Vija Celmins - To Fix the Image in Memory

Vija Celmins, To Fix the Image in Memory, 1977-82
Stones and painted bronze, eleven pairs, Dimensions variable.
© 2010 Vija Celmins

For this work, Celmins made bronze casts of eleven rocks and then painted the casts to resemble the original stones as closely as possible. In an interview, she recalled, "I got the idea for this piece while walking in northern New Mexico picking up rocks, as people do. I'd bring them home and I kept the good ones. I noticed that I kept a lot that had galaxies on them. I carried them around in the trunk of my car. I put them on window sills. I lined them up. And, finally, they formed a set, a kind of constellation. I developed this desire to try and put them into an art context. Sort of mocking art in a way, but also to affirm the act of making: the act of looking and making as a primal act of art." By having each original rock installed with its duplicate, Celmins invites the viewer to examine them closely: "Part of the experience of exhibiting them together with the real stones," she has said, "was to create a challenge for your eyes. I wanted your eyes to open wider."


American painter, sculptor, object-maker and draughtswoman, of Latvian birth. In 1944 her family fled to eastern Germany, eventually settling near Esslingen am Neckar (Baden-Württemberg) in the west. In 1948 they moved to the USA, staying briefly in New York before resettling in Indianapolis. Celmins spent much time drawing and painting at school and at home, although she did not yet speak or write English. She studied painting at the John Herron School of Art in Indianapolis (1955–62) and regularly visited New York to see the work of the Abstract Expressionists. After attending the summer session at Yale University, New Haven, where she met a strong community of students and artists, she decided to become a painter (1961). She then attended the University of California, Los Angeles (1962–5). From 1966 Celmins took photographs as subjects for paintings. In painted and drawn works since 1968 she drew upon photographs from books, magazines and those taken by herself, including views of the sea, desert and constellations. In such works as Moon Surface (Luna 9) No. 1(1969; New York, MOMA) she carefully built up and layered marks to create a distance between photograph and painting, also calling attention to the paper surface. Her persistent attention to the psychological implications of the artistic process in relation to the formulation of images made the images objects for contemplation. One of her most visually and conceptually challenging works is To Fix the Image in Memory 9 (1977–82), a series of 11 stones, both real and cast-bronze, painted with acrylic.
Cecile Johnson
From Grove Art Online
© 2009 Oxford University Press

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