Maxim Bokser, a renowned curator in London and Moscow, has opened a non-profit space in Riga. This gallery, a beacon of peace and unity, has the power to transform the lives of artists and viewers, especially those who have been uprooted due to current events. Bokser’s unique professional interest in the oeuvre of artists who work on the border of eras is a remarkable opportunity to unite works created by young and emerging artists with established makers. In a figure of speech, the curator is fostering a sense of continuity and evolution as well as intergenerational exchange.

His interest in this city is not sporadic – he spent a lot of time in Riga and Jurmala throughout his life. In 2022, Bokser decided to move to the Latvian capital. After taking a gap year, the curator found his new calling – exhibiting established and young migrant artists to give them a place to express themselves and connect. Riga seemed the perfect place – a multicultural city that gave home to many creatives in need in 2022.

The new venue at Lachpleva, 48, opened with the solo show of a Russian-French artist, Ivan Lungin. A Moscow-born alumni of the École des Beaux-Arts Rueil-Malmaison, he is familiar with Russian and Western philosophical ideas. Maxim Bokser offered the artist to create a visual discussion on the philosophy evil. Lungin filled the exhibit with tin soldiers, matches, broken plates, and needlework that symbolize death and destruction reflecting on his own dramatic experience over the last few years, many of which are shared by the wider community.

After such a strong start, Bokser decided to research the transformation of the artistic oeuvre in the brave new world. This led him to another successful show – Akmensrockstein by MishMash (an artistic duo featuring Misha Leikon and Masha Sumina). The exhibition was a poetic installation consisting of 90 rock objects representing the number of days the artists had to be separated while waiting for their visas. Misha took pictures and described the rocks he found near one of California’s beaches, and Masha made drawings of those rocks based on the word descriptions Misha gave her.

Mish Mash, Akmensrockstein, installation view. 2023.

Of course, Bokser could not miss an opportunity to curate a show that demonstrated some eternal psychological trauma and the cliché of modern Russian society. It was the main reason he chose to exhibit the duo project, “A Feast in Time of Plague,” by artists Natalia Pivko and Denis Prasolov. Bokser had a unique take on this well-explored topic, producing an exhibition where narratives that made Russian migrants’ hearts ache and elements that Latvians could easily understand intertwined.

A drop of oil with eyes on it by Prasolov became the show’s focal point alongside an installation by Pivko that contains a wild mixture of elements: a carpet; coffin with wheels; mushrooms that grow out of a book by Leo Tolstoi. This eclectic collection created a visual puzzle, helping the viewer to navigate their way through a metaphorical Soviet childhood, finding clues that will answer to their questions about today’s political atmosphere.

Natalia Pivko and Denis Prasolov’s installation fragment installation fragment. 2023.

However, Maxim Bokser has reiterated that his curatorial agenda in this new space is not only about researching the oeuvre of established and renowned artists. It is crucial for him to give a voice to young and emerging artists. Of course, it is always a risk to present early career artists, but Bokser’s practice has always manifested that it is worth taking. This decision helped the curator continue searching for future diamonds he could help shape. In one year, the gallery showcased four young emerging artists from Latvia and abroad: Ieva Stalsene, Krists Janstevics, Varvara Vasilyeva, and Olya Katkova.

Katkova studied in London but settled in Riga and had her debut show with Boxer. The curator decided to remove all tags from the works, following Nicolas Bourriaud’s conception of meeting the art first, not the labels. Bokser offered her to produce a massive installation that would envelop the viewer. It was the only so-called condition that Katkova had. This freedom allowed the young artist to manipulate the space in any way she wanted. Katkova hung rock objects on the ceiling and left a message on one of her paintings: “Maybe you know where my home is, the glowing window in the dark?” This key element opened dialogue in the space, which is what the curator envisioned. 

Olga Katkova’s installation fragment. 2023.

For Boxer, it does not matter which country the artist came from or what kind of passport they hold. It is important for him to find and present to audiences in Riga those artists who have a strong creative voice and a migrant background in its widest sense. “Deep Press” is a solo show by Georgy Khazankin, an artist originally from Odessa. Abstact linocuts and videos documenting the process create an interesting visual narrative in the space. The curatorial text states that every image is a projection of the events in the artist’s life that influenced him, and some of these events are complex, even traumatic.

Opening a non-profit gallery in May 2023 could already seem a bold move, but the curator understood that his ambition has no boundaries. The shows change monthly; Bokser conducts profound creative research every time. For him, curating these shows is also a part of his oeuvre, where the production of a piece is closely connected with navigating other artists in their work.

Two exhibition rooms give the curator an opportunity to escape the traditional white cube space with paintings on walls, and offer artists a space to develop. Bokser highlights that even in exile, contemporary artists use mediums that are shaped by their concepts which is why his gallery is equipped to adapt.

The gallery’s international course was set from the very first show. Collaboration with artists who live between two or more cities, such as Moscow, Riga, Yerevan, Berlin, Odessa, etc., is crucial. It demonstrates that true art does not rely on political winds, and is not shaped by borders. Bokser’s gallery is a safe space for artists who were displaced. Here, they can be as open as they wish with their audiences. This space becomes their new creative home in exile.