Vija Celmins (American, b.1938) is an American painter and sculptor. Celmins was born in Riga, Latvia, and she immigrated to the United States at the age of 10, settling in Indiana with her family. In 1962, Celmins graduated with a BFA from the John Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis, and then went on to study at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she received an MFA in 1965. She then got a position as an instructor at the California State College, Los Angeles, from 1965 to 1966, before moving onto the University of California, Irvine, for the same position in 1967. She taught at the latter school for the next five years.

Celmins gained international recognition very early in her career when, with an uncanny attention to detail and accuracy, she made renditions of natural scenes based on photographs lacking points of reference, depth of field, and horizons. Celmins has mastered the art of painting in different media, such as charcoal and oil, and several printmaking processes. Most of her earlier works are paintings of everyday objects like lamps, TVs, and black and white photographs. These paintings appear random, an effect that Celmins shares with Gerhard Richter. Most of her recent works, however, are mostly intense and realistic drawings, although she still produces detailed paintings of the natural environment. Lately, her subjects have become very selective, focusing mostly on night skies, oceans, and deserts.

Examples of some of the most captivating works of Celmins include Moon Surface (Luna 9) No. 1 (1969) and To Fix the Image in Memory 9 (1977–1982). Celmins has received a number of awards, including an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award (1996), a Fellow Award in the Visual Arts from United States Artists (2009), and the Roswitha Haftmann Prize (2009). Celmins has been involved in a number of solo exhibitions including those held at David Stuart Galleries, Los Angeles, CA (1966); Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London, England (1999); Celmins Prints; and Herron School of Art, Indianapolis, IN (2003). Her group exhibitions include Seventy First American Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago (1974), and Lifelike at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN (2012).

Celmins lives and works in New York, NY.

Timeline

1938
Born in Riga, Latvia
1962
Bachelor of Fine Arts: John Herron Institute, Indianapolis, IN
1965
MFA, University of California, Los Angeles
1980
Guggenheim Fellowship
1981
Resident Artist, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture
1984
Taught at Cooper Union, New York, NY
1987
Taught at Yale Graduate School, New Haven, CT
1996
American Academy of Arts and Letters, Award in Art
1997
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship
2000–2001
Coutts Contemporary Art Foundation Award
Lives and works in New York, NY

Exhibitions

2011
Vija Celmins: Desert, Sea and Stars, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany
Prints And Works On Paper, Senior & Shopmaker Gallery, New York, USA
2009
Time & Place: Los Angeles, 1958-1968, Kunsthaus Zürich, Switzerland
2008
Time & Place: Los Angeles, 1958-1968, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
2007
Vija Celmins: A Drawing Retrospective, Hammer Galleries, UCLA, Los Angeles, USA
Under the Starry Sky, Museum Franz Gertsch, Burgdorf, Switzerland
The Painting of Modern Life, Hayward Gallery, London, England
The Third Mind, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France
Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Image, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, USA
2006
Selections from the Collection of Edward R. Broida, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
McKee Gallery, New York, USA
Plane/Figure, Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland
Drawing Retrospective, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
A Trace of A Trace of A Trace, Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York, USA
Celmins, Gibbs + Martin, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London, England
Step Into Liquid, Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, USA
Against the Grain: Contemporary Art from the Edward R. Broida Collection, Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
Imagined Worlds, AXA Gallery, New York, USA
2005
A Very Liquid Heaven, Tang Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, USA
Contemporary Voices, works from the UBS Art Collection, Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
The Undiscovered Country, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, USA
2004
Vija Celmins, Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, Ireland
2003
Celmins Prints, Herron School of Art, Indianapolis, USA
Vija Celmins Prints, Susan Sheehan Gallery, New York, USA
2002
The Prints of Vija Celmins, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA
2001
Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel, Switzerland
McKee Gallery, New York, USA
1999
Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London, England
1997
Vija Celmins Works 1964-1996, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia Madrid, Spain
Survey exhibition, Institute of Contemporary Art, London, England
1996
McKee Gallery, New York, USA
1995
Vija Celmins, Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain Paris, France
About Place: Recent Art of the Americas, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, USA
Contemporary Drawing: Exploring the Territory, Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, USA
American Art Today: Night Paintings, Art Museum at Florida International University, Miami, USA
American Academy Invitational Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, USA
Group Exhibition, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, San Francisco, USA
1994
Love in the Ruins: Art and Inspiration of L.A., Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, USA
The World of Tomorrow, Thomas Solomon's Garage, Los Angeles, USA
Facts and Figures: Selections from the Lannan Foundation Collection, Lannan Foundation, Los Angeles, USA
Fine Lines, Anthony Slayter-Ralph, Santa Barbara, USA
Institute of Cultural Anxiety, Institute of Contemporary Art, London, England
Vija Celmins - Prints, 1970-1992, Cirrus, Los Angeles, USA
Vija Celmins Retrospective, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, USA
1993
Vija Celmins - Printed Matter, University Gallery, Fine Arts Center, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA
1992
McKee Gallery, New York, USA
1990
Vija Celmins: Drawings and Prints, Pence Gallery, Santa Monica, USA
1988
McKee Gallery, New York, USA
1983
McKee Gallery, New York, USA
1973
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA
1965
Dickinson Art Center, UCLA, Los Angeles, USA

Literature

Vija Celmins: A Survey Exhibition (exh. cat., intro. S. C. Larsen; Newport Beach, CA, Harbor A. Mus.; Chicago, IL, A. Club; Yonkers, NY, Hudson River Mus.; Washington, DC, Corcoran Gal. A.; 1980)
W. W. Bartman, ed.: Vija Celmins (Interviewed by Chuck Close) (New York, 1992)