New exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art present the history of museum collecting and contemporary video art

The National Gallery of Art completes the year 2023 with two new exhibitions. At 6 p.m. Thursday, 14 December the gallery opens Vilnius Art in Museums 1939-1944, an exhibition curated by prof. Giedrė Jankevičiūtė, and Still Love Binge Life, an exhibition of video art by the artist and filmmaker Simona Žemaitytė. Both events will run through 3 March 2024.



Collecting art in the years of World War II


The exhibition Vilnius Art in Museums 1939-1944 presents the latest research into the history of art. It reveals what and how the Lithuanian National Museum of Art and M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art – two major national art institutions in Lithuania – collected in the years of World War II.


The history of museums and their collections has been a pertinent subject of international scholarship for decades. Researchers inquire into the collections and individual art pieces, the archival materials testifying to the source, time and manner of museums’ acquisitions. The research into collecting often leads into previously-eluded terrain and discussions of the acquisitions of the objects of art and cultural artefacts in post-colonial countries, or at the time of political upheavals, of inflicted or involving military conflicts, and similar.


In Lithuania, the history of collecting during the years of World War II has been left out of discourse for a rather long time, and the research and conceptualization of it is, as of now, fragmentary. From the hindsight, the knowledge of war-time collecting practice broadens the understanding of the national canon of art, reveals the complexity of the relationship of art and politics and the issues of cultural heritage protection and destruction. According to Lolita Jablonskienė, director of the National Gallery of Art, the research into museum collections should brave to debate the awkward themes, too.



The beginnings of the collection of Vilnius Art Museum


With the founding of Vilnius Art Museum, the shaping of the collection started and laid the foundation for the Lithuanian National Museum of Art.


‘Vilnius Art Museum, an old dream of the enlightened citizens of the town, was materialized only in the spring of 1941, the first year under the Soviets in Vilnius and Lithuania. In Polish Vilnius, it was Lithuanians who brought the cherished dream true,’ prof. Giedrė Jankevičiūtė, curator of the exhibition writes in the summary of the event.


‘In preparation for the opening of the museum, a representative collection of modern Lithuanian art was built. The core of it was shaped of the artwork by the Lithuanian modernists Antanas Gudaitis, Juozas Mikėnas, Justinas Vienožinskis, Viktoras Vizgirda and other artists, who moved into Vilnius, in testimony to fact that Vilnius has always been and remains the centre of Lithuanian culture.’


The work from no-Lithuanian artists – Polish, Jewish Belarusian, Russian – was also acquired at the time. This way the landscapes by Bronisław Jamontt, Tymon Niesiołowski, Aleksander Szturman, classic masters of Vilnius art, as well as the artwork by two female Jewish artists Adasa Gurevič-Grodska and Roza Suckever entered the collection.


The artwork by most of them will be presented to the audience at the newly opening exhibition and at the international exhibition Vilnius, Wilno, Vilne 1918–1948 running until February 2024.


Another theme of consequence running in the exhibition is the strategies of cultural heritage protection used by the museum professionals under the Soviet and Nazi occupational regimes. 


The exhibition features the artwork and the accompanying documentary materials collected from different Lithuanian museums and memory institutions. Some of them are presented publicly after over eighty years in the storage rooms. The exhibits and the archival materials are selected from the collection of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art, the Wroblewski Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, other lenders are M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, Deutsche Fotothek and SLUB Dresden.


The exhibition Vilnius Art in Museums 1939-1944 is financed by the Lithuanian Council for Culture, sponsored by Fundermax.


On love, intimacy and death


On the same day, the National Gallery of Art opens another exhibition by the artist and filmmaker Simona Žemaitytė Still Love Binge Life, of two video works made in pre-pandemic Paris and post-pandemic London.


Lovebinge is an urban opera on love, intimacy and diversity. The video was filmed after the first pandemic wave, in the summer of 2021 in London.  In the film, five protagonists, stage art performers, share their private experience and reflections on infatuation and sex, on avoiding connections and addictions. Together with London-based composer Uran Apak and choreographer Tania Soubry, through movement, conversations and musical improvisation, the performers chart their vulnerabilities and diversity on search for ways to reconnect with their own self and others.


Still Life is a film shot together with the famous French movement coach Jacques Lecoq’s physical theatre actors. Žemaitytė resourced ideas for the film from the literature on patient-centred palliative care, which conceptualizes death as a form of transition, a process rather than an event. In the film, Glory, a researcher in the near future, carries out interviews with immortal humans and aims to discover the faults of their immortality project.


According to the artist, her films explore themes of complexity and require sensitivity and opening up, they are frequently ingulfed in cultural norms, prejudice, diversity of opinion and fear. Yet this complexity, the communication barriers, the correlation of the theme to the imaginable is a mine of creative opportunities. 


Simona Žemaitytė (b. 1984) holds a practice-based PhD in arts from Vilnius Academy of Arts. Her artwork was featured by following exhibitions and festivals: Oberhausen Short Film Festival, Kaunas Biennial, gallery Meno Parkas in Kaunas, gallery Centrala in Birmingham, gallery Kasa and gallery Galata Perform in Istanbul, Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius, and elsewhere.

The exhibition is co-held by the National Gallery of Art and VšĮ Artišokai.


Project financed by the Lithuanian Council for Culture, the Lithuanian Film Centre and LATGA, sponsored by gallery Meno parkas.

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