DANAMILLER: In 1964, Vija Celmins decided to paint all of the objects in her studio at that time.
NARRATOR: Associate Curator Dana Miller.
DANAMILLER: Among the objects that she painted were this heater that you see here, a hot coil, a hot plate, a fan, and a lamp, and in each case you see the appliance centered on this vague atmospheric gray field with a cord that’s very visible but then trails off outside the picture plane.
I think the important things are the idea that of the objects she chose to depict, most of them were electrical appliances, and most of them were appliances that if you were to plug them in and stand in front of them, would have an impact on the viewer. You would feel the heat, you would feel the air from the fan, you would feel the light or see the light and so she’s relying upon the viewer to bring those associations to the painting. I think in a way, it’s a conceptual work in that she’s interested in that gap, she’s interested in the disjunction between what the viewer knows they would feel if they were standing in front of the heater, and what they don’t feel when they’re actually in front of the painting of the heater.
In a way she seems to be depicting the heater almost as a portrait. I mean its a still life, but she’s depicting it almost as if it were a person, a portrait, and it’s a very lonely person. And this was, the artist has said, a lonely time in her life. She had moved to Los Angeles, she was away from her family who she was very close to, did not have many friends, and she spent a lot of time by herself and in her studio. So there is something sort of sad and sort of, you know, isolated about this heater in the way that it doesn’t seem to be fulfilling its mission. You know, it’s on and it’s hot but what is it heating?