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Art market

By Anatol Steven. 15.12.2011

Rīgas Birža
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The biggest and boldest new fixture on Riga’s gallery and museum circuit is the oddly named Riga Stock Market.

The biggest and boldest new fixture on Riga’s art gallery and museum circuit is Rīgas Birža, or Riga Stock Market. Combining art with the idea of stocks and shares may put some visitors off, understandably. But Latvia’s newly renovated stock exchange building is now the venue for artworks displayed for many years at the Museum of Foreign Art.
The museum was until recently located in Riga Castle, the residence of the President of Latvia, and having large numbers of the public entering the castle was evidently proving to be a security concern. Hence the decision to move to the distinguished 160-year-old building on Dome Square.
Over the 90 years of its existence, the museum has evolved into Latvia’s biggest depository of foreign art. A variety of epochs and nations are covered, dating from the 5th century BC to the early 1900s, and ranging from Ancient Egypt (including a mummy) and the Far East to Western Europe.
Perhaps the most significant collections feature the 17th century Dutch Golden Age, including a collection of Rembrandt’s etchings, German art from the 17th-19th centuries, especially the age of Romanticism, a collection of Meissen porcelain, early 20th century Belgian art, and the most extensive collection of Oriental art in the Baltic region, dominated by China, Japan and India. Valuable donations are being added all the time, most recently a set of traditional Indonesian artworks two years ago.
These eclectic collections’ new home was built between 1852 and 1855, designed by a German-born St Petersburg architect named Harald Julius von Bosse. He chose the Venetian Renaissance palazzo style, symbolizing wealth and abundance.
Rīgas Birža’s opulent interior, rich in gilding and faux marble, is itself an artistic attraction, especially on the ground floor in the Main Hall, the third- and fourth-floor galleries facing Dome Square and the fourth-floor Festive Hall. Having once been the stomping ground of the wealthy and privileged, 2011 is the first time that all of these rooms are fully open to the public.
Following decades of comparative neglect during the Soviet era, a fire, and a brief post-independence resurrection as a stock exchange, a complicated restoration process culminated in the gallery’s opening in August.
Overall, Rīgas Birža is a fascinating excursion through several periods of western and eastern art. Walk into the main entrance and the passage leads you to an echoing atrium with a glass roof and glass-walled elevator going up and down one side.
Buy your tickets according to the exhibitions you want to see. There’s a cloakroom and toilets downstairs, together with a free-of-charge display about the reconstruction. A shop and café are the other side of the ticket desk. A restaurant is planned in the building by the end of the year.
A fairly formal atmosphere pervades. This is not the Tate Modern. Serious art is the message.
There are some surprises among the permanent exhibitions of foreign art. In a room decorated with Meissen porcelain there's a winter landscape by Monet. Another room is dominated by Hans Makart’s huge canvas “Battle of the Centaurs and the Lapiths,” painted in Vienna in 1876. One more room displays paintings from the workshop of Van Dyke. Check the website for temporary exhibitions.
It costs LVL 4.50 (€6.50) to get in to see all of the exhibitions (LVL 2 for schoolchildren, students and senior citizens). A family fee costs slightly more.
You can also buy a LVL 40 annual admission fee to the Latvian National Museum of Art, which includes the museum’s main building, the Arsenāls Exhibition Hall of contemporary art, the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, and Rīgas Birža.
Informative guided tours lasting between 45 and 90 minutes are available in Latvian, Russian and English to all of the permanent and temporary exhibitions. They cost a bit extra, and it’s best to book them in advance.

Rīgas Birža Art Gallery – Dome Square 6 (F-2), Tel. 6722 6467, Open daily 10:00-18:00 (ticket office 10:00-17:45), Fri 10:00-20:00 (ticket office 10:00-19:45), Closed Mon. Closed also Dec 25-26 and 31 and Jan 1.


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