April 24, 2023. The 700th-anniversary program is rapidly unraveling in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, welcoming residents and visitors to explore numerous cultural, artistic, educational, and musical events. To celebrate the special year, the modern art MO Museum has opened a new major exhibition—Vilnius Poker—which is one of the highlights of the anniversary year.
The MO museum, designed by one of the world’s most renowned architects Daniel Libeskind and a piece of contemporary art itself, won the Portimão Museum Prize as the most welcoming and friendly museum in Europe and was nominated for the Leading Culture Destinations Award, a.k.a the Museum Oscars.
The immersive exhibition invites art enthusiasts to unearth layers of Vilnius through sound, images, and text. Starting in the late Soviet era, the exhibition reflects on the subsequent periods significant for the city’s transformation, divulging the topics that were relevant both in 1980s and today: a conscious existence, a freedom to think critically and creatively, a fight for intrinsic human rights and values. The passage through Vilnius in different time frames invites visitors to explore the city’s national and cultural identities, and how it has grown into a modern cosmopolis.
The exhibition concept was trusted with director Oskaras Koršunovas, one of the most prominent theatre directors in Lithuania, whose work is well known to European audiences. A multidisciplinary team was called on to bring the exhibition’s concept to life and invite visitors to immerse in the key topics playing endlessly throughout the history of Vilnius—freedom, memory, identity, and multiculturalism: a scenographer Gintaras Makarevičius, art critics Dovilė Barcytė and Algė Gudaitytė, a composer Antanas Jasenka, a light artist Eugenijus Sabaliauskas, and a designer Liudas Parulskis. Combining art, cinema, literature, and music, the team prompts the visitors to think of what kind of character Vilnius is nowadays and what character it will be in the future.
Art pieces from Lithuanian artists displayed in the exhibition span over the period from the 1960s to date, depicting the evergreen ideas of freedom, recollection, selfhood, and the perpetual fight against a metaphysical evil.
Novel depicts Vilnius before the fall of the Soviet Union
The exhibition revolves around one of the most significant texts in Lithuania of the last several decades and a pivotal point in building the myth of Vilnius, the novel Vilnius Poker by Ričardas Gavelis, published in 1989. After its publication, the novel became a symbol of breaking free from the Soviet era and attaining the freedom of creativity. The author deconstructed the Soviet reality, choosing sharp angles to discuss jazz, architecture, arts, citizen anthropology, and multiculturalism.
“The novel depicts Vilnius as an intricate, chaotic, dream-like city with nothing specific or real. This was the starting point in creating the exhibition, which is designed like a universal tale, not limited to a specific place or time period. Vilnius Poker at MO Museum is an experience, intended for every spectator’s self-reflection in relation to history, memory, identity, the time and place of existence,” Milda Ivanauskienė, head of MO Museum, said.
According to Koršunovas, the different exhibition spaces guide a visitor through a metaphorical Vilnius.
“We travel through the exhibition like a labyrinth and have the freedom for a wide interpretation of the novel, therefore we have chosen artists who would not illustrate the spaces, but interpret them,” the director commented.
The exhibition Vilnius Poker will be open throughout the entire anniversary year, from April 22 to January 28, 2024.