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Art in non-art institutions

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Date: Since 1962

In the period the art historian Elona Lubytė termed ‘silent modernism’ (1962–1982), unofficial exhibitions were held not only in artists’ studios or residences, but also in various non-art institutions that were home to patrons of modern art and exhibition-initiators. Among the most significant institutions were the club of the LSSR (Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic) Writers’ Union, the LSSR State Conservatory, the Urban Planning Institute, the Vaga publishing house (all based in Vilnius), and the Panevėžys Drama Theater, led by the acclaimed director Juozas Miltinis, who cultivated avant-garde ideas in his stage productions. According to contemporaries, the control of the art events that took place inside these institutions was less strict, yet these exhibitions were not advertised by official posters or covered by the press; in other words, they did not receive public attention or official evaluation. Artists’ works were exhibited in lobbies, hallways, offices, and sports and concert halls. Sometimes the unusual exhibition spaces spawned alternative approaches to displaying works of art.


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Fluxus concert

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Date: Spring 1966

Participants: Vytautas Landsbergis (1932) and his students at the Vilnius Pedagogical Institute

Organizer: Vytautas Landsbergis

Location: Vilnius Pedagogical Institute

In the 1960s, the musicologist Vytautas Landsbergis corresponded with his childhood friend, artist and initiator of the Fluxus movement George Maciunas. Maciunas laid out the ideas of this anti-art movement in his letters, and sent Landsbergis recordings of his favorite music and Fluxus performances, as well as Fluxus scores. Landsbergis used this material in his public lectures on modern music.

In 1966, Landsbergis organized a Fluxus concert at the Vilnius Pedagogical Institute, where he taught at the time, together with the institute’s senior students (around 20). The event started with the New Music manifesto written and read by Landsbergis. The program of the concert that lasted for approximately 30 min. was comprised of the instructions sent by Maciunas, complemented with Landsbergis’s own ideas; Landsbergis also created the wall decorations that reflected the Fluxus spirit and set the atmosphere for the concert. Although this avant-garde movement did not take on in Lithuania (the mentioned concert remains the only notable Fluxus event), the dissemination of the ideas of Fluxus and modern music via Landsbergis’s lectures contributed to the emergence and spread of modern art forms.

Documents:

Vytautas Landsbergis: A Manifesto (1966)

Vytautas Landsbergis – interview: Fluxus in Vilnius (2007)


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Crossing the border: international exlibris exhibitions via mail

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Date: 1967 – 1985

The phenomenon of artistic communication via mail emerged in Lithuania as a form of resistance to the ideologisation and isolation of art. In the late 1960s, Lithuanian artists became interested in a small form of graphic art – exlibris (bookplate). Such small forms were seen as marginal at the time, yet it was precisely this status that helped them to circumvent strict Soviet censorship and secure a special place among other art forms in the context of Soviet art. Exlibris was a mobile genre that could represent Lithuanian modern art abroad, as small-format bookplates could be sent to international exhibitions without the knowledge of the state institutions.

In addition to the graphic artists, the sculptors and the painters began to work in the genre of exlibris too: about 200 Lithuanian artists engaged in communication via mail in the Soviet times. Thanks to the connections of the artist Vincas Kisarauskas, four Lithuanian artists took part in an international exhibition abroad – the International Biennial Exhibition of Modern Exlibris in Malbork – for the first time in 1967. As the circle of foreign contacts expanded, artists sent their bookplates to exhibitions in Poland, Italy, Denmark, the USA, Australia, and elsewhere. The genre of exlibris and communication via mail provided Lithuanian artists with a possibility to present their work on the international level and receive due acclaim for it.


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Exhibitions in the apartment of Judita and Vytautas Šerys

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Date: 1967–75

Participants: Valentinas Antanavičius (1936), Linas Katinas (1941), Vincas Kisarauskas (1934-1988), Vytautas Šerys (1931-2006), Kazimiera (Kazė) Zimblytė (1933-1999), Vladislovas Žilius (1939), and others

Organizers: Judita and Vytautas Šerys

Location: The apartment of Judita and Vytautas Šerys, Vilnius

Exhibitions were held at the home of the museum worker Judita Šerienė and the artist Vytautas Šerys between 1967 and 1975. This was the first private, unofficial, and unsanctioned exhibition space in Soviet Lithuania. Šerienė worked in the exhibition department of the Art Exhibition Hall[1] at the time, and had access to avant-garde works that were inconsistent with the dominant communist ideology and consequently were not included in official exhibitions. These works were exhibited in solo and group exhibitions organized at the home of Šerys, which were open to a circle of like-minded visitors who exchanged information about unofficial cultural phenomena by word of mouth. The exhibitions at the Šerys home featured works by Valentinas Antanavičius, Linas Katinas, Vincas Kisarauskas, Vytautas Šerys, Kazimiera (Kazė) Zimblytė, Vladislovas Žilius, and others, which were stylistically close to the language of Abstract, Op, and Pop art, or explored other modern ideas and forms of expression. In addition to the exhibitions, the Šerys home hosted improvised poetry readings. It attracted students and intellectuals of the time—artists, writers, and theater people.


[1] The Art Exhibition Hall, opened in 1967, was the most modern and important space for rotating exhibitions in Lithuania. In 1992 it was renamed the Contemporary Art Centre.


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Films by Artūras Barysas-Baras presented at Amateur film festivals

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Date: 1977, 1979

Location: 4th and 5th Republican (LSSR) Humorous-Satirical Film Festivals

Artūras Barysas-Baras (1954–2005) – filmmaker, actor, record collector, and bibliophile – was one of the most prominent personalities in Vilnius’ alternative culture of the second half of the 20th century. He had become a member of the LSSR Society of Amateur Filmmakers in his school years, and made more than 30 short films during his lifetime, most of them between 1970 and 1984 (11 of the films have been lost). Barysas’ films earned critical acclaim at republican and Union-wide amateur film festivals. The amateur film festivals, presenting films under various categories, were popular events in all Soviet Union, as well as in other socialistic countries. Though subsidized by the state, the amateur cinema (an unprofessional art form), was left almost entirely outside the interference and control of Soviet authorities and was a medium conducive for experimenting. Film festivals presented Artūras Barysas and his films to audiences in Moscow, Leningrad, Tula, Tallinn, Riga, Brest, and Bryansk.

Braysas’ films were prized for their metaphorical artistic language, which implicitly mocked the everyday reality of life in the Soviet Union, and peculiar close-up montages. Barysas played the lead role in almost all of his films, supported by non-professional actors, with the action often taking place simply “on the street” as an improvised situations or according to a conventional scenario. In Barysas’s films, the film critic Skirmantas Valiulis[1] traces echoes of American postwar avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren’s theoretical statements about filmmaking, the comic aesthetic of pre-1968 Czech cinema, and Felliniesque humor, yet acknowledges that the Lithuanian filmmaker retains a peculiar style of his own.

Today Barysas’ work is considered to be a part of the Lithuanian cinematic avant-garde and an eloquent reflection of the epoch. In the context of the visual arts, some of Barysas’ films invite a discussion impossible without the concepts of performance and happening, especially two of them: That Sweet Word… (1977) and For Those Who Do Not Know, Ask Those Who Do (1975). Both of them were presented at the Republican (LSSR) Humorous-Satirical Film Festival (respectively in 1977 and 1979) for the first time, and later on That Sweet Word…, awarded with the 3rd-degree “cheese-sack”, was screened in three film festivals under different film categories, such as 9th Film Festival of Baltic States and Leningrad City, Leningrad, 1977; 9th Short-Film Competition in Riga, 1977, and 19th B-16 Festival in Brno, Czechoslovakia, 1978.


[1] Skirmantas Valiulis, “Baras kino baruose” [Baras in the Domains of Cinema], in Pasaulis pagal Barą [The World According to Baras), ed. Gediminas Kajėnas (to be published in 2012). The book  is focused on Artūras Barysas-Baras’ personality and creative work.

(courtesy of Artūras Barysas-Baras’ family).


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Group Exhibition of Painting

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Date: 22 December 1977

Participants: Valentinas Antanavičius (1936), Eugenijus Cukermanas (1935), Kostas Dereškevičius (1937), Silvestras Džiaukštas (1928), Leonardas Gutauskas (1938), Leonas Katinas (1907-1984), Linas Katinas (1941), Vincas Kisarauskas (1934-1988), Algimantas Kuras (1940), Igoris Piekuras (1935-2006), Marija Teresė Rožanskaitė (1933-2007), Leopoldas Surgailis (1928), Arvydas Šaltenis (1944), Vytautas Šerys (1931-2006), Algirdas Šiekštelė (1931-2008), Ričardas Vaitiekūnas (1953), Nijolė Valadkevičiūtė (1944), and Kazimiera (Kazė) Zimblytė (1933-1999).

Location: LSSR (Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic) Art Workers’ Palace, Vilnius

The “Group Exhibition of Painting” was only open for a few days. A public presentation with the artists on the occasion of the exhibition at the LSSR Art Workers’ Palace was held on December 22, 1977. The event was moderated by the art critic Alfonsas Andriuškevičius (1940).

He recalls, “During a discussion of the exhibition, I simply moved from the work of one artist to the work of another, and interpreted them, giving slight hints at an evaluation. Again, I tried to show how the more innovative means of expression worked. Yet it was mostly artists who participated in the discussion, and so there did not seem to be any very skeptical reactions to these means of expression. Nevertheless, the participating painters were interested in hearing interpretations of their work, and in receiving a few critical insights, although I was by no means an authoritative figure.” Later, “during discussions of Valentinas Antanavičius’s and Eugenijus Antanas Cukermanas’s exhibitions at the Conservatory [in 1981 and 1982, respectively], I mostly had to explain to the public their unconventional means [assemblage and abstract art] of expression (for us), and to prove their legitimacy and functionality. Part of the audience was clearly averse to such art. Besides, I tried to demonstrate that those means of expression produced important meanings, and I tried to counteract the idea that they were just empty, formalist games.”[1]


[1] Alfonsas Andriuškevičius, excerpt from e-mail response, March 2011.


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Conceptual Games

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Date: Autumn 1978

Participants: Kazimiera (Kazė) Zimblytė (1933 – 1999), Gediminas Karalius (1942), Petras Mazūras (1949), and Vladas Vildžiūnas (1932)

Organizers: Vladas Vildžiūnas and Marija Ladigaitė (1931)

Location: Vladas Vildžiūnas and Marija Ladigaitė’s studio and the Jeruzalė sculpture garden, Vilnius

In the late 1970s, the house and the studio of the graphic artist Marija Ladigaitė and the sculptor Vladas Vildžiūnas, as well as the adjacent sculpture garden they had founded in the Vilnius suburb of Jeruzalė (Lithuanian for “Jerusalem”), were popular meeting spots for art and culture personalities, who enjoyed the experimental atmosphere of the place. Ladigaitė and Vildžiūnas hosted informal get-togethers and discussions, during which the guests shared the latest news about the trends in Western modern art and new sculpture-casting technologies, exchanged books, and discussed the exhibitions on display in the studio. The core of the Jeruzalė garden consisted of young sculptors who were interested in avant-garde art trends and flocked around the Vildžiūnas couple; on various occasions, representatives of other spheres of culture visited as well. Several actions, known to their participants and viewers as “Conceptual Games,” were organized in the Jeruzalė garden in 1978. During one event, the textile artist Kazimiera (Kazė) Zimblytė and the sculptors Gediminas Karalius, Petras Mazūras, and Vildžiūnas created site-specific installations and presented them to their friends. “Kazė wrapped the old garden in strips of rice paper, Mazūras inflated a giant intestine, Karalius welded an impromptu constructivist figure, while Vladas weaved rope webs in the crotches of the trees,” recalls Ladigaitė.[1] The processes that took place in the Jeruzalė sculpture garden provided an impetus for the emergence of new artistic forms and ideas—primarily in sculpture—but also in other art fields.


[1] “Marija Ladigaitė, grafikė, Vladas Vildžiūnas, skulptorius. Pokalbis” [Conversation with Marija Ladigaitė, the graphic artist, and Vladas Vildžiūnas, the sculptor], in Quiet Modernism in Lithuania, 1962–1982, ed. Elona Lubytė (Vilnius: Lithuanian Art Museum, Contemporary Art Centre), 201-209.


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Concrete-sculpture symposium

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Date: Autumn 1984–Spring 1985

Participants: Ksenija Jaroševaitė (1953), Kęstutis Musteikis (1956), Naglis Nasvytis (1957), Mindaugas Navakas (1952), Vladas Urbanavičius (1951), Mindaugas Šnipas (1960) (sculptors), and Vytautas Jakubauskas (1954) (exposition designer).

Initiator: Mindaugas Navakas

Organizers: LSSR (Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic) Artists’ Union’s young sculptors section and the Construction Parts Factory

Location: Grounds of the Construction Parts Factory, between the Vilnius-Trakai highway and the railway.

Organized on the outskirts of Vilnius, the concrete-sculpture symposium was initiated by the young sculptor Mindaugas Navakas, who was concerned with sculpture’s relationship with the environment and sought to overcome the closed nature of its form. The young members of the sculptors section of the LSSR Artists’ Union and the architect Vytautas Jakubauskas supported his initiative. Cheap industrial material—concrete—was used to create the sculptures. The artists built the sculptures in situ, taking into account the specifics of the place—the brutal industrial environment—which they saw as an advantage and a challenge for their work. Navakas’s innovative approach later influenced the formation of the notion of the “expanded field of sculpture” in Lithuania.

 


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Portraits of the actors, directors, composers, and set designers of the State Russian Drama Theater, Vilnius – exhibition of photographs

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Date: January 24–February 14, 1985

Participants: Algirdas Šeškus (1945) and Alfonsas Budvytis (1949)

Organizer: LSSR (Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic) Art Workers’ Palace, Vilnius

Location: LSSR Art Workers’ Palace, Vilnius

This series of photographs, created in 1984, was an interpretation of a state commission. Algirdas Šeškus and Alfonsas Budvytis, at the time outsiders of the official art-photography scene, authored the project. “Ignoring the standards of the portrayal of public figures and experimenting with the models’ characters and psychological types and the composition of the shots, these artists have expanded the space of the traditional aesthetics of Lithuanian photography,” noted art historian and curator Margarita Matulytė.[1] The collection of sixty works was first presented at the Yermolova Theater in Moscow in 1984, accompanying the State Russian Drama Theater’s official tour, and then traveled back to be exhibited in Vilnius: it was exhibited in the theater as well as presented at the LSSR Art Workers’ Palace in 1985. The press did not take notice the project at the time, and its innovative character and the artists’ avant-garde attitude have only recently been highlighted.


[1] Margarita Matulytė, Annotation for the exhibition “Portraits of the Actors, Directors, Composers, and Set Designers of the State Russian Drama Theater”, National Gallery of Art, Vilnius, 20 April – 27 June, 2010.


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