The Institute of Art History and Visual Culture (Estonian abbreviation KVI) is Estonia’s leading academic research institution on art history, employing a staff of scholars with a broad range of competencies. The institute is engaged in high-level research projects in the fields of art history, visual culture and Soviet culture, working closely with universities, research institutes and art institutions in Estonia and around the world. KVI is a member of the International Association of Research Institutes in the History of Art, RIHA.

KVI’s research output takes various forms, extending from specialist publications in its core fields to practical applications, art, architecture and design exhibitions and curation of museum exhibits.

Research results are published as monographs and articles in international specialist publications. The institute also coordinates the publication of a series of edited volumes of Eesti kunsti ajalugu (History of Estonian Art) and provides institutional support to the journal of the Estonian Society of Art Historians and Curators, Kunstiteaduslikke Uurimusi / Studies on Art and Architecture.

KVI actively contributes to the exchange of knowledge and organization of research activity within Estonia and at the international level. The institute has hosted a number of major international conferences, e.g. in 2018, we hosted the 5th international conference of the European Architectural History Network (EAHN), and in June 2022, we are hosting the annual conference of the European Society for Aesthetics (ESA).

KVI values academic mobility. The institute’s teaching staff, research fellows and PhD students participate in academic networks, present at conferences and other events in the field, and pursue studies in academic programmes at universities abroad. The institute in turn hosts teaching and research staff from other academic institutions.

KVI advocates for the development of scientific and professional terminology in Estonian by editing Eesti kunsti ajalugu, and allowing dissertations and theses to be defended in Estonian. The institute is also a key organizer of the series of conferences and publications titled Etüüde nüüdiskultuurist (Studies in Contemporary Culture) dedicated to analyzing current cultural phenomena in Estonia.

The new knowledge created at KVI is consistently shared with the general public. The conferences and seminars organized by the institute are generally open to members of the public, as is a series of open lectures titled International Inspiration hosted in collaboration with the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Estonia. The institute’s research and teaching staff curate various exhibitions in museums and other art institutions, publish articles in the press to popularize the field, deliver public lectures and participate in public discourse on culture and science.


The research conducted at KVI can be divided into four main directions.

(1) Architecture and material and visual culture of the Soviet period. This has generally focused on the study of architecture and material culture in the context of the Cold War along with the issues of experimentality, public space, visualization of ethnicity and institutional criticism. Research has been funded by grants from Estonian Research Council, EU Culture program and individual grants from the Graham Foundation and Estonian Cultural Endowment.

(2) Art historiography, with an emphasis on creation of knowledge in the field of art history in the 19th and 20th century. The topics covered range from the Baltic-German heritage to the Soviet era as well as recent art historiography in independent Estonia and the impact of changing ideologies and disciplinary developments. The practical outlet of this direction of KVI’s research lies in editing Eesti kunsti ajalugu. Research in this direction has been funded by grants from Estonian Research Council, individual grants from Böckler-Mare-Balticum-Stiftung and by Cultural Endowment of Estonia.

(3) Aesthetics, visual culture and picture theory. This research direction evolved out of a series of environmental aesthetics and semiotics conferences called Koht ja paik (Place and Location). In recent years, research has centred on picture theory, the semiotic theories of Edmund Husserl and Charles Sanders Peirce, and phenomenological aesthetics. This research has been funded by grants from Estonian Research Council and individual grants from Mobilitas Pluss program.

(4) In cooperation with other Estonian research institutions and building on previous experience, KVI’s latest research project focuses on Estonian transition culture (the mid to late 1980s and 1990s). Research in this direction has been funded by grants from Estonian Research Council, by Mobilitas Pluss program and by Cultural Endowment of Estonia.

Also among KVI’s core competences are Early Modern era Baltic art and architecture, and feminist art theory.

Estonian Research Council funds two new research projects at the Institute of Art History and Visual Culture

Estonian Research Council has announced the results of its 2019 round of personal research grant applications, including funding for two new research projects by scholars working at the Institute of Art History and Visual Culture, starting in ...