Progressive Labor Party Organizes Solidarity March With Harvard Yard Encampment


Encampment Protesters Briefly Raise 3 Palestinian Flags Over Harvard Yard


Mayor Wu Cancels Harvard Event After Affinity Groups Withdraw Over Emerson Encampment Police Response


Harvard Yard To Remain Indefinitely Closed Amid Encampment


HUPD Chief Says Harvard Yard Encampment is Peaceful, Defends Students’ Right to Protest

‘Vija Celmins: Night Skies’ Review: A Call From the Void

Vija Celmins's "Night Skies" at the Krakow Witkin Gallery.
Vija Celmins's "Night Skies" at the Krakow Witkin Gallery. By Courtesy of Arielle C. Frommer
By Arielle C. Frommer, Crimson Staff Writer

Entering the Vija Celmins exhibit at the Krakow Witkin Gallery, one felt a keen sense of stillness. A wood-paneled elevator brings visitors up five floors from the bustling streets of Newbury to a silent gallery space. Whitewashed walls and plain gray carpet lent the area a feeling of sterility. Celmins’s work drew the eye immediately, her art exaggerated by the contrast between the stark white walls and dark mezzotints that sits on display. A small coffee table, strewn about with gallery books about Celmins’s work, invites the viewer to sit for a moment and peruse the artist’s wider works.

From Jan. 6 to Feb. 17, the Krakow Witkin Gallery exhibited “Vija Celmins: Night Skies” in their Boston gallery space on 10 Newbury Street. The Krakow Witkin Gallery is interested in showcasing artists whose work engages with categories of “conceptual art” and “minimalism,” movements beginning in the 1960s to which Celmins’s work belongs. Celmins is best known for her hyper-realistic drawings and paintings of commonplace objects and natural phenomena, particularly honing in on her depictions of the night sky in this exhibition.

The exhibited pieces invite viewers to contemplate their human scale in relation to the universe. Each work features a dark background speckled with pinpricks of stars with simplistic yet evocative titles like “Divided Night Sky,” “Comet,” and “Falling Stars.” Every work is meticulously accurate — rather than attempting to capture a sense of the sublime or conjure romantic notions of the night sky, Celmins’s starscapes are grounded in their realism

The space of the gallery served the works well — the clean white walls and minimalist design against the dark, star-studded mezzotints made for a striking contrast. This choice both drew attention to the subject matter and conveyed a profound sense of space. Yet the vast cosmic expanse was simultaneously affixed in small white frames, providing the viewer with a tangible sense of control over the incomprehensible largeness of the works’ content. Celmins’s hyper-realistic renderings of the night sky confront the eternity and immobility of space, allowing viewers to take charge over the vastness of the universe, meditate on its beauty, and lay claim over the void by containing it within a fragment of the night sky. “Falling Stars” stood out as a particularly exceptional piece: Depicting a dark chasm streaked with smears of light, the mezzotint captures a sense of motion, a transient image of a midnight sky streaked with a sea of falling stars.

Celmins is deeply interested in the process of making, and often turned to traditional printmaking techniques during her career to create images of natural or everyday phenomena. Her vast technical repertoire, from painting and charcoal drawing to printmaking, stems from her interest in exploring different media and the artmaking process. All the works in the small exhibit were created using mezzotints, an intensive, painstaking process that involves etching a copper plate and working from black to white to yield an artwork that appears effortlessly realistic with Celmins’s practiced hand.

The reading materials provided in the gallery invite viewers to pause for further contemplation, providing opportunities to immerse oneself more fully in Celmins’s work and offering a plethora of unique perspectives on her work. Some books discussed how Celmins’s work captured the spiritual grandeur of the heavens and grappled with humanity’s own insignificance by confronting the unknown. Others traced the path of her career, including images of other drawings and artworks, while several feature interviews with the artist herself. Still others contained long, lovely poems about the stars. The choice to lay out several books with different perspectives definitively enhanced the viewing experience, inviting viewers to contemplate the larger scope of Celmins’s work and think more deeply about the meaning behind her artworks and their connections to other works in her canon.

While the gallery setting was certainly striking, the works might have benefited from clearer labels. As only a clipboard was provided with the labels and prices of the artworks, which were available for sale, it was sometimes hard to differentiate between similar star fields. Small labels certainly could have been placed beside the frames without significantly detracting from the sharp, monochromatic quality of the gallery.

Nonetheless, “Vija Celmins: Night Skies” was a meditative gallery experience. The gallery immersed viewers in Celmins’s universal artworks with its elemental design and diverse array of books on her work. Celmins’s dazzling mezzotints of the night sky evoke a sense of scale as they confront viewers with the vastness of the cosmos across space and time, allowing viewers to ponder their own insignificance while grounding themselves in the self-contained space of the artworks.

While the exhibit is no longer on display, Celmins’s work can be found online on the Krakow Witkin Gallery website and in person at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

—Staff writer Arielle C. Frommer can be reached at

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

On CampusArtsCampus ArtsMetro Arts