Lithuanian culture is dynamic, ever evolving, full of experimental and collaborative projects in theatre, film, dance, music, design, illustration and more. New artistic ideas are born here that speak to global issues.
You cannot really point to one or several areas of culture or the arts as getting more attention in Lithuania or as traditionally more promoted or supported. Our culture is unique for its variety, quality and accessibility. From an early age, young people have a choice of professional instruction in a wide range of cultural areas, and members of the public have the luxury of enjoying any field of art or culture that is professionally performed or rendered in Lithuania. The new generation of artists from independent Lithuania is garnering international honours and awards in music, theatre and cinema, and turning the world’s gaze towards Lithuania.
Lithuanian culture has a unique artistic language influenced by specific historical factors. Consider the narratives of resistance and Aesopian language. A distinctive historical perspective conveying the country’s unique experience inspires creativity.
New ideas. Lithuanian creators are changing the world with their bold and unconventional approach. Artists of the theatre, dance and visual arts are posing vital issues to the world and inviting global dialogue. Major art movements have been born in Lithuania – Jonas Mekas was a pioneer of avant-garde cinema while George Maciunas (Jurgis Mačiūnas) started the Fluxus movement.
Fluxus, launched by Maciunas in the 1960s, brought together several art forms and a rebellious ideology and became one of the modern world’s most influential philosophies. The movement aims to provoke people not to submit to political and cultural routine, calling rather for spontaneity and a light-hearted take on even the most serious things. Jonas Mekas once said that “John Cage, George Maciunas and other ‘impractical’ avant-gardists contributed more to our inner, spiritual development and growth over the last 40 or 50 years than all the political movements, systems, revolutions, and theories.” Fluxus encouraged many young artists in different parts of the world to experiment, to be free. It thus contributed to the creation of an open society, a development of particular importance in Eastern Europe.
In 2020 the Fluxus movement celebrated its 60th anniversary. To mark the occasion, the Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center created a “Flux Lab” mobile app that determines the compatibility between a person and an artwork of their choice. After downloading the app, the user uploads a photo of themself and scans a work of art – one they have acquired or want to acquire or any work of interest. Then a contextual aura analysis of the two subjects – the app user and the artwork – is performed, analysing the two subjects’ relationship before the app issues a conclusion about the compatibility of the work of art that interests the viewer.
Jonas Mekas, an American filmmaker, curator and artist of Lithuanian origins, is often called “the godfather of American avant-garde cinema”, though he also has a second identity as a Lithuanian poet, publicist and writer. This filmmaker, or “chronicler” as he called himself, captured the cultural life of the diaspora with his camera, studied the art of filmmaking, and organised avant-garde film festivals. In his films, Mekas protested against art that depicts dramatic, important events – he sought to show people in their everyday lives, reveal their feelings, exalt life’s insignificant moments. His style is characterised by improvisational composition, with short cuts inserted during filming and editing. Mekas was one of the first in the world to exploit the documentary diary genre in his films Lost, Lost, Lost, Paradise Not Yet Lost, and Imperfect Three Image Films.
Today Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Centre (JMVMC), established in 2007, looks after the creative legacy of George Maciunas and Jonas Mekas. Its roughly 2,600 objects constitute the third largest Fluxus collection in the world, after those at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart in Germany.
Recognition for unique creations. Lithuanian artists’ unique work has been recognized internationally. Lina Lapelytė, Vaiva Grainytė and Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė earned the contemporary art world’s highest award, the Golden Lion, for their opera-performance Sun & Sea (Marina), which was presented at the 2019 Venice Biennale as Lithuania’s national participation. The piece calls for a pondering of the topics of climate change, our bodily nature, ecology and consumerism. The jury praised its experimental spirit, unexpected approach to national representation, creative use of the venue to present a Brechtian opera, and engagement with the city of Venice and its inhabitants. Sun & Sea (Marina) is a critique of leisure and life today, sung by performers and volunteers portraying everyday people.
Synaesthesis, a contemporary music ensemble with a unique vision for self-expression, won the prestigious Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation Ensemble Prize in 2020. Synaesthesis was founded in 2013 by composer Dominykas Digimas and conductor Karolis Variakojis. The ambitious young performers’ main mission is to perform contemporary music by Lithuanian and foreign composers focusing not only on the sound but also on creating appropriate performance spaces, visuals and movements. “From the very early days, Synaesthesis was like a flow of energy which can not only be seen but also heard. For me personally, this energy is the most important part of the ensemble, because it fills the hall and invites the audience in to experience that energy with us,” Digimas says.
Champions of quality. High-quality events are in high demand in Lithuania: the Vilnius International Film Festival “Kino Pavasaris” draws more than 120,000 attendees, while the Vilnius Book Fair, the largest in the Baltic States, attracts over 70,000 visitors each year. The fair’s 20th edition was held in 2019. It lets book lovers not only see and buy publishers’ newest offerings, but also meet authors and take part in book launches. The fair’s programme is packed with book presentations as well as panel discussions on political and geopolitical issues as well as cultural and social change. Meetings with well-known international writers are included on the agenda too.
The MO Museum, for decades a museum without walls, today welcomes visitors in a building of exceptional architecture (by Studio Liebeskind) in the centre of Vilnius. Established in 2018, the museum offers exhibitions, film screenings, lectures and educational projects. It has been successful in its mission of bringing art closer to people and more people close to art. The MO has broken all attendance records and become a favourite leisure destination for Vilnius residents and tourists.
Women at the forefront of classical music. In classical music, Lithuanian women are continually in the spotlight. In recent years, the world has gazed attentively on Asmik Grigorian (“the world’s best female opera soloist”), Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (“the world’s best female conductor”), and Žibuoklė Martinaitytė (“female composer of the year” and a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient).
Asmik Grigorian is a Lithuanian opera soloist who was born in Lithuania and studied at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre. She is a founding member of the Vilnius City Opera and a two-time recipient of the Golden Cross of the Stage, the highest theatre award in Lithuania. Grigorian was recognized at the International Opera Awards in 2016 as the best young female singer, and in 2019 as female opera soloist of the year. That same year, the Austrian Music Theatre Awards honoured her for best leading role for her performance in the opera “Salome” at the Salzburg Festival. She continues her soloist career on prestigious world stages – in Vienna, Paris and Madrid.
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla is a conductor and music director of the Salzburg State Theatre (Salzburger Landestheater) and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. In 2019, the classical music portal Classic FM named her the world’s best female conductor. She is also a recipient of the Lithuanian National Prize for Culture and Arts. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla is acclaimed for her musicality and ability to unlock the hidden depths of musical works.
Žibuoklė Martinaitytė is a New York-based Lithuanian composer. In 2020, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her album “In Search of Lost Beauty…” received two gold medals at the Global Music Awards – for best composer and best album. She is also a recipient of the Lithuanian National Prize for Culture and Arts.