Art is everywhere in Riga. Just take a walk through the Art Nouveau district with your head turned skywards and you’ll find almost an entirely new population of Rigans: dozens of highly expressive, and often haunting, faces etched into the 750+ buildings designed in the Jugenstil or ‘youth style’ — a dramatic style of architecture that coincided with Riga’s late 19th century economic boom. It is a little depressing, however, to contemplate the bland buildings behind the ornate facades and Latvia’s subsequent economic strife, which is perhaps made all the more stark by the sumptuousness of the facades.
Besides the flamboyant works on display on Riga’s streets, the city has an impressive number of art museums featuring collections from the country’s history. And the Contemporary Art Museum of Latvia, whose setting in a disused power station recalls London’s Tate Modern, is currently being constructed.
On top of this, new galleries are opening up all the time, several of which function as not just a place to view cutting-edge art from the city’s young artists, but a place to hang out for coffee, lunch or drinks.
Galerija Istaba‘s ground floor is stuffed full of cards, jewellery and and objets d’art by local Rigan artists, as well as art books and magazines. The tiny upstairs bar features bright colours and a few small tables where you can dine on a changing menu prepared by Martins Sirmais, one of the city’s most popular chefs.
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Kim? Contemporary Art Pilot Project
Kim stands for “kas ir maksla?” or what is art? This place, in the redeveloped warehouse district of Spikeri, is a buzz of cultural activity, from philosophy discussions, to book readings, film screenings and live music.
Garage is housed in a converted garage in the Bergs Bazaar, one of the city’s most interesting areas, a collection of arcades, cafes, boutiques and twice monthly farmers markets, peacefully hidden away from the main streets of the inner city. On the first floor you will find a selection of items from some of Latvia’s leading artists and designers, while the mezzanine-level café offers good coffee and views of Bergs Bazaar.
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Riga Art Space
The Riga Art Space is said to be one of the most important and active art spaces in the entire Baltic region. Sadly for me, when I visited it was between exhibits and staffed by a comically grumpy old lady.
Kungu iela 3
Close to the Freedom Monument, this is one of the biggest and most prestigious galleries in Riga, and has been in operation since 1992. The gallery holds a large, rather haphazardly displayed collection of contemporary art and the building was once owned by the father of Jazeps Grosvalds, one of Latvia’s finest painters.
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