“Jānis Mintiks”

on display in Cēsis 20.06.19 – 31.12.19

In 2013, the exhibition “Latvian Art in Exile” opened at the Arsenals exhibition hall of the Latvian National Museum of Art (LNMM). Distinguished curator of the exhibition Dr. Dace Lamberga published a comprehensive catalogue and essay describing, within a global historical context, Latvian art and artists living outside of Latvia from 1944 to 2013. Among the 116 artists mentioned in the catalogue, representing works owned by the LNMM, one will not find the name of Janis Mintiks. It is especially gratifying, therefore, to offer this retrospective of Mintiks’s work as well as to share in a celebration of his 75th anniversary, at the PLMC in Cesis.

Jānis Mintiks

The artist’s growing reputation and presence within the Latvian diaspora community, as well as the larger American art world, was interrupted in 1980 by a personal tragedy, as a result of which he left the United States and lived for 20 years in Norway, later traveled by boat through Europe, from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, and during his last decade lived in Taos, New Mexico.

Jānis Mintiks, High Plains Drifter, 2006.

I met Janis during my high school years. Our fathers, Janis Kalmite and Janis Mintiks Sr. were friends, although my family lived in Minneapolis and the Mintiki in Milwaukee. Our families met occasionally and so my sister Guna and I became acquainted with the Mintiks’s son Janis. Later Janis and I both participated in a Latvian exhibition in Milwaukee, at which he exhibited one of his monumental “leaf catcher” installations. At the conclusion of the show, Janis announced his intention to destroy the work, as he often did with work that was site-specific or fragile.

Jānis Mintiks, Leaf Catcher, 1975

In time we lost contact – Janis had studied at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, while I had attended the University of Chicago. I learned that Janis had married and was living in New York, then many years in Norway, eventually moving back to the US and building his own home and studio in New Mexico, where he lived with his second wife Sally Guenther and their beloved Samoyed dogs.

In 2008, I invited Mintiks to participate in the inaugural exhibition of PLMS in Valmiera, Latvia. He was not able to do so but did send a photo album about his latest monumental installations in Taos. I wrote again after several years, inviting him to donate one of his works to the PLMC growing permanent collection, but was greatly saddened to learn that he had passed away in 2014. Since that time, PLMC has worked with Janis’s widow Sally, who very generously arranged to send us many of Janis’s works, as well as information about his life and art, so that his name will become better known in Latvia, the land of his ancestors.

Sally Guenther speaks about Jānis Mintiks, June 20th, 2019 in Cēsis.

Mintiks received notable recognition early in his career when he was awarded a commission to design a monument to the 17th century Latvian settlers in Tobago. Fifteen feet in height and situated near the shore of the ocean, this work may be interpreted as representing the ships which brought the settlers to Tobago.

Mintiks in Tobago, 1978

Mintiks explored the idea in a number of smaller maquettes, some of which he photographed placed on a cement wall in Milwaukee with Lake Michigan in the background.

Model for the Tobago monument by Lake Michigan, 1977

Some of his early paintings have a psychedelic feeling, reflecting the movement that arose in the mid- 1960s counter culture in America, and that was originally based on visions induced by the injestion of mind-altering drugs. A striking example is a depiction of a black road leading into the distance, an expressionistic and almost surreal vision.

A theme that Mintiks explored repeatedly through his artistic career was the relationship between his art and nature. Many of the works were situated in a natural setting and interacted with it. Near Garezers, the Latvian Center in Michigan, for example, Mintiks created an installation in a venerable oak tree, with ropes hung from the tree and attaching to it large wooden logs.

Mintiks installation at Latvian Center Garezers, Michigan, 1976

Another piece includes forms attached to wires and spanning a small waterfall the forms activated by the rush of water. This approach was part of the movement toward site-specific and environmental art, during the 1980’s and beyond, as exemplified by Christo’s wrapped environments and the land art of British artist Andy Goldsworthy.

Mintiks creating an installation, 1978

In his series of ”leaf catchers”, wooden forms like towers resembling suspension bridges, purport to ”catch” falling leaves. The concept reveals a sophisticated sense of humor – why would we want to ”catch” leaves in any case – as well as a profound idea about human hubris that creates grandiose structures in the face of nature, which does not need them (or us?).

Leaf Catcher, 1976

The late monumental installations created in Taos seem to me like messengers calling out to the universe – they are lacking in human reference, but seem to be searching for something beyond this world. In addition to his achievements as an artist, Mintiks was an amazingly talented and multi-faceted designer and builder, a Renaissance man as his friends called him. He built a beautiful house in Bergen, Norway, then a boat in which to traverse French canals, and finally, a home and studio in Taos New Mexico.

Nemo’s Folly, 2006

15 years ago, I was inspired to work toward establishing a special center or museum in Latvia in order to help preserve and popularize the work of latvian diaspora artisits, the history of which at that time was, as Maris Brancis called it, ”a blank page”.

PLMC founders Lelde Kalmite and Dainis Mjartāns with Sally Guenther, who sports a tattoo of her late husband Jānis Mintiks favourite symbol, three Viking horns in a cross, which he hid in many oh his artworks.

Mintiks was one of the artists whose work personally motivated me to undertake this project. Because of the particular and unusual circumstances of his life, it seemed that much of his work could be permanently lost to Latvia and to future generations. Today, seeing the growing interest in Mintiks’s art here in Latvia, it is gratifying to see that the original mission of PLMC is truly starting to be realized.

-PLMC curator Lelde Kalmite