Vija Celmins

American, born Latvia (Riga, Latvia, 1938)

Suspended Plane

painting | oil on canvas
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  • Suspended Plane

    Vija Celmins, Suspended Plane, 1966; oil on canvas, 23 3/4 in. x 34 3/4 in. (60.33 cm x 88.27 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Purchase, by exchange, through the bequest of Elise S. Haas; © Vija Celmins

Based on a found photograph of a World War II American B-26 bomber, Celmins's haunting painting is cool and detached, yet highly charged with personal subject matter. The artist, who fled her native Latvia during World War II and subsequently immigrated to the United States, describes this painting as being "colored by the chaos of my early childhood in the war." Not insignificantly, she painted the bomber during the Vietnam War.

Suspended Plane is also significant because it is among the earliest examples of Celmins's career-long practice of painting from photographs. This method inserts a layer of distance between artist and canvas, and appealed to Celmins as a more authentic way of painting than the then-dominant, and seemingly exhausted, model of Abstract Expressionism. The work, marked by a remarkable degree of verisimilitude, even retains the original photograph's signs of aging.

23 3/4 in. x 34 3/4 in. (60.33 cm x 88.27 cm)
Acquired 2006
Collection SFMOMA
Purchase, by exchange, through the bequest of Elise S. Haas
© Vija Celmins


B-26 bomber, Martin Marauder, air force, military, World War II, aircraft, flying, war, aviation

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