Guide

A 48-pages guide (PDF, 6 MB) is published to help to discover multi-linear narratives of the Pavilion.
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Introductory text.

ENTRANCE TO THE MUSEUM

Dainius Liškevičius’ Museum, which has opened in this Venetian garden as the Lithuanian national pavilion, 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. 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.

What happened in 1985, when Bronius Maigis poured sulphuric acid over Rembrandt’s Danaë and cut it with a knife in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad (now St Petersburg)? Why did the student Romas Kalanta set fire to himself in a square in Kaunas, Lithuania’s most Lithuanian city, sparking off some of the biggest demonstrations against the regime and in support of a free Lithuania? What failed in 1965, when Antanas Kraujelis, the last partisan in occupied Lithuania, was surrounded in his bunker and shot himself?

There are numerous controversial interpretations of these events. Museum and the works by the artist dedicated to these protesters offer up one of them. Maybe, they were artistic actions, and these dissident revolutionaries represented art movements that were non-existent in the Soviet era? Political performance, the destruction of art, and underground art? Liškevičius’ Museum proposes a new version of the penetration of Western art styles into Lithuania through political protest, as if doubting that only the unadorned Socialist Realism imposed by the regime prevailed in Soviet times.

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.

The forms of the works created by the artist reflect different periods, and provide Museum with even more fictional realism, combined with subtle humour. A huge painting in the style of Pop Art leads the viewer to an assemblage, then takes him to a readymade, introduces several video performances and a short 16mm film, and finally invites us to explore a series of comic-style drawings. All of this, mixed with mundane Soviet-era objects and books, forms a network that generates stories in a performative manner, and immerses the viewer in parallel times. The “parliament of forms” and the diversity of methods enable the artist to talk about art forms and movements that actually existed, or could have existed. On closer consideration, Museum’s cabinet of curiosities becomes a hyper- and inter-textual work. By mimicking different art movements and dedicating them to historical figures, Dainius Liškevičius probes the limits of the artist’s freedom and his authority to retell history or construct it.

Museum, which originated in 2012 as a black cube intervention in the Lithuanian National Gallery of Art in Vilnius (formerly the Museum of the Revolution of the Lithuanian SSR), has arrived in Venice as an artist-created institution which can tell and do what ordinary museums cannot. The artist’s ways of storytelling and rhetoric simulate the phenomenon of a museum itself, with its rules and methods. In this way, a discursive space with overlapping subjective and objective interpretations of time is created. As the Lithuanian national pavilion, Museum seemingly alludes to the idea of the curator Okwui Enwezor that a national pavilion is “the most anachronistic exhibition model”. At the same time, it offers a relevant model of conduct for today’s world, full of national and geopolitical conflicts.

This guide presents several of the work’s overlapping storylines, complemented by the artist’s textual interpretations of historical events. If you wish to get an overview of the entire collection, its narratives, and diverse interpretations by art historians, open the project’s book Museum (2013).

Curator Vytautas Michelkevičius