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Dovile Tumpyté: Introduction to events in Lithuania

The events of the Lithuanian art scene presented here encompass the period between the early 1960s and the mid-1980s (the beginning of the Perestroika). The featured phenomena, events, exhibitions, and documentation represent the art of the Soviet period, which developed outside the domain of official culture and was based on modern forms of expression and ideas that were foreign to the ideology and requirements of socialist realism.

Art & Text: Developing a Discourse. The local discourse of modern art developed in the unofficial Soviet realm in various ways. In the 1960s–1970s, modern cultural life evolved mostly in private spaces—artists’ studios and apartments—where like-minded artists and intellectuals gathered. The philologist and the art critic Alfonsas Andriuškevičius wrote the first essays (not published but circulated informally) about the work of four artists – Linas Katinas, Valentinas Antanavičius, Algimantas Kuras, Antanas Gudaitis – he was in close contact with in the early 1970s. The insights and the form of Andriuškevičius’s early and subsequent reviews surpassed the official Soviet style and facilitated an adequate understanding of the language of modern art, as well as contributed to the process of the development of local critical thought. Moreover, he laid the foundations of independent art criticism. Another prominent figure that encouraged the appreciation of modern forms of expression through his research of aesthetics-related issues was Antanas Katalynas, who went to artists’ studios to discuss their work along with philosophy and aesthetics students. The jazz musician Vladimir Tarasov, who was well acquainted with the Russian nonconformist art scene, introduced Lithuanian artists to the work of the Moscow Conceptualists (Erik Bulatov, Ilya Kabakov, and others), who often visited Lithuania. The lectures of the French semiotician Maurice Toussaint and the screenings of films about modern Western art at Vilnius University, the Art Institute, and artists’ studios were other sources of information. Western art also reached Lithuanians in the form of books from abroad that were obtained in various ways; in addition, artists frequently visited neighboring Poland, where the atmosphere was slightly more liberal and one could see modern art exhibitions and films or buy art magazines.

Art & International Networks. Two phenomena illustrate Lithuanian artists’ connections with the international art scene and indicate the extent of their involvement in it. Thanks to music professor Vytautas Landsbergis’s correspondence with the founder of the Fluxus movement, George Maciunas, the Lithuanian cultural community was made aware of the movement (a Fluxus concert was even organized in Vilnius in 1966) and was well informed about the most recent events associated with Fluxus. In the 1960s many Lithuanian artists discovered the advantages of international communication via mail: they took to creating bookplates and participating in exhibitions in the West, overcoming Soviet isolation.

Outside the (Official) White Cube. Important spots and events of the Lithuanian avant-garde art scene formed outside the official art institutions and passed without official visibility. Exhibitions of avant-garde works and art actions took place, and new exhibition formats and practices based on reflections on the relationship between the work of art and the environment emerged in nonofficial spaces—artists’ studios and apartments, various non-art institutions (institutes and universities, publishing houses, theaters, etc.), or on the grounds of industrial complexes. The short films of Artūras Barysas-Baras, one of the most prolific figures of the Lithuanian alternative scene, were shown and received acclaim at official amateur filmmakers’ festivals in Soviet times, and can be considered some of the most outstanding examples of Lithuanian avant-garde cinema today.

The Lithuanian art critic and curator Elona Lubytė has conducted the most comprehensive study of the processes that took place in Lithuanian art from the 1960s to the 1980s. She curated the 1997 exhibition “Quiet Modernism in Lithuania, 1962–1982” at the Contemporary Art Center in Vilnius, presenting works from that period together with documents, artifacts, and photographs, and compiled an exhaustive publication that accompanied the exhibition and revealed the broader context of that epoch’s events. The German art historian Petra Stegmann presented a detailed account of the Lithuanian cultural community’s links with Fluxus in her international exhibition “Fluxus East: Fluxus Networks in Central Eastern Europe,” which toured Europe from 2007 to 2011 and was accompanied by a catalog. The phenomenon of Lithuanian artists’ participation in international ex libris exhibitions via mail was analyzed in Ieva Pleikienė’s 2004 doctoral dissertation, Lithuanian Small-Format Graphic Art: The Forms of Artistic Communication via Mail (1960–1990), at Vilnius Academy of Arts. Barysas-Baras’s personality and his creative work is the focus of a book that Gediminas Kajėnas is currently preparing for publication. These studies and the material collected have significantly contributed to the making of the present selection.

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