Marko Mäetamm (1965) is an artist whose work is based on personal stories, used to create existentially absurd and critical caricatures. Mäetamm has represented Estonia in the Venice Biennale twice: in 2003 (under the pseudonym John Smith, together with Kaido Ole) and in 2007. His work is characterised by an interdisciplinary, series-oriented and narrative approach, where figurative image and text carry an equal weight.
In the 1990s Mäetamm’s work was influenced by the Pop Art of the 1960s, the so-called yellow submarine aesthetics – at the time he created colourful and abundant compositions. That period was followed by black-and-white schematic pictograms: in the series “The Chemistry of Being” (2000) the artist explored themes like birth, death and religion and in the exhibition „Loser’s Paradise“ (2007) Mäetamm focused on family and everyday life.
A distinct chapter in Mäetamm’s work is the joint project with Kaido Ole under the pseudonym John Smith (2001–2006). In 2003 they represented Estonia at the Venice Biennale with the project “Marko und Kaido”. The artists created a set of paintings and installations, blending fiction with autobiographical details of childhood and life in Eastern Europe. John Smith’s work offered a self-critical view on Estonia and Eastern Europe.
In 2007 Mäetamm exhibited at the Venice Biennale in the Estonian pavilion a project titled “Loser’s Paradise”, a great example of his period of contemplation on the role of being a father and husband. How to create art, have a job, be there for your family and afford a bank loan and how to do all of this in harmony so that everyone would be happy? The drawings, paintings and comics that at first glance seem carefree and fun, tell stories about everyday life and existential problems, covering up fears, traumas and violent fantasies. The confessional stories have been exaggerated to absurd – to desperate situation that can only be solved through suicide, cannibalism or passive-aggressive silence.
Mäetamm’s work has been linked to the idea of “personal is political”. Even though the artist’s works mostly discuss his own family, it is also a basis for generalisation. In the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019 Mäetamm had an extensive solo exhibition “One Month in Canada” (together with Rita Bozi ja Ken Cameron), inspired by Mäetamm’s grandfather who had escaped to the West from the Soviet Union. The exhibition, featuring historical objects, comics, fictional documents and videos allowed for making conclusions about the choices of an individual in a dictatorship.
Mäetamm’s work is largely based on text. He has published books like “Family Stories and Many Other Stories” (2006), „The Alphabet of Lies“ (2014), „Tales of Messenger“ (2017), „Juubeliaasta“ (Centennial, 2018), „Grandfather“ (2019), „Once Upon a Time in Tartu“ (2019). These include descriptions of the artist’s everyday life in a diary form, literary thought experiments, illustrations etc.
Marko Mäetamm studied printmaking (BA 1993) and fine arts (MA 1995) in Estonian Academy of Art and printmaking techniques in Swedish Royal Art High School. He has been in artist residencies in New York (2010) and Paris (2011). He has participated in international group exhibitions and presented numerous solo shows. Mäetamm has participated in exhibitions, such as „ARS01“ (Kiasma, Helsinki, 2001), „Fiktive Bauten und Städte in der Literatur“ (Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, 2006), „Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin/Madrid“ (Centre Pompidou, Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt, 2008), 13th Brooklyn Film Festival (2010) and in exhibition „Summer of Love“ (Art Space of Pythagorion, Greece, 2017). Mäetamm’s solo exhibitions include „Another Day with My Family“ (Gallery Go North, New York, 2009), „Love Fear and Warning Signs“ (Nettie Horn, London, 2010), „Our Daddy is a Hunter“ (NADA Art Fair, Miami, 2012) and „I Want to Tell You Something“ (Colgate University, New York, 2016). Mäetamm has been awarded the Kristjan Raud Prize (2000) Fifth Class Order of the White Star (2008), the Baltic Assembly Art Prize, the Estonian National Culture Award (2010 and 2019) and been nominated for the Köler Prize. Mäetamm is the recipient of national artists’ wage from 2019 to 2021.