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PRESS RELEASE 04.12.2013

Classics – Mait Summatavet

Mait Summatavet is one of the longest working Estonian designers whose works include several notable interiors for public spaces, and exhibition and object designs. He was the first designer in the Soviet Union to have a solo show as a designer, when his designs were exhibited at the Central House of Artists in Moscow in 1986.

After receiving an education as a cabinetmaker and an internship at a ski factory, in 1956, Mait Summatavet commenced his art studies at Tartu Art College in the field of woodwork. He subsequently continued his education in interior design at the State Art Institute. After ten years studying under the best professors of the time (Edgar Kuusik, Edgar Velbri, Leila Pärtelpoeg, Vello Asi, Väino Tamm etc.), Summatavet developed into a designer with strong principles whose grasp quickly broadened to encompass everything from small-scale objects to substantial interior design projects and teaching.

Mait Summatavet started his design career at a time when the first and most important foundation stones in Estonian design had already been laid. It was a time when the restructured built and designed environment offered plenty of outlets for designers. Thanks to designers who had started their careers after the war, such as Bruno Tomberg, Väino Tamm and Vello Asi, Estonia had acquired a reputation for high quality design. With encouragement from his professors, Summatavet already started working as a designer during his studies.

In 1964, he collaborated with Taevo Gans and Lembit Aljaste on a sgraffito mural “Fire fighters” in the meeting hall for the Tallinn Volunteer Fire Brigade. In 1966, he completed the interior design for the Narva Energy Workers Club as his diploma project at the State Art Institute. While studying, Summatavet also participated in several design competitions and collaborated with the magazine Art and Home (Kunst ja Kodu).

As a fresh graduate Summatavet started working in the Art Fund system, where he began as a designer at the Art Products Factory (1966–1967), subsequently taking the post of head designer for the Art Fund (1967–1972). There he designed smaller sets of furniture but also worked on large-scale interior design projects.

The numerous commissions helped him develop into one of the most prominent interior designers in Estonia. His works include designs for the restaurant and rooms at the Viru Hotel (1967–1972), the Estonian Museum of Applied Art (1977–1980), the Adamson-Eric Museum (1978–1983), Ugala Theatre (1987–1981) and the Magdalena Hospital polyclinic in Tallinn (1980–1982). In addition, he has worked on many exhibition designs, the most notable being the Soviet Union exhibit at the World EXPO ’74 in Spokane, USA, as well as several exhibitions in Japan. The multifunctional bar/table created for the third in the series of exhibitions Space and Form (1976) was installed in the office of the head of the Artists’ Association of the Estonian SSR in 1979, which was rather unusual at the time. In 1992, Summatavet started working on various interior and lighting design projects for the Bank of Estonia.

As part of many of his larger projects, Summatavet has designed display and lighting fixtures that have often subsequently been used as independent objects.

When looking at Summatavet’s work it becomes clear that he has a profound interest in light and movement. He has been one of the most consistent lighting fixture designers, yet his focus is not so much on the fixtures but rather on the light. His favourite design task is directing reflected light from opaque surfaces. From 1966 to 2013 he has designed over 65 different lighting fixture prototypes.

Summatavet’s output is characterised by extremely rigorous, practical and comprehensive designs with their own specific inner rhythm. As a designer his primary aim is to let the space talk and to create a comfortable environment for the activities that will take place within that space. Interiors created according to this principle are holistic and somehow elementary but in no way anonymous.

In addition to his creative output, his numerous years as a university lecturer have contributed substantially to shaping Estonian design. He has worked at the State Art Institute as teacher and docent (1969–1987), as prorector (1987–1993), as professor (1993–1998) and as the head of the design institute (1998–200). Currently, he is a Professor Emeritus at the Estonian Academy of Arts, but also a professor at the Tallinn University of Technology.

“Classics” is a series of solo exhibitions that commenced in 2000 focusing on prominent Estonian applied artists and designers.

The exhibition will be open until 23 February 2014.

Curator: Kai Lobjakas
Exhibition design: Mait Summatavet
Exhibition team: Toomas Übner, Ketli Tiitsar, Vello Veliste, Raivo Randlepp, Dagmar Siida

We would like to thank the Estonian Cultural Endowment, the Estonian Artists’ Association, the Tallinn Art Hall Foundation and the Bank of Estonia.

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