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Moments of change that reveal new prospects and challenges in the midst of a complex process of transition are very exciting, and afterwards the time to change and to be changed inevitably arrives again. Contemporary art in Lithuania has been marked by these transformations. In the last 20 years there have been several turning points, brought about by changes in international politics and the country’s internal cultural policy.

Many Lithuanian artists of different generations have established reputations for themselves, not only locally but also internationally, particularly since the beginning of the millennium. During this period, several new art institutions have appeared alongside existing ones. Public and private initiatives have promoted dynamism and encouraged variety. These institutions and initiatives are currently supporting and developing various networks, approaches and practices, while also laying down guidelines for new processes and cooperation on an international level. Lithuanian visual art culture - made well-known by artists of world importance such as the modernist painter and composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, the founder of the Fluxus movement Jurgis Mačiūnas, the godfather of experimental film Jonas Mekas, and the master of social documentary photography Antanas Sutkus - has seen the emergence of new names on the international contemporary art scene. 

This website gives a concise introduction to the changes in the field of contemporary visual art and its main players in the more than 20 years of the existence of an independent Lithuania, that is, to the institutions and artists who have created this environment and who have changed and are changing the flow of ideas and forms in institutional activities and contemporary art practices. The catalogue part of this publication presents both established and emerging contemporary Lithuanian artists whose work is important in the context of both local and international art.

Dovilė Tumpytė

 
History: the Development of a National Art

Lithuania’s cultural development, in common with that of other countries, was affected by increasingly globalised political and economic processes. The country’s geographical location puts it in the sphere of influence of several large countries and cultures: this is why the formation of its national art has been complicated and developed late.

The first exhibition of Lithuanian art was held in 1907. It featured works by artists who were to secure their positions for over three decades and form the policies and creative direction for art in independent Lithuania.

After the First World War, when Lithuania regained independence and Poland’s occupation of Vilnius, the capital moved to Kaunas. It was there that the identity of the young country, and its cultural, social, economic and political life, began to take shape. In 1921, a gallery devoted to the work of the famous artist and composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis was opened. It was renovated in 1944, and renamed the National M. K. Čiurlionis Art Museum.

The thriving art scene in the 1930s gave rise to the Ars group, the country’s most distinctive avant-garde phenomenon, whose members had studied in Paris. These artists rejected the established tradition of illusionist representation, and turned their attention to expressive explorations of style, combined with a novel interpretation of folk art. The influence of the Ars group is still evident in Lithuanian painting today.

The Second World War and the almost 50-year-long Soviet occupation signalled the beginning of a long, complicated and controversial period in Lithuanian art. The years 1945 to 1956 were perhaps the most difficult and the most repressive. By dictating the themes and the discourse of artistic creation, the Soviet authorities sought to centralise and monopolise the art market. The organisations that were established to implement and monitor it included the Artists’ Association (membership was mandatory for almost all professional artists), the Art Fund, and the state-run Art companies (Lith. Dailės kombinatai). In 1940, the Vilnius City Museum became a state museum of culture. In 1941 it was reorganised as the Vilnius State Art Museum, and in 1966 it became the Lithuanian Art Museum.
After the cult of Stalin was discredited in 1956, the period known as the ‘thaw’ set in - artists began actively looking for new solutions and experimenting in the plastic arts. New groups and exhibition spaces were created: the Art Exhibition Palace was built and opened in the centre of Vilnius in 1967 (it was reorganised into the Contemporary Art Centre in 1992). The Association of Lithuanian Art Photographers was established in 1969 and developed a school of photography which to this day successfully combines the traditions of photojournalism and art photography.

The isolation of the art system through Soviet ideology, which allowed only one form of expression and a limited selection of themes, was responsible for the specific way that Lithuanian art evolved and distanced it from the processes taking place in international art. Only in the late 1980s, together with the birth of the national movement in Lithuania and in many of the other countries of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc, did an important turning point occur in art and artistic identity.
 
The Turning Point: The First Years of Contemporary Art in Lithuania

On 11 March 1989, the Lithuanian Artists Association (LDS) broke away from the Artists’ Association of the USSR, and a year later Lithuania broke away from the Soviet Union. A new and independent period in the life of the young state began. The early years of independence yielded experimentation, spontaneity and an abundance of initiatives in art. In 1992, the Lithuanian Artists’ Association’s exhibition hall was reorganised into the Contemporary Art Centre (CAC), and became the country’s first state-funded contemporary art institution. Directed from its very first days by Kęstutis Kuizinas, the CAC distinguished itself through its qualitatively new understanding of art and its representation, as well as for its strategies, offering forms of art never seen before to the local art-going public. A year later, in 1993, the Soros Centre for Contemporary Art (SCCA) was established in Vilnius, financed by the American investor and philanthropist George Soros. It greatly influenced the development of the art scene, and ‘gathered information, supported contemporary art projects, particularly their dissemination internationally, and published art catalogues and organised annual exhibitions’.[i] In 2000, the Soros Centre for Contemporary Art was reorganised into the Contemporary Art Information Centre (CAIC) under the Lithuanian Art Museum, and later became part of the National Gallery of Art, which opened in 2009. In the 1990s, the CAC, which was actively supported by foreign embassies and received additional funding from the Soros Centre for Contemporary Art, began a broad and high-quality presentation of international art in Lithuania. In so doing, it introduced prominent contemporary artists of that period to the local audience.

At the same time, the unity and authority of the former Lithuanian Artists’ Association, which had been the only such association during the Soviet period, began to waver. Middle-aged artist who had broken away from it and younger artists who had made a conscious decision not to join it formed new, more organic, and less bureaucratic associations. In Kaunas, the more radical Post Ars group was formed and became active (1989). Groups were also formed in Vilnius: the group called 24 comprised artists of the middle generation, and was established in 1989; the group Angis (1990) is active to this day, as well those of the younger generation, usually student groups formed at the Vilnius Academy of Arts - Green Leaf (1989), the New School of Communication (1990), and the group Good Evils, initiated by Kęstutis Zapkus, who had come from the United States, which had a big influence on young artists. The Good Evils group exhibition in 1992 was the inaugural exhibition at the Contemporary Art Centre. The formation of artists’ groups worked as a catalyst both for the disintegration of traditional art institutions and to draw attention to the lack of physical exhibition and creative spaces.

In 1993, the first non-governmental organisation, the Jutempus Interdisciplinary Art Programme, was formed, on the initiative of the artists Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas and the art critic Saulius Grigoravičius. It was housed in the former Railway Workers’ House of Culture, and built on the principle of networking and cooperation. Jutempus was the first independent institution to carry out exhibition activities professionally, and to use the possibilities offered by the internet. In this way, it encouraged an interdisciplinary view of art. In 1994, former students of Kęstutis Zapkus, together with other like-minded artists, created the Metastudio organisation, which sought to formalise creative work legally, and create a new socially supportive artists’ association. The only project presented by Metastudio was The Belly of the Whale, curated by Žilvinas Kempinas, in the former Soldiers’ House of Culture in the Northtown area (Lith. Šiaurės miestelis) of Vilnius, which the artists’ association had rented as a studio. The project was unique, not only in the site chosen, but also in the style of presentation: the works were in absolute darkness, and the spectators were able to see them by lighting their way and the works with candles, given to them on entering the building. From 1998, the Lithuanian Interdisciplinary Artists’ Association continued the work of the Metastudio project, declaring diversity in forms of art and the groundbreaking (at the time) use of new media.

The transition from a planned to a free market economy also encouraged the establishment of private galleries: the Vartai and Lietuvos Aidas galleries, which were set up in the early years of independence, are still exhibiting today.
 
Development: Institutions and Initiatives in the First Decades of Independence

After the first wave of transformation, which brought a multitude of changes, the number of spontaneous initiatives declined. The big players, the CAC and the SCCA, began to play an ever more prominent role within the art world. The SCCA, which was led until 1998 by Raminta Jurėnaitė, presented several important annual exhibitions, usually in the CAC. These included Between Sculpture and Object in Lithuanian (1993), For Beauty (1995), Everyday Language (1995), Multilingual Landscapes (1996) and Twilight (1998). The latter was organised with the CAC, which at the end of the 1990s hosted the exhibition Lithuanian Art 1989–1999 and the Baltic Triennial of International Art, which has taken place since 1998. With this, the CAC, without hiding its input, began actively to play a role in the formation of art history. In organising the Lithuanian Art exhibition, which takes place every two years, it attempts to review and systematise changing processes in Lithuanian art. Meanwhile, the Baltic Triennial of International Art became the priority and the main event at the CAC, curated by well-known international guests. At the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, the CAC established itself as the most important art institution, not only in Lithuania but also in the Baltic countries.

This circumstance partly determined the clear separation between the centre (Vilnius) and the ‘periphery’ (the other towns) in the Lithuanian art world. Nevertheless, in other Lithuanian towns, usually thanks to the efforts of active individuals, interesting initiatives were created and pursued, reflecting a divergence between the centre and the periphery, and its shortcomings and virtues.
From 1993 to 1996, thanks to the initiative shown by Redas Diržys the first events called Straight Line Cut (Lith. Tiesė. Pjūvis) were organised on the streets of Alytus. This later developed into the Alytus Biennial (2005) which declared that ‘biennials can occur anywhere and everywhere, and their too aggrandising spontaneous “value” is a cliché created by ideology, which can only be refuted by implementing it and continually mocking it.’[ii] In 2009, the Alytus Biennial grew into the Alytus Art Strike Biennial, the target of which was the Vilnius European Capital of Culture project and ‘the national establishment as a whole’. [iii] This biennial, which was deliberately established in a region far from the capital, seeks to demolish established hierarchy between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ art, elite and mass culture, and the centre-periphery.

During the same period, in 1996, the first art festival called Virus was organised in Šiauliai by curators (principally Virginijus Kinčinaitis) from the Šiauliai Art Gallery. From the very beginning, the festival, which takes place every autumn, has been distinguished by its interdisciplinary nature, and its disregard of the boundaries between established and up-and-coming artists: it covers avant-garde fashion collections, exhibitions, musical performances, and seminars on theory. In 2000, Virginijus Kinčinaitis founded the Enter media art festival, which takes place every spring. During the festival (exhibitions, seminars on theory, sound performances), the meeting place of new technology and the artistic imagination is presented and analysed.

In Kaunas, the second largest city in Lithuania, the Mykolas Žilinskas Art Gallery and the Kaunas Picture Gallery have distinguished themselves by opening their doors to memorable art projects by guest curators and local initiatives. For example, in 2000, the exhibition Intrigue-Provocation at the Mykolas Žilinskas Art Gallery showcased the work of world-famous artists such as Katarzyna Kozyra, Taras Polataiko and Paweł Althamer. The Kaunas Picture Gallery houses the Fluxus Room, which has a permanent installation by the Japanese artist Ay-O. In 2005, various spaces in Kaunas played host to the Textile international art biennial, which has a wide interdisciplinary view of textile art: it combines visual art with contemporary dance and music. The forthcoming 2013 biennial has the ambitious goal of completely freeing itself from textiles, and weaving itself into the general fabric of contemporary art biennials.

In 2005, the Klaipėda Culture Communication Centre (KCCC) was established in Klaipėda, the only port city in Lithuania. It comprises exhibition spaces (the former Klaipėda Art Exhibition Palace and the Klaipėda Artists’ House), and a wide range of institutional activities: the organisation and mounting of exhibitions, the maintenance of the web portal www.kulturpolis.lt, and the implementation of a residency programme, and many other local and international projects. The active and professional KCCC seeks to enlighten and expand the audience for contemporary art in the coastal region.
At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, smaller players began to grow on the contemporary art scene in Vilnius. In 2007, a modern commercial building in Vilnius became home to the Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Centre. Its mission includes the preservation for posterity of works by Jonas Mekas, George Mačiūnas, and other Fluxus artists, and also the organisation of contemporary art projects, working with guest curators, institutions and associations. However, its sparse exhibition programme reduces the visibility of this institution and its importance in the country’s art life. Somewhat earlier, the Vartai Gallery, one of the largest private galleries, began exhibiting important international and local art, as well as participating in international art fairs. The contemporary art Ibid Projects Gallery, established in 2007, for the two years of its existence put on several exceptional exhibitions of international art. In 2008, the Tulips & Roses gallery opened in Vilnius, and operated for two years before it moved to Brussels. Tulips & Roses demonstrated exceptionally successful international management, and fostered a close artist-institution working relationship, helping the gallery to create the impression of seamless activity. Still, the lack of a contemporary art market, or its delayed formation, prevents the opening and successful running of private galleries, necessitating the need to look for other kinds of institutions or initiatives.

Awards and prizes are some of the possible points of contact between art and commerce. In 2003, Hansabankas, now called Swedbank, established a prize for young contemporary artists from the Baltic region. The prize sought not only to encourage artists, but also to foster a closer relationship between the Baltic States. In 2008, several people from the Lithuanian Artists’ Association and a few independent curators established the Young Painter Prize, which sought to recognise the most promising young painters. Within three years, it had become an international competition. However, these initiatives involving art and commerce are rare examples, which only a few representatives of the business world have chosen to follow.
 
A One-Year Renaissance: Long-term Projects in 2009 

The year 2009 was a banner year in Lithuania for two reasons: Vilnius was European Capital of Culture, and Lithuania celebrated its millennium. These two large-budget events not only prompted a whole host of unique initiatives and events, but also paved the way for ongoing projects and even opened the doors of some venues. The Vilnius – European Capital of Culture (VECC) programme provided the occasion for Art Vilnius, the first international art fair in Lithuania, which attracted the participation of galleries from 31 countries. The fair, which tries to stimulate the sluggish art market and educate the public, was organised for the third time in 2012.

A smaller but no less important initiative was Kultflux, a temporary stage erected on the bank of the River Neris, which in the warmer months of 2008 to 2010, hosted an array of interdisciplinary programmes, including lectures, exhibitions, film screenings and live music events, attracting large numbers of visitors.

The VECC programme also brought together residents of Vilnius for the Night of Culture and Art in Unexpected Spaces projects, which opened up spaces in Vilnius never seen before by its inhabitants and attempted to bring art to a wider audience. The cyclical and on-going Artscape project, organised by the Vartai Gallery, which shows contemporary art, together with the Cinema Spring and Vilnius Jazz festivals, was also notable. Artscape hosted monthly events that featured the brightest stars in the visual arts, film and jazz, from former, current and future European capitals of culture. At the same time, the events provoked creative dialogue with Lithuanian artists.

The most important event of these two decades was the opening of the National Gallery of Art, a division of the Lithuanian Art Museum, in the former Museum of the Revolution. This multifunctional cultural centre has a permanent exhibition that shows works of 20th and 21st-century Lithuanian art. Temporary exhibitions usually feature Lithuanian and international art, in an attempt to show Lithuanian art in a wider cultural context. The National Gallery of Art also works with various independent initiatives, by organising projects that are presented in the multifunctional auditorium and in the general gallery spaces.

In 2009, the long-awaited new building of the Vilnius Academy of Arts opened its doors. The design and innovation centre is jokingly referred to as the ‘Titanic’. The building not only provided space for several departments of the Vilnius Academy of Arts, but also the opportunity, previously unavailable, for students and staff to exhibit their work in the spacious exhibition halls. For one year, Vilnius was flooded with a stream of projects of various kinds and quality, although it also made possible the implementation of strategically important long-term projects.
 
After the Boom: New Centres of Art 

After the multitude of events in 2009, single, often individually motivated, projects were put into practice. In 2010, the Fluxus Ministry was established in an abandoned Ministry of Health building in Vilnius and relocated to Kaunas in 2012. The ‘ministry’ which was set up to popularize the Fluxus movement, often used by people in Lithuania for their own purposes, took under its wing wildly different forms of creative expression – from the Lithuanian Interdisciplinary Artists’ Association to films by Jonas Mekas shown in the basement and a mini skating rink.

The Modern Art Centre, set up in 2010 and supported by Danguolė and Viktoras Butkus, collectors of modern and contemporary art,was the most ambitious private initiative of the last 20 years. Working with professional art specialists, they have already built up a representative collection of modern and contemporary art from the 1960s to the present day. They plan to make the collection accessible to the public by constructing a building for the Modern Art Centre with their own money on the right bank of the River Neris. They intend to donate the building and the collection to the state, and in so doing revive the long tradition of patronage in Lithuania.

In 2011, the Vilnius Academy of Arts opened a new subdivision far from the capital, the Nida Art Colony. It is known for its international residency programme, the first of its kind in Lithuania, which attracts artists from all over the world, and who pay particular attention to aspects of local culture and nature in their work. The Nida Art Colony hosts exhibitions, international seminars and conferences, and in so doing places a new marker in the cultural geography of Lithuania.

In mid-2012, an innovative project-based interdisciplinary and para-academic educational programme called Rupert started in Vilnius. It is intended to include an international residency programme and a public gallery. Each year, Rupert chooses a small number of participants, whose suggested projects – from shows to the architecture of ideas – tutors, visiting lecturers from various countries, help to develop.

Over the last few years, curators and artists of the younger generation who have appeared on the contemporary art scene have become known for their proactive approach and their close cooperation with established institutions, such as the Contemporary Art Centre, the National Gallery of Art, the Vartai and Tulips & Roses galleries, the Vilnius Academy of Arts, and Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas. Cooperative projects that have evolved into long-term initiatives include the following: The Gardens exhibition space, located in the unusual space of the Planetarium in Vilnius, which has started life off with several highly conceptual art projects; the Vytautas Magnus Gallery 101 in Kaunas (2008); and the [six chairs] BOOKS bookshop of contemporary art (2012), which has reworked the traditional concept of a bookshop.

Neringa Černiauskaitė 

[i]Skaidra Trilupaitytė, Lolita Jablonskienė, ‘Šiuolaikinio meno kontekstai Lietuvoje ir pasaulyje’ (Contexts of Contemporary Art in Lithuania and the World), in ŠMC – 15 metų (The CAC is 15 Years Old), Vilnius: Šiuolaikinio meno centras, 2007, p.16-18.
[ii] Redas Diržys, ‘Apie Alytaus bienalę’ (About the Alytus Biennale), internet: http://www.alytusbiennial.com/component/content/article/9-bienalelt/60-apie-meno-streik-alytuje.html (viewed on 4.7.2012)
[iii] ibid.

 
Shifts in Lithuanian Contemporary Art Practices and Ideas

The most significant changes on the Lithuanian art scene began in the late 1980s, together with the new developments in politics that led to the reestablishment of independence in 1990 and the reorganisation of the art field. At the time (from 1987), musicians and composers began to put into practice new, Fluxus-inspired[i] ideas, by organising festivals of both conceptual art and happenings in various cities, with students from the Vilnius State Institute of Art (renamed the Vilnius Academy of Arts in 1990) taking part. Shortly afterwards, the first independent artists’ groups were established and their members began to bring new forms of contemporary art into Lithuanian art practice. The Žalias lapas group (the Green Leaf, established in 1988 in Vilnius), consisting of musicians and art students at the Vilnius State Institute of Art, organised actions of a humanistic character in public spaces that combined visual, audio and performance elements. The Post Ars group (established in 1989 in Kaunas) became known for its land art and actions on industrial sites, as well as controversial installations that highlighted social and existential issues. The establishment of artists’ groups testified to the decline of Soviet ideology and its apparatus of culture control, as well as to the radical changes in local art practices, challenging conventional art.

In fact, some artists from various disciplines had already begun to be guided by the principles of contemporary art. In the early 1980s, Mindaugas Navakas, a pioneer of conceptual sculpture in Lithuania, who is still active today, produced large-format objects that interpreted geometric forms, as well as those from the world of technology. In these works, he highlighted the importance of a specific location and the spatial context in perceiving a work of art. In this way he formed a new vision of art for public spaces. His innovative approach influenced the development of the concept of sculpture in the expanded field in Lithuania.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a new generation of photographers who embodied in their work a turning point in art photography, gave a start to the appearance of postmodern tendencies in this area. This was thanks to the efforts of Vitas Luckus, the pioneer of conceptual photography in Lithuania, Algirdas Šeškus, and Alfonsas Budvytis. At that time, these photographers were working on the margins of the important and recognised Lithuanian school of photography, which is represented by such classics of modernism as Antanas Sutkus, Aleksandras Macijauskas, and Romualdas Rakauskas, among others.
An important figure in the context of international contemporary art is the godfather of American avant-garde film Jonas Mekas, who is of Lithuanian descent and who lives and works in New York. His rare visits to Soviet Lithuania in the 1970s and 1980s were of political and artistic importance. His poetry and experimental films inspired Lithuanian video art in the late 1980s and influenced the expression of some artists who chose film as their medium.
 
Tendencies of the 1990s: towards Self-identification

After Lithuania re-established its independence in 1990, artists became free to participate directly in the world of art on an international level. Fundamental changes took place in the work of the younger generation of artists who were completing their studies in painting and sculpture. Almost all of them were studying at the Vilnius Academy of Arts, the only art school in Lithuania, where at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, local academic traditions were still strong, and the ideas of contemporary art were basically not yet being taught. Young artists “discovered” them on their own, studying information about new Western art that was available to them and looking around outside of Lithuania when they travelled abroad for a shorter or longer time to participate in exhibitions and to work in creative centres. Thus, the work by Lithuanian pioneers in the field of contemporary art is known not only for its innovativeness, but also for its individuality, in terms of the forms of art and the issues addressed.[ii]
The 1990s were marked by the shift from medium-specific to discourse-specific art practices. New forms of art, such as object, installation, art action, performance, contemporary photography, collaboration and new media based art practice, as well as the medium of moving image and film that was strikingly used especially in the late 1990s, highlighted the critical relationship of contemporary art with the problematic of social, political and cultural phenomena. The artists addressed the problematics of the body, daily life, the relationship between art and life, institutional criticism, and especially questions of post-Soviet (artistic) identity and collective memory.

The central themes, particularly in the late 1990s, of Deimantas Narkevičius’ conceptual objects, (video) installations and films were and remain the memory of the utopia of modernism.Narkevičius examines it by combining two perspectives: individual oral stories and history as a validated discourse, by reworking and interpreting (by personalisation) various found footage: documentary film that formed a collective memory, feature films and literary narratives that had become rooted in the post-Soviet consciousness, as well as works by other artists.

Collaborative tactics, networking, performativity, archiving, and the aim to work with new media and technology by integrating them into public life, are characteristic of the art practice of Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas. They work in the socio-political field, raising questions about the sense of community, public spirit, and civil consciousness, in discourses of power, feminism and identity.
Discourses on institutional critique and national identity are inherent in the work of Artūras Raila, who works closely with various social groups and subcultures. By bringing them into the art space and allowing them to carry out their regular activities, he highlights the role of creativity in the everyday social setting, and questions the difference between the institution of art and life.
The research and analysis of the local context, its history and national identity are also characteristic of the films and installations by Audrius Novickas and Gintaras Makarevičius.

Besides these dominating tendencies, the outstanding work by Eglė Rakauskaitė in the mid-1990s examined issues of female identity. Rakauskaitė worked with materials that were unconventional in Lithuania at the time, such as human hair, jasmine petals, honey, lard, and chocolate. In her bodily objects, performances and installations sensuality and intimacy became intertwined. In her later work, an intimate look at a person through the lens of a camera became a tool to reflect issues of social phenomena and universal existence.

Human nature, presented in hypertrophied constructs of death and eros in large-format photographs, drawings, sculptures and films, became the object of analysis for Svajonė and Paulius Stanikas. Jurga Barilaitė explores the social construction of women and uses various artistic media to confront the dominance of the male gaze in the social and cultural environment. Evaldas Jansas, in his installations, films and performances, raises questions about radical and abject aspects of social reality and morality in art, by exposing social states that ‘normal’ society does not want to see: an ambivalent existence and cracks in the social system. Valdas Ozarinskas, who has a degree in architecture, reveals a specific intellectual vision through the appropriation of the world of objects to create new forms, functions, and meanings. Žilvinas Kempinas, who moved to New York to live and work in the late 1990s, uses unwound magnetic tape, light and currents of air to create installations in which he explores the aesthetics of movement and the optical experience of space.

Many of these artists, whose work is associated with the emergence of contemporary art in Lithuania, became established on the international scene at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries. Due to the geographically expanded postcolonial discourse, the international art community became interested in East European art and began organising exhibitions that explored it in the context of Western tradition. In 1999, Lithuania for the first time had its own pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In 2002 the Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius began to renew the vision of the Baltic Triennial: it started a collaboration with international guest curators, and an event of regional importance is gradually being transformed into an internationally acknowledged platform for contemporary art. Lithuanian artists began by taking part in contemporary art biennials in Berlin, Istanbul and Sao Paolo, and in Manifesta, and then a little later in the first decade of the 21st century in Documenta (Germany), Skulptur Projekte Münster, the Guangzhou Triennial, and elsewhere.
 
The In-Between Period: Identification

The younger generation of artists who appeared on the art scene in the late 1990s continued the prevailing themes and modes of expression, while maintaining the strategy of a researcher and emphasising the period of change. The object of their analysis became the transition of post-Soviet mentality and its adaptation to capitalist society, as well as new social and cross-cultural ties – the discourse of encountering the Other.

In the films and installations of Kristina Inčiūraitė, the female gaze and worldview become the central object of analysis, and a tool for the (de)construction of reality, utopia, and fiction.The art practice of Laura Garbštienė who delves into multicultural contexts is distinguished by her understanding of her identity as a woman artist and a woman through a foreign culture, language and role. Through their interest in language, identity and stereotypes in post-Soviet popular culture, the artists Laura Stasiulytė, Arūnas Gudaitis and Paulina Eglė Pukytėexplore the transitory situations and states of shifting symbolic status, adaptation and knowledge of the Other. Using various media, Dainius Liškevičius looks at socio-cultural phenomena through the prism of irony and the absurd, while not shying away from critical self-reflection and laughing at stereotypical beliefs entrenched in culture.
At the turn of the century, the tendency to question the medium of painting developed. After the universally declared ‘death of painting’, it again became important through a radical rethinking of the medium.[iii] Materials and modes of expression unfamiliar to traditional painting started to be used, with the aim of conveying a conceptual message. Both older and younger artists turned in this direction: Jonas Gasiūnas, Eglė Ridikaitė, Patricija Jurkšaitytė, Agnė Jonkutė, Ričardas Nemeikšis, and others.

Jonas Gasiūnas, one of the most influential artists in this regard in the context of Lithuania, uses a technique of painting and drawing with the smoke of a candle, which creates a cinematographic effect on the canvas, and a conceptual juxtaposition of fiction and reality. He explores the themes of personal, historical time and its changes, as well as the processes of obliterating and reclaiming memory. The artist Eglė Ridikaitė chooses not to paint on canvas but instead uses large-format industrial textiles, and paints with aerosol paint, emphasising the flatness of the image. Patricija Jurkšaitytė paints historical pictures taken from poor quality images in books, eliminating the figures in the works, thus proposing a contemporary perspective on classic images. Among the emerging generation of painters, Andrius Zakarauskas is especially concerned with the painter’s self-reflection in painting, while Eglė Ulčinskaitė and Alina Melnikova are preoccupied with reflection of the painting process and analysis, and Eglė Karpavičiūtė conducts a dialog with local and international art history, and examines the possibilities of translating art pieces from one medium to another.

The boundaries between documentary and fiction and the problematics of the medium as the message are being explored by the artists who work in photography and film or video. Gintautas Trimakas, who in the late 1980s started treating the medium of photography differently from his contemporaries, continues to explore its subtleties, the principles of making images, and modes of transferring reality to an image, by conceptualising the very process of photography and the selection of objects. He formed a new conception of photography, together with the like-minded artists Alvydas Lukys and Remigijus Treigys, who are interested in concepts of the displacement and prosaicism of time and objects. Ugnius Gelguda via staged photography and reflections on cinema history in his work, touches on important issues of social life, such as national, gender, and cultural identity. Darius Žiūra constantly records, selects and composes visual information in his photography and moving images. Like an anthropologist, he creates portraits of people, objects and places, touching on sensitive issues and maintaining a humanist approach.[iv]
 
Altered Logic of Art: Horizontal Mapping

After Lithuania joined the European Union in 2004, many more opportunities opened up to the younger generation of artists to start or continue their studies in other countries and in this way to integrate more quickly into the international contemporary art scene. Some artists, who had begun their careers in the early 1990s after the reestablishment of independence, as well as younger ones, started to be represented by the galleries established in Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, or New York and elsewhere. Local private art galleries, such as Galerija Vartai and Tulips & Roses, began working with promising young artists. Today, Lithuanian artists are active participants in the dynamic international art field, and contribute with their art practice to various networks of institutions, curators, gallerists, and artists.

Studies and artist-in-residency programmes of various tendencies abroad have undoubtedly influenced the practices of emerging artists, and have stimulated the advent of a more diverse set of ideas and modes of expressing them. Eglė Budvytytė explores the body’s ability to challenge conventional behaviour determined by public space via the performative and cinematographic situations in her work, as if she were a choreographer of sociocultural matter. Ignas Krunglevičius, who trained as a composer, is interested in examining the human psyche. He analyses extreme, stressful situations (interrogation, manipulation), and transforms them using a hypnotic combination of sound, colour and specific texts, in order to elicit empathy with the desired psychological state. Installations by Žilvinas Landzbergas are solely made of cheap materials (cardboard, paper, plywood, and raw materials), a choice that is conceptualised by the artist as a reference to the working class. On the other hand, such material brings us closer to nature than to culture, and forms a sense of uncontrolled, disembodied energy. His installations resemble small stage sets, filled with shamanistic storytelling of objects as possible constructions of the inner world.

A fundamental and radical change in art, which allowed for a discussion of the appearance of another kind of logic, was revealed at the juncture of the first and second decade of the 21st century, when the younger generation of artists came on to the scene. On the level of ideas, this change is related to the internationally acclaimed activity of the curator and writer Raimundas Malašauskas and the artist Darius Mikšys, who represented Lithuania at the Lithuanian pavilion which received a special mention at the 54th Venice Biennale. This change, which is turning into a global symptom, can be connected with increased attention to the strategy of artistic research in art practice, which opposes academic and scientific methods, and declares the value of intuition, allusion and mystery in a work of art. Artists offer a different, perhaps more open, and not completely defined, relationship with the world, and the interrelation of objects, phenomena, knowledge and modes of thought in it. They are interested in micro-stories, the most subtle details that construct the universal narrative of thought and form, thus expanding the field of perception. An object or text that is seen more and more frequently becomes just a stimulus for the seer to encounter a work of art in his imagination or consciousness, experiencing it completely subjectively or as the only unique copy of it. Emerging artists who work in this way, such as Gintaras Didžiapetris, Liudvikas Buklys, Elena Narbutaitė, Dalia Dūdėnaitė, Juozas Laivys, Antanas Gerlikas and others, mark yet one more stage in the development of art.

Dovilė Tumpytė

[i] In Soviet Lithuania, Fluxus ideas were first appeared in music. In the 1960s the musicologist Vytautas Landsbergis corresponded with his childhood friend Jurgis Mačiūnas, an artist and the founder of the Fluxus movement. In his letters, Mačiūnas wrote about the ideas of this anti-artistic movement and sent recordings of Fluxus performances and Fluxus instructions. Landsbergis used this material in public presentations on modern music. 
[ii] Lolita Jablonskienė, ‘Dešimtmečio fragmentai’ (Fragments of the Decade), in Lietuvos dailė 1989-1999: dešimt metų (Lithuanian Art 1989–1999: Ten Years), exhibition catalogue, Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, 1999, p.15-19.
[iii] Milda Žvirblytė, ‘Keletas pastabų apie naująją lietuvių tapybą’ (A Few Remarks on New Lithuanian Painting),in Kultūros barai, No 8/9, 2001, p.63-66; Milda Žvirblytė, ‘Contemporary Lithuanian Painting: From Projection Point to the Shine’, in Studija (Latvia), No. 72, 2010, p.46-53.
[iv] Anders Kreuger, ‘Selected Takes’ (on the exhibition of Darius Žiūra), 2010. Source: http://www.antjewachs.de/Darius_Ziura_-_Selekted_Takes.html

Education and artist-in-residence programmes