10 Exhibitions to Discover in Estonia this Summer

by Paul Joseph  |  Published June 2, 2023

Boasting its own distinctive culture for thousands of years, Estonia’s museums tell stories both old and new through exhibitions that run throughout the year.

(Photo: Aron Urb / Copyright Estonian Maritime Museum)

From folk song and dance to colourful handicrafts, rustic food and evocative art, Estonia’s long-standing cultural heritage continues to burn brightly in both its famous capital of Tallinn and throughout the country’s many smaller cities, towns and villages. If you’re planning a trip to Estonia this summer and would like to check our any exhibitions during your stay, we’ve selected 10 of the best taking place over the coming months.

VENEZIA – Queen of the Seas

The exhibition provides an enticing overview of the rise, heyday, and fall of one of the most powerful countries of the Mediterranean Sea, the Republic of Venice and the city’s current struggles with the rising sea level and mass tourism. Special attention will be paid to the heart of the sea power of Venice – the Arsenal. This first modern shipyard in the world was able to manufacture a battleship a day in its heyday. The exhibition is complemented by a display of the relations between Estonia and Venice, which start with the visits of the cultural figures of the first half of the twentieth century to the floating city and end with the successful performances of Estonia’s greatest artists at the world-famous Venice Biennale.

 Estonian Maritime Museum, Tallinn / Through September 2023

Kolkhoz Apartment Building

(Photo: Estonian Open Air Museum)

The Estonian Open Air Museum is home to a remarkable collection of Estonian vernacular architecture, featuring nearly 80 buildings that represent the past two centuries. Among these exhibits stands the Kolkhoz Apartment Building. Constructed in 1964, this two-storey apartment house made of silicate brick was initially intended for the workers of the Sookuru dairy barn at Järvesalu collective farm in Räbi village, located in the Valga district of southern Estonia. At the museum, visitors have the unique opportunity to experience the rich architectural heritage of Estonia, gaining a deeper understanding of the country’s cultural roots and traditions. The Kolkhoz Apartment Building was voted the best permanent exhibition in Estonia in 2021.

Estonian Open Air Museum, Tallinn / Permanent

Futuromarennia: Ukraine and Avant-Garde 

The history of the Ukrainian avant-garde coincided with the foundation of the Estonian state and the search for the nation’s identity as Estonians, as well as Europeans. Featuring more than 100 original artworks – including paintings and drawings, designs for books and posters, theatre costumes and scenography, as well as historical photos and video materials – this exhibition not only turns the spotlight on innovative artistic visions of the future that were born on the Ukrainian historical soil in the 1910s and 1920s, but also serves an opportunity to express sympathy and solidarity with the Ukrainian people, colleagues and art institutions during the ongoing Russian invasion, as well as to offer protection to a valuable part of their avant-garde heritage within the walls of Kumu in Estonia.

Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn / Through 10 September 2023

(Photo: Anatol Petrytskyi (1895–1964), Sketch of the Chess costumes for the ballet The Red Poppy by Reinhold Glier, Ukrainian State Capital Opera, Kharkiv, 1927. Gouache, Indian ink and cut-out on paper, Museum of Theatre, Music and Cinema of Ukraine)

Shelter – Sanctuary

(Photo: Photo of the carpet installation by Laura Põld / Courtesy Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia)

The Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia wishes the space of the museum be a meeting point for a variety of fields of art. With this mind, the museum often invites creators, who are not working with issues of contemporary visual culture on a daily basis, to curate exhibitions. This summer, they have invited such a figure to put together a show by internationally recognised Estonian composer Helena Tulve. The artist’s task has been to create different perceptual experiences, journeys through space, through the work itself to help to focus the attention. The wish is to offer a calm, but inspiring, experiential refuge for the visitors of the exhibition, opening up different perspectives on human interaction with the environment and also with oneself.

Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia, Tallinn / 17 June – 6 August 2023

Peeter Laurits: Something’s related to everything

In nature, the invisible and barely noticeable processes are far more important than the visible and tangible ones. We seldom see what is under the ground in the dirt that is brimming with life. We only notice a small part of how something is related to everything else in the eye of life. The consciousness of other life forms, their interpersonal relations and reciprocal impacts are outside the range of our senses, leaving us to rely on our knowledge and imagination. This exhibition by acclaimed Estonian artist and photographer Peeter Laurits consists of large-scale photos taken over more than a decade as well as a video and an audio installation authored by Ann Reimann and Veljo Runnel.

Estonian Museum of Natural History, Tallinn / Through 30 September 2023

Life in a Milk Container. A New Look at the Forest Brothers of Saaremaa

Dedicated to Estonia’s proud military history, the Estonian War Museum tell the stories of the country’s brave defenders from the past and present day. Among their temporary exhibitions running through the summer is this display of rare items that belonged to the Saaremaa forest brothers – freedom fighters who opposed the Soviet occupying power and its security forces on the Estonian island of Saaremaa. The items were hidden in milk containers buried in the ground over 70 years ago before being unearthed during archaeological excavations many years later.

Estonian War Museum, Viimsi / Through 1 October 2023

Landscape Passes Through the House

(Photo: Paul Kuimet)

Through a diverse collection of photographs, paintings and films by artists Paul Kuimet and Tõnis Saadoja, this exhibition explores the question of whether the way in which we talk about experiencing landscapes through art is truly meaningful and authentic. The works displayed bring together unpresuming viewpoints, where the focus is on capturing the moment and creating a gestalt: the quiet moments in the skies above suburbia; the silent motion of trees on the side of a highway; and the setting or rising sun lost among clouds, an unfinished mud puddle or a random tree.

Tartu Art Museum, Tartu / Through 27 August 2023

Polar Wonder

(Photo: Britta Benno, Cut from her animation “Polar wonder”, 2023)

The melting of the ice fields has accelerated exponentially in recent years, representing a significant danger to the earth. A personal project of artist Britta Benno, this fictive space installation evokes an arctic oasis, with ice and landscape as the central themes. Playing with forms and lines, the author’s drawings and graphics with a coolly glowing colour palette wander in the plastic forms of ice, with the openness of its images giving space for reflections and dreams. As a result, the exhibition delivers two meanings: through the artist, the beauty of the frozen landscapes unfolds, but at the same time, shining a light on the environmental impact we face if these oceanic giants continue to melt away.

Ice Age Center,  Äksi / Through summer 2023

Messages in a Triangle: An Exhibition of Estonian 20th-Century Souvenir Scarfs

(Photo:  Estonian National Museum)

Throughout history, scarfs have been worn as a symbol of unity and uniformity, which meant that they paired perfectly with Soviet ideology. However, there was a surprising amount of creative freedom in the design of souvenir scarfs in particular, with no real limit on self-expression. Through its display of more than 300 scarfs and dozens of personal stories, this exhibition examines how everyday items were used to instil, between the lines, a sense of security, of remaining yourself in an occupied state, and how the stories behind them continue to evoke powerful feelings in those who remember them.

Estonian National Museum, Tartu / Through 29 October 2023

The Dance of Colours: Finnish Modernist Art

(Photo: Väinö Kunnas. Red Dance. 1927. Oil. Art Museum of Estonia)

Finnish Modernist art emerged in the early 20th century at a crossroads of two conflicting influences: the creation of romanticised national myths and symbols, and the Western avant-garde movements emphasising the individuality and autonomy of art and artists. Many of the acclaimed painters of this era were rebels and explorers who sought to express their inner experiences and make their own creative choices. This exhibition presents the works of many such painters – the likes of Alvar Cawén, Väinö Kunnas, Yrjö Ollila – by placing them in a broader context of the artists’ oeuvres and Finnish Modernism.

Kadriorg Art Museum, Tallinn / Through 20 August 2023