Art Exhibition in the Battleground of Memories
Keywords:troubled memory, catalog, curatorship, uncomfortable heritage
The article is based on a paper presented at the conference “How to Tell About Art?” (Vilnius Academy of Arts, 7-8 May 2021; curated by Lina Michelkevičė, Laura Petrauskaitė, and Aušra Trakšelytė). The topic of the presentation was suggested by the growing interest among the Lithuanian public in historical art exhibitions. Both the conference report and the article are based on the assumption that the increasing visibility of the historical art exhibitions in the Lithuanian cultural field and their growing popularity might have an impact that goes beyond the art historical reflections. Such exhibitions not only develop the audience’s sensitivity to artefacts, but also stimulate and partially satisfy the desire to learn about the history of culture, society and politics. The immanent characteristic of art – the perpetual movement of a visual artwork from (total) invisibility to (partial) visibility – implies the significance of an art exhibition and its capacity to communicate the ‘inconvenient’, and therefore silenced and dis- torted, memory. A fragment of the past will remain irrelevant for as long as it is unrecognised. By bringing the viewer face to face with the artefacts of a forgotten reality, the exhibition brings the latter closer, sharpens its colours, and makes it vivid.
By taking the series of exhibitions dedicated to Lithuanian art and artistic life during WWII as its case study, the article aims to at least partially answer the question: how relevant, influential, and meaningful is the communication of ‘inconvenient’ and therefore silenced historical topics, particularly in an art exhibition that uses catalogue as its integral part? The article explains the motives for organising these exhibitions, analyses their brief descriptions along with their narrative structure, and overviews the forms and methods of dissemination. In order to provide a broader context for the issues at stake, a juxtaposition is made with similarly themed exhibitions recently held in Germany and Italy. They became renowned for their local and international focus on art produced under the Fascist and National Socialist regimes, as well as under the conditions of WWII.