ArtVilnius is the only contemporary art fair in Lithuania and the largest art event in Eastern Europe. Contemporary Lynx Magazine will collaborate with the fair for the 3rd time. This year’s edition will host 55 galleries representing local and international artists. With Diana Stomienė we discuss organising the fair, this year’s programme and the novelties in the art market.
Alicja Stąpór: What are your personal reflections on the organisation of ArtVilnius’21 last year and this year?
Diana Stomienė: It was an exceptional pandemic year for all of us, so we had to react very quickly and flexibly to the changing situation. Because we are not a state organisation but a public one (Lithuanian Art Gallerists’ Association), and our main team is not large, we were able to make decisions very quickly. Therefore, just when the pandemic started, we reacted in time, decided to hold the fair in person, and in 2020 we moved the ArtVilnius date to autumn. This was a good decision, we succeeded. Of course last year, as in other foreign fairs, ArtVilnius was more local. However, it was also a success because we attracted internationally renowned Lithuanian art stars, who until then, had not been able to come to the fair due to their participation in foreign biennials and exhibitions.
I often get the question of whether we ever thought of making ArtVilnius a virtual art fair. I have always said and will say again that live, physical contact between gallerists-visitors-buyers will never be replaced by digital technology, by virtual platforms. After all, we are social beings and we greatly need live communication.
It is difficult for smaller and newer fairs to compete in a virtual format with older, well-established fairs. Collectors know the work of famous artists well and follow their creative process both live and virtually. In this case, the works of already recognised famous artists can be purchased immediately right after placing their works in the digital space. And newer art fairs and galleries that exhibit works by younger or less recognised artists in the international art market have a tremendous job to do in presenting the works live, allowing the buyer to discover a relationship with the work. After all, it often takes 3-5 years for an artist to become famous.
Going back to ArtVilnius, thinking about visitors who are interested but unable to come to the fair, we have prepared a 3D tour, which was very popular last year, and we will continue this tradition. I think the live format of the fair, combined with a variety of virtual opportunities, social platforms and more, is a very good combination.
AS: What was the biggest lesson after last year’s ArtVilnius and what has been the biggest challenge this year?
DS: The biggest lesson of last year’s ArtVilnius was the understanding that you always have to strive for the maximum and to not give up. It was very difficult to organise the fair live during a pandemic because we didn’t know until the last minute if it would be closed or not. This is a huge risk, it can always have significant financial losses. Still, deep in our hearts, we believed we would succeed. And we did, and the decisions we made were accurate in all respects. This year, the situation is already calmer, so we have not had any major organisational surprises.
The biggest challenge of this fair, like all future ArtVilnius fairs, is to attract more new art participants and collectors, when the competition at world fairs is really fierce. In order to attract visitors and potential buyers in the future, from the very first ArtVilnius fairs, besides a gallery programme, we must prepare additional quality content consisting of various segments. For example, our non-commercial project area where famous, renowned artists, museums, art centers, institutions present their work. Among the most famous, I can mention the MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow, which is returning for the fifth time this year, the Lewben Art Foundation established by our exclusive partner Lewben, regular participants Vilnius Contemporary Art Centre, Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center,and more. We organise additional events in the city, such as the gallery festival Art After Hours, in order to turn Vilnius into an art festival during the fair.
AS: During your many years of experience as the director of the fair, do you see any change in how galleries and artists present art?
DS: Change is really happening. Art galleries are changing their programs, paying more attention to the work of young artists and contemporary art. This is also influenced by the increased participation of galleries and artists in other international art fairs and events,which is very exciting. Serious competition has developed and each gallery is striving for its best results. In the programme of Lithuanian galleries, artists from various countries of the world are appearing and intensive international cooperation is developing. We have reached a particularly good peak in 2019 when we celebrated ArtVilnius 10th anniversary. And then the pandemic happened and we will have to start over.
AS: What are the strengths of this year’s ArtVilnius programme?
DS: The biggest strength, of course, is the galleries programme, which will feature 55 galleries from 12 countries around the world.
The annual strength of our programme is the international exhibition of large-format sculptures, installations, and performances, called Takas (The Path). It is attended by 25 artists. The new curator of this year’s Takas is the artist, curator, and lecturer Vytenis Burokas. There will be a number of performances, which are often lacking in fair programs, and we have more and more of them every year. I would also like to emphasise the architecture of the fair, which has been created by architect Olga Voišnis for five years now. Very often the architecture of the fairs remains secondary and every year we set ourselves the task of proposing something new, not repeating ourselves, inventing a new structure so that the person that comes to the fair for the twelfth time feels the changed atmosphere.
Another strength this year is the already mentioned project area with famous collections. From the collections, I would single out the NFT exposition How soon is tomorrow. Collecting NFTs by the Lewben Art Foundation. Some of the works belong to the Lewben Art Foundation. Among the artists presented are Robertas Narkus from Lithuania and Estonians Tommy Cash and Katja Novitskova, who appeared at the Lewben Art Foundation exposition of ArtVilnius a few years ago. You’ll also see several works lent to the exhibition from NFT collectors: some of the first successful NFTs, Cryptopunk, Chromie Squiggle, and the well-known Damien Hirst and his The Currency.
AS: Regarding NFTs, do you think the Lithuanian artists and collectors will embrace this art novelty of only digital artworks?
DS: Digital works of art are still a novelty in Lithuania but we believe that after getting acquainted with NFTs during ArtVilnius’21, the country’s artists and collectors will soon take over this innovation. Especially since we will have a separate presentation in the discussion and lecture area of our main media partner, the National Broadcaster LRT. Meanwhile, in neighbouring Latvia, NFTs are gradually gaining popularity, with the world-famous Latvian street art group Kiwie working with them. Their NFT was also acquired by the Latvian private contemporary art centre Zuzeum, the first museum in the world to acquire an NFT.
AS: The previous ArtVilnius focused on photography art and performance. What is the highlight of this year’s fair?
DS: One of the most important highlights of ArtVilnius’21 are the works of contemporary art on paper, including drawings, collages, graphics, objects, etc. For years, drawings and works of art on paper have occupied an important place in the global art market, and there have even been separate fairs organised for them. This is not a specific or exclusive theme, paper is a medium used by almost every artist. Of course as every year, there will be all media presented at the fair: painting, photography, sculpture, video, installations, and more.
AS: Do you think that due to the current pandemic around the world and after it, art and art events should bring back a sense of traditional norms that are common to us or the opposite? Tell us about the new reality and dimensions of art, including new ways to show and sell art.
DS: I believe that in the future we will all use the invaluable experience gained during the pandemic. I think the format of the fairs will be live with the addition of all the virtual possibilities that expand the boundaries of visibility and acquisition of works. We see that this year, at an unconventional time, the famous Art Basel and other fairs are opening up live and are trying to return to the traditional format. As I mentioned, live emotion when looking at and buying works, and social interaction are especially important to people. After lifting the pandemic’s restrictions, we are seeing a major breakthrough in the pursuit of live communication. Perhaps future generations and technologies will change this order, which has been in place in Europe for over 60 years.
AS: Is it correct to say that ArtVilnius is forming a circle of Eastern European collectors?
DS: It goes without saying that ArtVilnius is forming a circle of collectors and annually invites famous buyers from other countries, both private individuals, private foundations and museums, from Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Ukraine, and other countries. Over the 11 years of the fair, a new circle of collectors has been formed – young people who have travelled all over the world, visited the best museums and art fairs, got acquainted with world art, graduated abroad. They boldly buy works of art andare especially interested in contemporary art. We have also included business representatives, our partners, and the Maecenas in the circle of art collectors. The installation Garden by Rafal Piesliak, who participated in Takas last year and became the winner of ArtVilnius’20, was bought by Dr. Irmantas Norkus, the managing partner of our Maecenas, a law firm Cobalt, and later donated to the city of Vilnius. Such large examples of patronage encourage others to form a new circle of collectors as well.
The Baltic region art galleries from Estonia, Latvia, and other neighbouring countries regularly participate in the fair. Despite the tense foreign policy with Belarus and Russia, we are making great efforts to ensure that the cultural cooperation keeps going. This year, galleries from Belarus have been invited as guests. These are the Ambasada Kultury gallery, By+, presenting Belarusian artists living abroad, which has participated more than once as Gallery Y, and Minsk’s DK Gallery. Therefore, art collectors come to ArtVilnius to get acquainted with Eastern European art, to see galleries and artists that are not presented at other art fairs. Of course, we present not only Eastern European art but also galleries from France, Germany, Albania, Denmark, Italy, and Romania.
As organisers, we pay close attention to art collectors by preparing special programs for both of them at the fair and by introducing them to the main art institutions in Lithuania.