About Vija Celmins

Vija Celmins was born in Riga, Latvia in 1938. She immigrated to the United States with her family when she was ten years old, settling in Indiana. She studied painting and printmaking at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis from 1955 to 1962, periodically traveling to New York City to see the work of the Abstract Expressionists. In 1961, Celmins attended a summer session at Yale University. After completing her master’s degree in Fine Art from UCLA, Celmins received international attention for her renditions of natural scenes—often copied from photographs that lack a point of reference, horizon, or discernable depth of field. These photographs, taken at the beach near her home in Venice, California and in the Mojave Desert, inspired her to shift from painting to drawing, rendering in graphite the forms of ocean waves and rocky deserts. When she began painting again in the 1980s, drawing and printmaking remained central to her art. Regarding her commitment to the material aspects of her process, Celmins has said, “I believe if there is any meaning in art, it resides in the physical presence of a work.” In 1981, following an invitation to teach at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, she moved permanently to New York City. She soon began creating prints and drawings of constellations of the night sky and the surface of the moon. By the 2000s, she expanded her subjects of interest to include spider webs, rendering them in prints as well as charcoal and oil. Based in Soho, Celmins has been the subject of over forty solo exhibitions since 1965, and major retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. She also received an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in 1996 and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship in 1997. In 2002, a retrospective of Celmins’ prints was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.