After a successful launch in Vilnius earlier this year, the mobile exhibition “Architecture of Optimism: The Kaunas Phenomenon, 1918-1940” has now started its European tour.
The exhibition dedicated to the Centenary of the Restoration of the Lithuanian State and celebrating the short yet essential period in the history of Kaunas will be opened in the UNESCO headquarters in Paris on April 4th.
The kaunastic exhibition has just arrived in Paris. Photo by Lukas Šiupšinskas
‘A few tendencies prompted the idea behind this project: a wave of international attention that Kaunas modernism is getting and, in my opinion, a clear trend to focus on representing Lithuanian culture through architecture and design more. The exhibition invites people to see the modernism of Kaunas in an international, global context – it’s like a test, a way to evaluate an object that’s hoping to become part of the UNESCO heritage list. At the same time, it’s an effective publicity campaign’, said Marija Drėmaitė, one of the curators of the exhibition, in an interview for Kaunas Full of Culture magazine. The architecture historian curated the exhibition together with her colleagues Valdas Petrulis and Giedrė Jankevičiūtė.
The word “optimism” in the title of the exhibition might sound like a term for a specific style (like “modernism”), but it’s not. It’s an optimistic state of mind that shouts “we’re building a new capital, a new state, a new identity”. This is precisely what happened in Kaunas between 1919 and 1940 when it acted as a temporary capital of Lithuania (Vilnius was occupied at that time). An impressive number of around 12000 new buildings were built in the city at that time. Of course, it would be impossible to present all of them in the exhibition, but there are plenty of ways to dig deeper into the world of Kaunas modernism, and the exhibition will inevitably encourage one to do that.
The five buildings that are more thoroughly presented in the exhibition are the M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, the Christ’ Resurrection Basilica, the Kaunas Officers' Palace, the Kaunas Palace of trade industry and craft and the Central post office.
The primary symbol of the exhibition is a massive round window of the house of Jurgis and Aleksandra Iljinas on K. Donelaičio street in Kaunas. It’s one of the most photographed residential dwellings in Kaunas and is now undergoing a major renovation.
’When we were deciding on the exhibition’s title that could open modernist Kaunas to the global context of modernism, the architects of the project – Ieva Cicėnaitė and Matas Šiupšinskas – were looking for a visual key, a symbol to focus on. It all happened at the same time: reviewing the photos of the Iljinas house designed by Arnas Funkas, choosing the keyword “optimism”, presentation of the idea (visual design with the highlighted letter O) by the designer of the exhibition Linas Glaudelis. The architects offered to have the round window of Iljinas’ dining room as the key element, and now the concept of the exhibition is being constructed around that letter O. By the way, the circle was used as a universal form in Interwar architecture, easily bringing Kaunas modernism to international waters. Everyone recognises those round windows as a clear landmark of this particular period’, Drėmaitė explains the choice.
You can also catch it in the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome, Italy (May 5-12th) and in the Estonian National Library, Tallinn (May 24th-June 16th). It will spend almost three months in the Museum of Architecture in Wroclaw, Poland. (June 28th-October 16th).
Lapas publishing house will soon release a thick, detailed and nicely illustrated English-language catalogue of the exhibition. The publishing house is also responsible for the handy English-language Kaunas architecture guide (available in our webshop!). The first edition of the Lithuanian version of the catalogue was sold out before it reached the bookstores – just saying.