dajevskis produced for the Latvian Theater of Meerbeck reflects the important role that the arts played during those years to sustain the human spirit and to help the Latvian community maintain its identity over the course of six long years in refugee camps.
The exhibit also looks at the artist’s portrayal of New York City landscapes after he immigrated to the United States in 1951. His paintings reflect his connection to an entirely new and dynamic environment. The visitor can also see the artist’s 1952 set designs for the Michael Myerberg film production of Humperdinck’ opera Hansel and Gretel. The conceptual designs for the film’s sets, along with interpretive materials, address the traditional Latvian folk motifs that Dajevskis brought to this American film. After 1956, when Dajevskis was admitted as a member of the United Scenic Artists union, he became active in scenic painting for Broadway plays, ballet, and opera at the Lincoln Center. During this time period, Evalds Dajevskis also designed numerous stage sets for the American Latvian Theater, which traveled to émigré audiences along the east coast and throughout the Midwest.
In still another section of the exhibit, Peter Dajevskis explores the artist’s response to the city of Riga under Soviet rule. Dajevskis visited the city in 1988 after having been denied a return to his native country for over 53 years. Completed in 1989, his painting The Old Gates was probably Evalds Dajevskis most political work, as it addressed the devastating impact of Soviet occupation on his own life and that of his countrymen.
Whether he sketched in displaced persons camps or on the streets of Riga during the last years of Soviet occupation, Dajevskis interpreted the times and places he knew according to his own unique understanding. He even connected with places in the universe that were not so immediate to him—such as the moon. During the 1960s, with the space race on and the Apollo program constantly in the news, he began to reflect on the moon’s extraordinary place in human history. He became concerned that the legacy of the moon as known through the ages in legends, stories, music or children’s rhymes would be changed forever when man landed on the moon. He felt that the notion of the romantic moon would be gone forever. Dajevskis decided that it was time to paint a final “portrait” of the moon as he knew it.
For this exhibition, an interpretive smart phone “app” is available to visitors. It features a guide to the exhibit and personal commentary by Peter Dajevskis about the motivation and stories behind his father’s art. Reproductions of many of the works on display can be obtained at:
Proceeds from sales will help cover exhibit development costs and expenses associated with shipping of the painting collection to Latvia.
The Embassy of Latvia Art Space is located at 2304 Massachusetts Ave., NW Washington, DC:
The exhibit will be open 12:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Thursdays: October 4, 11, 18, 25 and November 8, 15
Saturdays: October 6, 13, 20, 27 and November 3, 10, 17
Tuesdays: October 9, 16, 23, 30 and November 6, 13
and final day Sunday: November 18.
Peter Dajevskis is president and co-founder of Interpretive Solutions, Inc. (IS), a consulting firm in West Chester, PA, specializing in interpretive planning and exhibit development services for museums, libraries and other cultural institutions. He holds masters degrees in urban planning and anthropology from the University of Arizona.