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Vija Celmins



Vija Celmins, Heater, 1964  95.19
Vija Celmins, Heater, 1964. Oil on canvas, 47 7/16 × 48 in. (120.5 × 121.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee  95.19 For Teachers

about this work

For more than forty years, Vija Celmins’s art has been concerned with a meticulous representation of objects and the natural world, devoid of human presence. This early painting, Heater, was made when Celmins was a graduate student at UCLA and engaged in a methodical depiction of the contents of her studio, recording the physical condition of the objects and the space around them with precise attention to detail. Painted in a highly realistic fashion, the heater appears to radiate warmth from its glowing coils. Isolated against a field of grey, the heater is separated from its physical context, rendering it neutral and almost abstract.


Audio guide stop for Vija Celmins, Heater, 1964

Vija Celmins, Heater, 1964  95.19
Vija Celmins, Heater, 1964  95.19

look closer

How would you describe the object in this painting?

What details did the artist include?

What details did she leave out?

Where do you think this object might be found?


Vija Celmins, Heater, 1964  95.19 For Teachers

When Vija Celmins was a graduate student at UCLA, she started a series of paintings that depicted objects in her studio in as much detail as possible. Heater was one of these paintings.

Have your students look around your classroom and choose an object they would like to draw. Using a viewfinder, have them focus in closely on one part of that object, and draw it as accurately as possible. Afterwards, talk about the experience of drawing something in really precise detail. What was it like? What parts of the object did they focus upon? What was their strategy for capturing details?

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