Vija Celmins Captures a Sea-Side Moment—and What It Implies About Its Place and Time

THE DAILY PIC: Vija Celmins' first solo at Matthew Marks is all about places and the moments when we take them in.

vija celmins

THE DAILY PIC (1739): Vija Celmins is best known for her images of the things furthest from us: the stars in the night sky. That’s why I was so particularly taken by this picture from her current current solo show at Matthew Marks Gallery in New York. It’s a grisaille oil painting of the waters off a pier in Venice, California, from a small suite of almost-identical works titled A Painting in Six Parts. You can almost imagine Celmins’ fingers trailing in those waters just before she took the photo on which it is based, which apparently dates back 50 years. And of course those same fingers are also intimately involved in making the painting, and thus help personalize the work as a record of one person’s presence in a particular place.

As usual with Celmins, time is also involved in the piece—the extended time it took to craft it and the time that has elapsed between the moment it depicts and the moment the final depiction was made. (When it comes to her starscape pictures, the depicted moment can date back billions of years, to near the dawn of the universe when her starlight first started its trip toward our eyes.)

In our era of global warming—and our refusal to combat it—any image of our oceans also now invokes another length of time: The time it takes before they rise and engulf such pleasant shore-side spots as Venice, CA. (Image ©Vija Celmins, courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery)

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