One of the most talked about works from Kaido Ole’s 2012 solo show at the KUMU museum in Tallinn was Still Life in Memory of G.R. (2011). Citing the 1983 Gerhard Richter painting Kerze (“Candle”), appropriated in 1988 as a cover for Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation, Ole’s work depicted a candle on a similarly greyscale backdrop, although his burned on top of a wheel – a detail featured in many of Ole’s works in the KUMU show. In an attempt to correct what seemed an obvious mistake, someone later pointed out to the artist that “in memory of” is a term commonly used to refer to a dead person, and Ole’s response apparently was: “But Richer is dead…in a way…”
What the anecdote reveals about Ole’s attitude – a confident ambition behind his humbly comic aesthetic – is a trait developed during the very early stages of the artist’s practice. Following the earliest more formalist experiments with painting, there appeared to be a significant shift in 1996, when Ole directly addressed his blood relation to a prominent Estonian artist Eduard Ole (20 May 1898 — 24 November 1995) in his work Table. Almost immediately after what Kaido Ole saw as a turn inwards – “an exhibition of personal games” – his work turned into a more social satire expressed through paintings of invented characters, the kind of ball-headed men that are familiar to followers of the artist’s work. Yet the realisation of himself as a participant in a wider historical setting was never abandoned; instead it soon reappeared in a more direct way, when starting from the early 00s the artist started to include himself in his paintings — first just the hands and later in full hight. This emergence of the artist himself in the painting not only defined Ole as a participant of the social scenarios that he invented, but also reversed what he had thought to be merely “private games”. With a benefit of hindsight it is possible to imagine that confronting his own history and that of art in one stroke has been a more critical gesture: to say I am one with my history, I am part of the history of painting is to attempt to take charge of that very history itself, to try changing it.
There are two new “in memory of” paintings in the new exhibition at Temnikova & Kasela gallery; a cubist parody of Picasso (which may possibly hint at Eduard Ole’s early experiments with cubism) and a work dedicated to Kaido Ole’s peer Jaan Toomik referencing a scene from the latter’s video Untitled 2002. Applying “in memory of” to both dead and living artists this time is a further attempt at leveling historical hierarchies so as to imagine them too a part of the social narratives Ole portrays in his works; art world is sometimes the center of the story, but so is being a citizen (like in his 2008 Vaal gallery show) or a teacher (a practice — now abandoned by Ole — which appeared as a theme in some of the artist’s works in 2010). It would be easy, given the intimidating scale and accomplished style of the works, as well as the full-on persistence with which they are achieved, to reduce the conversation to the medium of painting. Yet the various scenarios proposed by Ole’s practice open up to a broader discussion about the position of the artist within wider social mechanisms.