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Lithuanian photographer Antanas Sutkus in his studio

Going back to thoughts about the system, and of art being one of the tools it used to present itself during the Cold War. Now, if you compare societies, the society of communism collapsed by itself; although, of course, it would not have been possible without the help of Gorbachev. In my opinion, our independence movement – “Sąjūdis” – would not have existed if Gorbachev had not allowed us the freedom of speech.

My mother says the same.

Yes, so one needs to listen more closely to what philosopher Arvydas Juozaitis has said. Before, you would sit in jail just for exercising free speech. When I was a member of the party (against my own will), at the same time, my soul friend of today, the priest and monk Julius Sasnauskas, was imprisoned for his political activities. I did not know him at that time. It was horrible, when I think back, because now I feel like a fascist who says that he did not know that people in the concentration camps were dying.

Let's go back to the collectors. It seems that in the last decade, you have been enjoying great interest from them, especially the international ones. Do you ever meet with them personally?

The problem is that curators usually know the collectors, and protect them from having direct contact with the artist. Sometimes, they do not even disclose their contact information.


Lazdynu pradzia, Saligatvis, Vilnius. 1976

But institutional curators do not sell works, for instance, curators of museums such as Oscar Niemeyer, or the Toulouse Museum.

Yes, but then they secure the author fee and spread the word about art photography around the world.

In Lithuania, I have a feeling that announcements about your exhibitions and your works generate articles and news, but they do not generate further discussion.

I felt this especially in Toulouse. When I had an opening there, Le Figaro, Le Monde and other media came to cover the event. No one from the Lithuanian embassy came, even the Cultural Attache did not come. I came back to Lithuania – and again – no reaction, no information. And the same scenario, more or less, repeats itself again and again.

Why do you think that is so?

I do not know what, exactly, is the problem here. Maybe the Lithuanian people are jealous? I am not sure. Just recently, I had a exhibition in Paris in which a group of very diverse artists were participating: Stanikai, Pigagaitė and Liškevičius were featured. We were so happy with our success there, and with each other, and about the Cultural Ministry holding a talk during the opening. Now, imagine someone saying the same thing, or something similar happening, in Lithuania. Hard to imagine, isn't it? Maybe we do not have an intellectual critical mass that could meet and talk about themes which are neither profitable nor networking-based; an intellectual critical mass that would drink tea and whiskey not only with those people who might be useful to them in the future, but rather with people with whom it is simply interesting to exchange opinions with.

And how about Viktoras Butkus, the entrepreneur who bought so many artworks and now plans to invest millions of litas in the building of the new museum?

I think Viktoras Butkus and Arūnas Gelūnas are the two exceptional people at this difficult moment. I would say that Butkus is like Guggenheim and Soros together. But you can imagine that his path is not so easy. The Lithuanian government understands that Butkus is going to give a gift, but then Lithuania will be obliged to support the maintenance of the building and to take proper care of the collection.

Maybe the same situation is going on now with the National Gallery of Art, namely, the building has been beautifully reconstructed, but there is not enough money for collecting and programs.

If we are going to continue the same line of thought with our cultural heritage, it will simply vanish. I would say everything depends not only on the directors of museums, but also on the political will and a broader understanding of what cultural heritage is. It depends on what the museums are investing in: are they investing in the furniture, or in the artists, who are disappearing together with their artworks? Artists are dying. I also have examples – my very good friend, a photographer, is struggling with staying alive. A curator was visiting me and I told my friend to bring all of his photographs, which he then did. The photos were sold for a very low price, and my friend agreed to it. What can this person do? How can this photographer think about Lithuanian cultural heritage policy when he does not have the money to buy his blood pressure medicine?

I once had an argument with Algirdas Brazauskas, the prime minister at that time, and proposed that the government should buy the photographs taken by our great, classic masters of photography. The prime minister answered that the collection has to be first presented to the state. No businessman has ever had to present some buildings or  houses which they have built. I said, why do the children of these classic artist have to be poor? If I had the money, I would buy all of the Lithuanian classic photographs.


Vilnius. 1963

What do you think of the decision of Vilnius Municipality to buy Fluxus collection?

If this offer had come from some other country, let's say from Chukotka, then we would expect that they do not understand art and that it is highly possible that the collection will just disappear into the trash. But at this moment, American museums and collectors know everything, and if they passed on the opportunity to buy the collection that Lithuania ended up buying, it means that the collection is worth nothing. More importantly, it is not the mayor of Vilnius, Artūras Zuokas, who should make these kinds of decisions. If he wants to, he can buy it with his own money.

But we could establish a Jonas Mekas museum, we could establish an Antanas Sutkus museum.

It would be worthwhile to establish a museum devoted to the generation of Lithuanian photographers who created what is known as “the Lithuanian School of Photography”.