House #2, 1965
William N. Copley Collection, New York
Noma Copley Collection, New York
Private collection, Italy
Vija Celmins: A Survey Exhibition, Newport Harbor Art Museum, Fellows of Contemporary Art, California, 1979 (illustrated in colour, pl. 8, p.18)
Tannenbaum, Vija Celmins, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1992 (illustrated in colour, p.57)
Vija Celmins: Television and Disaster 1964-1966, The Menil Collection, Menil Foundation, Inc., Houston, 2010 (illustrated inside front cover and p.46)
Relyea, Gober, R., Fer, B., Vija Celmins, Phiadon Press Ltd, London, 2010 (illustrated in colour p.17, installation view p.39)
Los Angeles, David Stuart Galleries, Vija Celmins, February 28th – March 26th 1966
California, Newport Harbor Art Museum, Vija Celmins: A Survey Exhibition, December 15th 1979 – February 3rd 1980 (travelling exhibition: Arts Club of Chicago, Illinois, May 12th – June 20th 1980; Hudson River Museum, New York, July 20th – August 31st 1980; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., September 21st – October 31st 1980)
Philadelphia, Institute of Contemporary Art, Vija Celmins, November 6th 1992 – January 17th 1993 (travelling exhibition: Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, March 31st – May 23rd 1993; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, June 8th – August 8th 1993; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, September 17th – November 29th 1993; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, December 19th 1993 – February 6th 1994)
London, Institute of Contemporary Art, Vija Celmins: Works 1964-1996, November – December 1996 (travelling exhibition: Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, January – March 1997; Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland, 19th April – 15th June 1997; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, July – September 1997)
Houston, The Menil Collection, Vija Celmins: Television and Disaster 1964-1966, November 19th 2010 – February 20th 2011 (then travelled to Los Angeles County Museum of Art, March 13th to June 5th 2011.
Influenced and fascinated with the environment around her, Celmins’ mastery of detail attests to her drive to capture the mysteries of the universe. This sculpture is one of the rarest examples of her work in three dimensions and epitomises the meticulous accuracy and devotional effort that went into her work. Having been widely exhibited in every major exhibition of the artists work, this piece, alongside House #1 which is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, brings to bear all the themes and preoccupations for which Celmins is best known, making it one of the most iconic images from her oeuvre.
Born in war-torn Latvia, Celmins’ early childhood was shaped by the chaos of the Second World War. She has spoken of art as being a release from the violence and tensions of her youth: “in the studio, I think I relived all these things, the burning houses, the aeroplanes, the Latvian school in Germany, my eraser, my little pencils” (V. Celmins, quoted in L. Relyea, Vija Celmins, New York, 2004, p.15). Armed with her palette of blacks, greys and oranges, Celmins confronts the turmoil of her youth, diffusing the frenetic memories in her beautiful and meditative recreations of the world around her.
The present work is one of Celmins’ more rare three-dimensional pieces. Executed in 1965 in the midst of the Vietnam War, it bears reference to both the turmoil in her external life and her personal memories. As in her object paintings, the subject is ordinary. However, the generic normality of the saltbox with its slatted-wood exterior surfaces and peaceful clouds rolling across its surface is ruptured by the licking flames and billowing smoke which engulf the upper story and roof. The myth of domestic tranquillity represented by the house symbolically combusts, with the scene paused on the cusp of its complete destruction.
The symbolism of the house is deeply personal. Celmins’ father had built houses for a living and she often worked with him during the summer, a childhood reference which is juxtaposed in this sculpture with intimations of the danger and insecurity which dominated her upbringing in Eastern Europe. This dichotomy is at the core of the artist’s most celebrated work. In T.V. (1974) there is a similar transition between a neutral household object from her past and the disasters of war.
Celmins’ recognisable images relate to our direct experience of the world, yet they go beyond the physical surface to an emotional, intellectual level, granting them a deep poetic resonance. Indeed, as summarised by Patrick Murphy and exemplified by this sculpture, “looking at Celmins is a balancing act, a dance for the eyes and the intellect” (Patrick T. Murphy, Director of the ICA, Pennsylvania, J. Tannenbaum, Vija Celmins, 1993, p.7).
Further works by Celmins can be seen at Tate Britain in London, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.