The Curator Received an Award as a Surprise at the Exhibition Opening

24 August 2018, Postimees
Juhan Raud, Editor

President of the Republic of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid presented Eero Epner with the Konrad Mägi Foundation Prize at the opening of a new Konrad Mägi solo exhibition. PHOTOGRAPH: Raul Mee

A new solo exhibition of works by Konrad Mägi, one of Estonia’s best known painters, was opened in the evening of 23 August at Kumu Museum. A 5,000 euro prize was presented at this festive event to the art historian, dramaturge and curator of this new exhibition Eero Epner for introducing the life and creative work of Konrad Mägi in Estonia and abroad.

The Konrad Mägi Foundation, the members of the board of which are Sirje Helme, Maria-Kristiina Soomre, and the chairman of the foundation’s board Enn Kunila, made the decision to honour Epner in this manner. The President of the Republic of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid personally presented Epner with the prize.

Even though the prize was presented at the opening of a new Konrad Mägi solo exhibition, it was a great surprise for Epner himself. ‘I’m very grateful but I still had the feeling that it was somehow unearned,’ he said. ‘I was very surprised.’
The chairman of the foundation’s board Enn Kunila justified the foundation’s choice as follows: ‘Eero Epner has performed very great services in connection with introducing Konrad Mägi in Estonia. We know Eero as a man who is involved mostly with the theatre, but we must not forget that he has graduated from the University of Tartu as an art historian. Eero Epner loves art – this can always be seen in his activities related to theatre and art.’

He praised Epner’s perseverance and strength of purpose. ‘This is a person with an enormous capacity for work, whose workdays begin early and often last until late into the night. He is eminently talented and exceptionally industrious, always devoted to the aim.’

According to the Ministry of Culture Arts Adviser Maria-Kristiina Soomre, it was very important to recognise Epner. ‘We recognise Eero Epner’s perfectly admirable devotion to the work of one artist – deconstructing it in depth into its details and then the ability to put it back together again in a humane and easily understandable way.’
Kunila said the following about the newly established foundation itself: ‘Our primary aim is to bring Konrad Mägi even more into the consciousness of people in Estonia and also throughout the world. And in his wake, all of Estonian art from that time can be introduced.’

Private individuals have started up the Konrad Mägi Foundation, but the state supports it as well. According to Soomre, the political assessment of the Ministry of Culture was not to deal only with promoting our contemporary art, rather that we should also strive to contribute to making our heritage known throughout the world.

Yet this all in part also requires work that is only just now beginning. ‘The work of the foundation bears the aim of making the aspect of researching and curating art a little more visible and attractive,’ said Soomre. ‘So that people will see that this is not only considered important around contemporary art.’

Progress towards this aim takes several forms. According to Kunila, one of the aims of the foundation is to also award scholarships to future researchers of art who wish to deal with older art. ‘I think that giving out such awards could certainly inspire young people interested in art.’ At the same time, the 140th anniversary of the birth of Konrad Mägi will be commemorated this year on 1 November in Tartu with an academic conference.

According to Maria-Kristiina Soomre, it is important to study classics in order to preserve old art, but it is also important to continuously reassess classics: ‘We don’t actually know our own art history and past at all as well as we think we do. There are very many completely blank gaps and there is also a great deal of art history that has only been cursorily described, which would merit being delved into by some researchers.’

Epner himself also felt the same way: ‘It seems to me that Estonian art from the first half of the 20th century can readily be placed in very many more contexts where it has hitherto not yet been placed. We’re currently in danger of starting to fixate and mythologise older art history and to consider it untouchable. This is definitely unnecessary – all art is at the crossroads of different interpretations, and this also applies to older art, very much so.’

Konrad Mägi’s solo exhibition will be open to visitors at the Kumu Museum starting from 24 August.