The exhibition is dedicated to the innovatory stylistic explorations of the young Latvian artists of the 1960s, which became known in art history under the title "the harsh style".
In the late 1950s, artistic life in the Soviet Union began to witness modernisation of the optimistic socialist realism which had been dominant until then — the overall formal characteristics of the works included simplified drawing, harsh
brushstrokes, slightly deformed human figures and local fields of colour. The harsh style earned its name retrospectively,
acquiring the status of the official style in the Khrushchev period and having an
innovatory direction. The exhausted socialist realism lost its relevance. The
number of ideologically imposed thematic works began to dwindle and, alongside
figural compositions, the painting of genres, which were lower in the Soviet
hierarchy — portraits, still lives, landscapes
and even nudes — blossomed.
In the late 1950s, a new, talented generation of artists stepped onto the stage of Latvian art — full of creative energy, organically recognising the necessity for an innovatory form of expression and ready for brave experiments. It culminated with unprecedented subject matter and a different intonation in the art of the harsh style – a lyrical romanticism exuded by the young, hopeful Soviet citizens. Heroic multi-figure compositions of shock workers were replaced by ordinary people in everyday situations — yet possessing inspiring idealism. They were the ones to set art on a course closer to the principles of modernism — towards refinement of painterly qualities, which made the viewers acknowledge the surface of the work of art and accept that that is the value of artistic expression.
The exhibition includes works by Ojārs Ābols, Boriss Bērziņš, Laimdots Mūrnieks, Leo Kokle, Rita Valnere, Georgs Kruglovs, Herberts Siliņš and others, whose works unmistakably show the formal characteristics of the harsh style — free brushstrokes, curvilinear outlines, thickened surface texture, at the same time possessing a lyrical mood with no suggestion of harshness. The title of the exhibition, Harsh Lyricism, contains a deliberate contradiction, which characterises life under the Soviet system as a land of myths, where the desirable mimicked the existing and many things remained unattained and illusory.
Curator of the exhibition is Diāna Barčevska.