In 2016, Kaunas was nominated as one of the 10 best European cities for art deco design by The Guardian. It’s also member of the UNESCO Creative Cities network and the Kaunas modernism has been included in the tentative UNESCO World Heritage list. The fine examples of Kaunas art deco design created in the 1920s and 1930s are now being showcased in a special exhibition called ‘Kaunas. Art Deco. Nostalgy & Shine’ that runs through October 30th in the Lapėnas house on Kęstučio st. 38.
The Lapėnas house itself is a great example of functional and modern interwar architecture. Designed by starchitect Feliksas Vizbaras, the grand and up-to-date building was opened in 1932. The building, once part-residential, part-business, is now getting ready to be fully reopened to the public. The back facade has been revealed already, as well as the ground floor – this is where the art deco exhibition found its home.
The exhibition was initiated by Dainius Lanauskas, an art deco aficionado, sculptor and furniture trader. He was the main organizer of the first art deco event in 2015 – the very well received exhibition was then situated at the Officers Club. Interestingly enough, the legacy of art deco is still a topic to discover for many Lithuanians, too, mainly because the rich and intense époque of the First Republic was blatantly disrupted by the WW2 and subsequent Soviet occupation that included nationalisation of property, deportations of intellectuals and businessmen etc.
This year, Lanauskas was joined by Laura Bohne, a specialist and expert for Persian carpets. Accompanied by fellow art deco enthusiasts, the organizers searched for unique examples of beautiful furniture, household items, accessories and other objects designed or used in interwar Kaunas. The exhibits include sofas, mirrors, posters, cigarette boxes, clothes, jewellery, glass etc. A lot of the items were lent by lucky inheritors and collectors. You can purchase some of the exhibits!
We suggest you don’t stop your art deco wanderings after buying a special art deco cup or a themed t-shirt at the lobby – in fact, the Lapėnas house is just the first stop in the walking tour of the Kaunas art deco quarter.
The quarter is framed by Kęstučio street, S. Daukanto street, Laisvės alėja and A. Mickevičiaus street. Modernist architecture is visibly dominant here, but a handful of exquisite art deco examples can be located here, too. Stop at the S. Daukanto st. 14, for example, and examine the fine decorations of the façade of a house designed by Leonas Ritas. Its ‘brother’ can be visited at A. Mickevičiaus st. 17 across the block. On your way, visit the ‘Romuva’ cinema, a fine example of streamline/art deco ideas cleverly balanced with National style.
Other examples of art deco architecture in Kaunas include the Christ’s resurrection church, the Lithuanian bank, the Firefighter house etc. Take a look at the Kaunas Architectural Guide for more names and addresses (the guide can be purchased here or in most bookshops).
Pictures by Kaunas pilnas kultūros and Art Deco Kaunas