twitter facebook
Facade of Lithuanian Pavilion with its guide

June 15th for Lithuanian Pavilion: from occupation by Soviet Union until destruction of Rembrandts’ Danaë 0

On 15th June 1940 Red Army troops entered Lithuania and started occupation of the independent country, where totalitarian regime was implemented like in the whole Soviet Union.

At 10.45am on 15th June 1985, at the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), a politically motivated citizen of Lithuanian nationality, slashed Rembrandt’s 17th century masterpiece Danaë and poured upon the painting a litre of sulphuric acid. It took over 12 years to restore it. He was Bronius Maigis. He was sent to mental hospital, where he spent long years. The opinion that Bronius Maigis’s actions were those of a vandal of unsound mind still dominates in Lithuania; another, less common interpretation is that these actions provided Maigis with a way to express his protest against Soviet rule and the occupation of Lithuania. Maigis’s freaky “draculean” knife-work on the exposed body of Rembrandt’s Danaë may be compared to the artwork of the Italian Lucio Fontana (e.g., his sliced canvases).

Videosingle Danaë 

Dainius Liškevičius, presented in Lithuanian Pavilion in Venice Biennale this year, takes this vandalism act as a probable start for new art movement and creates several art works dedicated to it. One of them videosingle Danaë features himself slicing the air with a guitar like Bronius Maigis sliced the famous painting.  Another one is a fictional comic strip series where Jean Paul Sartre meets Bronius Maigis and gets into conversation. Inside the installation there is also a semi-fictional display of personal collection of ‘ambiguous revolutionary personality’ Bronius Maigis.

Dainius Liškevičius’ Museum is a fictional museum that is based on true and autobiographical facts. The multi-layered collection that has been put together by the artist works as an elliptical time loop. It simultaneously takes us back to the recent Soviet past, questions the present, and projects our anxieties on to a future that is full of cultural and geopolitical tensions.

Jean Paul Sartre and Bronius Maigis comes together in the stories of the Museum

Pavilion curator and commissionaire dr. Vytautas Michelkevičius states that ”Museum is essentially a one-off piece of artistic research, but it is not only relevant in exploring the depths of the Soviet totalitarian regime. It is also a possible model for dealing with present-day hegemonic powers, and their impact on the public discourse and the freedom of the artist. We can also interpret Museum as a new kind of patriotism, which rethinks the new democracies’ national myths, and their attempts to create legitimacy for a contemporary nation-state. The presentation of Museum as a national pavilion is a transgressive act, which turns it into an institution with greater authority than museums normally have”.

The non-hierarchical spatial arrangement of works by the artist, combined with everyday Soviet objects and artefacts, engages the viewer in at least four parallel and overlapping stories. They deal with artistic freedom and freedom of speech in occupied Lithuania, the USSR at large, and the world today.

Within a dense installation (a cabinet of curiosities) created using the language of contemporary art, the viewer is immersed in events of controversial political (?) protest that were initiated in occupied Lithuania and Leningrad by three ambiguous revolutionary figures during the 1960s–80s. Dainius Liškevičius rewrites the history of Lithuanian art, proposing that these events be interpreted as cases of underground art, political performance, and art destruction that were prohibited in those times and thus did not exist.

A few things from personal Bronius Maigis collection

In his vision of Lithuanian (art) history, revamped with subtle irony, the artist offers an unexpected version of the archaeology of objects. Here, every object has both a personal and a collective history that conveys the signs of the times, and allows us to travel in time. Within the space of Museum, Liškevičius’ own life story intertwines with those of dissident revolutionaries and idealised cultural figures (such as Jean-Paul Sartre), further erasing the thin line between subjective and objective forms of storytelling.

Tours to Museum are given by Lithuanian, English (and sometimes Italian) speaking guides, who help viewers to find the intersecting multi-linear narratives in it. The printed English guide helps to uncover the stories behind the three revolutionary personalities and some of the exhibits. There is also a book Museum (2013), with full commentaries on the project and extensive illustrations.

Exhibition dates: 7 May – 30 September 2015, open daily (except Tuesdays), 10am-6pm
Venue: The garden of Palazzo Zenobio, Fondamenta Soccorso, Dorsoduro 2596, Venezia, 30123, Italia