Maria Svarbova will be bringing her first solo U.S. museum exhibition to Minnesota Marine Art Museum later this month. The internet-famous photographer is known for her idiosyncratic use of color and symmetry in her photos.
by NATHANIEL NELSON
Figures stand somewhere between stasis and motion, their images reflected off the rippling surface of the pool. Saturated blues and reds pop out off the page, markers of life in an otherwise barren room. Looking at the photo, it seems like it’s from a time long past, but also yet to come.
These are some of the hallmarks of the work of Maria Svarbova, a Slovakian photographer and contemporary artist who will be hosting her first-ever U.S. museum solo exhibition at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum (MMAM) starting on January 25. The series, titled “Swimming Pool,” is an ongoing photo series that began in 2014, consisting of highly manipulated images captured at Soviet-era swimming pools in Svarbova’s home country.
Svarbova has been quickly gaining accolades in recent years. In 2017, she was listed by FORBES magazine as one of its 30 under 30 selections, an honor given to young innovators and entrepreneurs who have influenced their fields early on. Last year, she was awarded the 2018 Hasselblad Master award in art, one of the most competitive photography awards in the art world.
MMAM Curator of Exhibitions and Collections Jon Swanson explained that he came upon Svarbova’s work like most people –– online. She currently has over 250,000 followers on Instagram, which for an artist is no small feat.
“Only a handful of people have reached that upper echelon,” he explained. “She has been on my radar for quite some time.”
Last year, as Swanson was planning upcoming exhibits for the museum, he realized that Svarbova had never brought her work to the United States, outside several collaborative exhibits in major metropolitan cities. He has also been focusing on showcasing talented young artists, so Svarbova was a no-brainer.
“I’m conscious of championing emerging artists who are interested in looking at water,” Swanson said. “I saw an opportunity to bring in an international artist to a local audience and scoop the fact that she’s never had a U.S. exhibit.”
The series “Swimming Pool” fits well within MMAM’s mission, Swanson said. Each photo uses water as a central point, using Soviet-era public pools to create ethereal images that straddle the line between something familiar and otherworldly.
“There are a lot of conflicting and complementary emotions [in her images],” Swanson said. “They’re contemporary –– colorful and composed, but they evoke multiple feelings. They feel melancholy, yet optimistic.”
Svarbova’s photography is notably eccentric –– these aren’t still-life photos, after all. Every aspect of the photos is curated and shaped particularly toward her vision, with costumes made or purchased to match the era, non-symmetrical parts edited out, and colors boosted beyond their natural saturation. The photos are highly controlled, and create scenes no one would be able to find in real life.
“Her work has a painterly quality to it,” Swanson said. “It’s calming, and looks retro but futuristic at the same time.”
However, her work is unlike most of the other pieces that find their home in MMAM. For the most part, the pieces in the museum date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, with famous paintings by Edward William Cooke, Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet. Swanson explained that as curator, one of his goals is to continue to find “great work inspired by water” throughout the art world, and showcase works that challenge the notion of fine art.
“It’s very important for me to show a range, not only in era and geographically, but I also want to show a range in medium,” he explained. “No matter who you are, you’re going to find something you like in [MMAM’s] six galleries.”
Svarbova’s work will be on display from January 25 through April 28, with dozens of works printed in large format to showcase the colors and intensity of her work. While most of it is available online, seeing it in person is where the work truly shines.
“It’s one thing to see it on a computer screen, but to see it in a large format print in all its glory and detail, it’s another experience entirely,” Swanson said.
The Minnesota Marine Art Museum is open on Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. through 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $3 for students and free for children under the age of four. For more information on exhibits or Maria Svarbova: Swimming Pool, contact MMAM at 507-474-6626.