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In All Seriousness: Institutions of New Art and Their Projects
Erika Grigoravičienė
Around 1990, New Art was being shown in Vilnius at the Langas and 91 Galleries and the Art Exhibition Hall, but after 1993, its growth and development was managed by specially dedicated institutions – the Contemporary Art Centre (CAC), the Soros Center for Contemporary Art (SCCA), and Jutempus. An alternative to the Lithuanian Artists' Union was established in 1998: the Lithuanian Interdisciplinary Artists' Association.
A young artist named Kęstutis Kuizinas was appointed Director of the Vilnius Art Exhibition Hall in 1992. With the support of the then influential group of painters called "24" and by one of its members, historian Viktoras Liutkus, director of the Art Division of the Ministry of Culture, Kuizinas reorganized the Hall, renaming it the Contemporary Art Centre.
Initially, exhibits were organized at the CAC only in response to proposals selected by a committee of art researchers, art managers and members of the Lithuanian Artists' Union (LAU). Selections were dominated by a few classical works of "quiet modernism" and the spacial art installations designed for the exhibit halls by younger artists. Not everyone who wished to exhibit their art at the CAC was able to do so, and even selected artists were no longer permitted to display their works at their own discretion. This angered many artists. As a result, by 1993, a harsh conflict arose between the CAC and the LAU, and in 1994 the Union made every effort to take over control of the Centre. An exhibition at the CAC in 1994 by several groups ("24", "1", "Angis") intended to show that the initiatives of creative artists' organizations had become obsolete, and that artists should rather coordinate their activity with art institutions. A group of LAU members resolved to never again display their work at the Centre and, as a result, new space became available for CAC initiated projects.
The CAC hired several exhibit curators (Deimantas Narkevičius, Evaldas Stankevičius and Raimundas Malašauskas). Kuizinas, meanwhile, having extensive contacts with important foreign art world representatives, took over curating exhibits by foreign artists. The institution gained international recognition. Reviews of Lithuanian art (1995, 1997 and 1999) exhibited New Art and more conventional works, but by 1997, the latter became much less frequently displayed. The curators organized Lithuanian New Art shows abroad (Nowa Litwa in Gdansk, 1996), and at the CAC: Išgyvenimui (For Survival) and Subordinacija (Subordination) in 1996, and Paralelinės progresijos (Parallel Progressions) in 2000. They also organized themed exhibits showing Lithuanian and foreign contemporary artists (Funny versus Bizarre, 1997; Cool Places, 1998).
Read more: Cool Places
The CAC became the most important venue for the exhibition of New Art, developing its concept, criteria and the circle of it's most prominent artists, presented during the project Emisija (Emission) in 2004, as well as contributing significantly to contemporary art's identification with visual and sound production. A turn toward these media was marked by the exhibit Sutemos (Twilight) in 1998: for the first time, all CAC exhibit halls were darkened, featuring art work by projected imagery alone.
The Soros Center for Contemporary Art was established in Vilnius in 1993 and operated until 1999. Twenty other similar centers had been established in other capitals and cities in Eastern Europe. Their goal was to encourage cultural exchange throughout the region. From its creation to 1998, the Soros Center in Vilnius was directed by art researcher Raminta Jurėnaitė.
The SCCA was created not only to provide financial support to artists and art institutions. This exemplary art management agency also supported the development of art, the production of new works, and the dissemination and management of information. It shaped the canon of Lithuanian New Art (through the documentation of art works and Raminta Jurėnaitė's edited album 100 Contemporary Lithuanian Artists), helped artists gain entry into European cultural centers, and also coordinated the Arts-Link program for internships at U.S. art institutions and support for Lithuanian artists provided by the New York Pollock-Krasner Foundation.
The SCCA organized big-budget annual exhibitions. In the context of the art world of the time, they resembled "blockbuster" events that especially irritated artists unable to recover from the disappearance of Soviet era state commissions and "buy outs." All of these annual exhibits were held at the CAC. Close cooperation with the SCCA helped the CAC liberate itself from the role of patron of the works of classical "quiet modernism."
Exhibitions under the curation of SCCA Director Raminta Jurėnaitė—Tarp skulptūros ir objekto – lietuviškai (Between Sculpture and Object – Lithuanian Style, 1993), Duona ir druska (Bread and Salt, 1994), Daugiakalbiai peizažai (Multilingual Landscapes, 1996)—included sculpture, paintings, photography, objects and installations, and the work of both young and older artists (with the final exhibition also including international participation). The exhibits Dėl grožio (For Beauty), curated in 1995 by Sandra Skurvidaitė and Raimundas Malašauskas, and Sutemos (Twilight), curated in 1998 by Kęstutis Kuizinas, Deimantas Narkevičius and Evaldas Stankevičius, were dominated by New Art—installations, photography, and visual and audio media.
In addition to these annual events, the SCCA organized other Lithuanian New Art exhibitions. Among the more interesting of these were the shows Kasdienybės kalba (Language of the Routine, 1995), curated by sculptor Algis Lankelis, and Po tapybos (After Painting, 1998), organized by SCCA employees Lolita Jablonskienė (who became SCCA Director in 1998) and Audrius Novickas. Thanks to the initiative of the SCCA, Lithuania has participated in the Venice Biennale since 1999. The Soros Center, like the CAC, also organized foreign exhibitions of Lithuanian artists and recommended Lithuanian artists to curators abroad, helping several young artists gain international recognition (while in their home country they were awarded the National Prize for Culture and Art only after 2000).
The activity of the CAC and SCCA (as well as the rising cost of producing art due to evolving technologies and other factors) resulted in any type of artistic "self-initiative" being viewed with increasing disdain. Creative work became inextricably linked with art management, and artists began to create only for specific exhibits, seeking the attention of institutions and curators without whom the creation of art became almost impossible. Nevertheless, the SCCA did award small stipends to a larger group of artists than it was able to invite to show at its exhibits, so it remained important to expanding an infrastructure for the dissemination of art.
In 1994, the artists Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonas and art researcher Saulius Grigoravičius founded the public organization "Jutempus Interdisciplinary Art Projects”, better known as the Jutempus Gallery, housed in the former Rail Workers' Cultural Hall in Vilnius. Sculptor Mindaugas Navakas had replaced the Soviet coat of arms on the building's facade with a gigantic iron Hook. The building also accommodated the "Art League" counter-culture center.
A frequent participant in foreign art exhibitions, Gediminas Urbonas met and worked with many artists and curators abroad, particularly in the United Kingdom and in the Nordic countries. As a result, an international network of Jutempus patrons and collaborators called IPOJ was formed in Helsinki, including curator Maareta Jaukkuri, art researchers Maria Hirvi and Jyrki Ijäs, and the editor of the art magazine SIKSI, Timo Valjakka. The group provided Jutempus with publications and computers.
By 1997, Jutempus had organized over 30 exhibits of Lithuanian and foreign artists. Creative works (mostly installations adapted to the Gallery's space) were shown by Svajonė and Paulius Stanikas, "Akademinio pasirruošimo grupė" (Academic Preparation Group), Džiugas Katinas, Mindaugas Navakas, Renata Valčik, Orūnė Morkūnaitė and Dainius Liškevičius. In 1995, Žilvinas Kempinas hung an exhibit called Fosilijos (Fossils): plaster casts of friends of Jutempus, while the biggest impression was made by an art action organized by Jonas and Justinas Vaitiekūnas in 1996 entitled Varymas (Distillation) and Evaldas Jansas' installation Meno morfologija (Morphology of Art, 1997). As part of their event, the Vaitiekūnas brothers built a fully functioning moonshine still, accompanied by photographs of similar appliances found in the far corners of the country. As part of his art action, Jansas housed several live animals that broke through their wooden enclosures overnight and, after eating several other exhibits – a hemp plant in a vase and a tape recorder – left their droppings all over the hall.
With their special interest in new media technologies and communications, the Urbonas couple sought to transform Jutempus into a new media laboratory. When Jutempus lost its gallery space in 1997, the organization continued as a social network. In 1998, Lithuanian and British artists collaborated via Skype in a project called Ground Control. A television project called (1999), like later Urbonas works, was founded on the use of media and collaboration for the interdisciplinary and collective generation of ideas.
The creators of New Art avoided contact with the LAU and sought to establish an equivalent alternative organization.  A public creative union called "Metastudija" was created in 1994, counting among its members several students of Kęstutis Zapkus, members of the "Good Evils" group (established in 1992), as well as other young artists (Saulius Mažylis, Algis Lankelis, Audrius Novickas, Leila Kasputienė, Aidas Bareikis, Žilvinas Kempinas, Patricija Jurkšaitytė, Evaldas Jansas, Deimantas Narkevičius, Artūras Raila and Gintaras Znamierowski).  In 1994, they organized an exhibit entitled Banginio pilvas (Whale's Belly) in the cultural center of the former "Severny Gorodok" Soviet military base in Vilnius.
In 1998, the Lithuanian Interdisciplinary Artists' Association (LIAA) was established to replace "Metastudija". In 1999, the LIAA was inducted into the registry of creative unions by the Ministry of Culture.
Projects by LIAA artists were not intended for display in exhibition spaces. Their works were shown in open spaces around Vilnius (Skulptūra senamiestyje (Sculpture in the Old Town), 1994), abandoned buildings (Užmiršta dabartis (Forgotten Present), 1996), artists' apartments (Butas (The Apartment), 1999), and even on trolleybuses (Identifikacija (Identification), 1999).


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Sources and links


Personal archives of the artists


Tarp skulptūros ir objekto lietuviškai
Katalogas, sudarytoja Raminta Jurėnaitė, Vilnius: Vilniaus šiuolaikinio meno centras, 1993
Duona ir druska
Katalogas, sudarytoja Raminta Jurėnaitė, Vilnius: Soroso šiuolaikinio meno centras, 1994
Daugiakalbiai peizažai
Katalogas, sudarytoja ir tekstų autorė Raminta Jurėnaitė, Vilnius: Vilniaus šiuolaikinio meno centras, 1996
Dėl grožio
Katalogas, sudarytojai Sandra Skurvidaitė, Raimundas Malašauskas, Vilnius : Soroso šiuolaikinio meno centras, 1995
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