‘An artist versus an art critic’; ‘an exhibition hall versus the curious and judging gazes of viewers’—the art world thematises these opposites with a natural regularity. For instance, The So-Called Critics—a painting made by Kasiulis as early as 1942—is one of the first paintings to greet the viewer entering the Vytautas Kasiulis Art Museum in Vilnius. Depicted in a dark palette, the scene is surely ironic and slightly humorous: we see a suited gentleman ‘judging’ a painting while leaning in towards it, his nose almost touching the surface, while his tight-lipped colleague gazes straight at the viewer. However, competitions, events and collaborative projects play an important role in the lives of the art creatives, and, as far as young artists are concerned, they often give the opportunities to be acknowledged and even launch their creative careers.
The Young Painters Prize Award is one such example. This year the YPP marks a ten year anniversary and remains among the leading competitions of this kind. It aims at the aspiring art professionals and calls for young artists (up to 30 years of age) from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to showcase their works. Julija Dailidėnaitė, an art theorist and one of the YPP organisers, admits that ten years ago the very idea of such an international competition seemed rather utopian. However, by the year 2018, the YPP Award already showcased the works from 72 applicants and featured 15 finalists.
Our interview with Julija revolved around the history of the YPP Award, its creative guidelines and the works of young artists from the Baltic region.
AS: This year marks a ten year anniversary for the YPP Award that has been active since 2009. Ten years is a mature age for such an event. After having been launched as a mere project, the Award has surely grown into a successful annual tradition. How will this year’s competition differ from the pilot event of 2009? What are the main guidelines that the YPP follows?
JD: Indeed, it is hard to believe that the YPP project has developed into such a prestigious annual award. This year will see our tenth Award Night. It will certainly differ from the modest and yet cozy pilot event of 2009. While the first event bore the traits of an unostentatious and experimental initiative, today’s YPP is a solid event with a long list of honourable and competent committee members, and a rich history of shows, talks and meetings. Most importantly, YPP prides itself to be a catalyst of many successful career launches.
Due to the global economical crisis, the year 2009 proved to be challenging for all social groups, let alone young artists. The hermetic circle of Lithuanian galleries and established art professionals was not yet ready to acknowledge them. This was often the reason why a lot of young art graduates felt forced to leave Lithuania in search of better living conditions, which often involved working in sectors remote from art.
In 2009, I was an Advisory Board member of the Lithuanian Artists’ Association (LAA). At that time, my colleague, painter Vilmantas Marcinkevičius was the Chair of the Painters Section of the LAA. He suggested an idea to have a competition for young painters. Because I myself grew up in the family of painters, I always felt particularly close to this medium. However, the project did not remain confined to the Painting Faculty of the Vilnius Academy of Arts. From the very outset the project was open to all the art students and graduates, however the condition for submissions remained the same: the competition accepted paintings only.
So I liked this idea right away because I knew what support and incentives meant for my peers and younger art students. I must admit that the very idea of such a competition seemed rather utopian at the time. I would never have thought that it was possible to find funds for a young artist award. However Vilmantas has managed to do just that. The first competition was held with a modest prize fund that was scraped together by the YPP sponsors Nicolas Ortiz and Mindaugas Raila. In fact, faithful and dedicated patrons and sponsors became the stable cornerstones that have kept us going throughout the years. So the pilot event of 2009 was launched with the submissions from merely 26 participants. Later the sponsorship board was fulfilled with Dali van Roiij Rakutyte and Lewben Art Foundation. They are the main patrons of the Young Painter Prize competition.
From its very beginning, the YPP had a clear age limit: its participants had to be up to 30 years of age. This criterion remained constant throughout the years. Naturally, this decision received a lot of criticism, especially from those in their mature years who became interested in art after having already established themselves socially. However we persisted on the initial age criterion and remained faithful to the original idea: support those who need help the most—students and recent graduates that are taking their first steps as independent individuals.
AS: You accept artwork submissions from the young artists of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Why did you choose the format of an international project that covers all three countries of the Baltic region, instead of remaining within the boundaries of a local painting competition?
JD: For the fist two years the YPP Award was targeting Lithuanian artists only. However we were quick to realise that Lithuanian artists needed a more competitive environment. It became clear that there were obvious leaders among the local contestants who felt rather safe and even bored with the whole format. Also, during the first years, the juries were comprised exclusively of Lithuanian art professionals. Thus having an international jury was another important improvement because we realised that otherwise subjective biases and protectionism were impossible to avoid.
These two reasons led to a decision to expand our geography and involve the countries of the rest of the Baltic region. There was even an idea to expand towards the Scandinavian region as well, however we eventually decided against it. Scandinavian art market already had a lot to offer for the young artists of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, meanwhile, together with their Estonian and Latvian colleagues, Lithuanian artists had no access to such platforms of self-realization, which was exactly where the YPP came in.
AS: According to your website, the YPP “gathers the young artists of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia for a common goal—to present their national identities, art school practices and personal creative potentials.” One of the aims of the competition is to showcase the forms of national identity and bring out the cultural contexts that young artists find themselves in. Is it possible to distinguish between the different cultural influences while looking at the artworks of Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian artists? What are their specific traits?
JD: This indeed is one of the goals of our project. It is quite evident that contemporary art is very homogenized and devoid of the distinctive regional contexts. If in the early years of the YPP we still saw clear differences between the works of, say, Estonian and Lithuanian artists, then today the art of the whole region seems to have lost the traits of distinct art schools. Today the differences between artists can be described mostly in terms of what specific teachers or famous authors they follow or what global tendencies they quote in their artworks.
AS: Art is often used as a means to talk about the political and environmental problems, and divide global narratives into smaller stories. What are the problems that the Baltic region artists are tackling with? Are these problems global, specific to Europe, or reflective of some local tendencies?
JD: Judging by the YPP submissions, artists of the Baltic region tend to express themselves as observers (contemplating interiors, scenes of everyday life and nature), go down the paths of self-analysis, and scrutinise their relations with a rather hermetic art field itself. Meanwhile, political or environmental problems are tackled very rarely.
For example, the winner of the first YPP Andrius Zakarauskas even to this day remains faithful to his theme—creation of a painting, starting with a brushstroke as a basic element, following with complex figurative compositions, and ending with the participatory analysis of a viewer. Meanwhile, last year’s winner Alexei Gordin uses his intentionally naive and illustrative style to create marvelous and subtle paintings full of irony and sarcasm. In his work he criticizes the careerism that is so ingrained in the art world and thematises the difficult and twisted path towards artistic acknowledgment.
AS: Despite the fact that Lithuania is the only country in the Baltic region that has no national architecture museum, we still host plenty of discussions, initiatives (particularly by Architecture Fund and OpenHouse Vilnius), excursions and talks. We had a similar situation with modern art—for nearly a decade Modern Art Centre was functioning without having any permanent residence, even though its archives housed over five thousand artworks. This October the Museum finally moved into a brand new building on Pylimo Street, and its opening not only gathered modernists of all stripes, but also turned out to be one of the biggest events of the year. In your view, will the establishment of the MO Museum affect the modern art scene or even the lives of artists?
JD: The MO Museum is already making a significant impact not only on the world of painting but also on the whole field of Lithuanian contemporary art. Because I myself was involved in its development (at the time when it was still known as the Modern Art Centre), I am perfectly aware of the invaluable role played by its founders Danguolė Butkus and Viktoras Butkus. Their private art collection is rich not only with the classics of Lithuanian art, but also with the art of a young generation. This initiative is extremely beneficial for the young artists—MO gives them the moral incentive to carry on with their work, makes a significant impact on their creative biographies, and helps to build their careers.
AS: You are the head of CAP, a mobile art gallery; you are also an art theorist, an art critic, and an ex-Project Manager of the Mo Art Museum. You seem to be in the very midst of the art scene. What kind of painting do you value the most?
JD: I don’t like perfections. Perhaps this is why I am a huge fan of Lucien Freud’s work. I am drawn towards his deformed bodies, forthright gazes, plain emotions, and open nerves of his brushstrokes. Among the contemporary painters I prefer Jenny Saville who is actually close to Freud. I was very happy to hear that this year her painting was sold at Sotheby’s Auction for $12.4 million. This turned Saville into one of the most expensive female artists. These two favourite painters share some kind of inexplicable commonality and intense energy that I admire and am inspired by.
I also like abstract art, especially monochrome paintings. I admire artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Ryman, and Josef Albers. Whenever I need to charge myself with expressive emotions, I turn towards the art of Julian Schnabel and Paul Wackers. I like the chaotic peacefulness that lingers in their paintings.
I live and breathe painting. This is a medium I sincerely love. I can become easily mesmerised by the smell of oil paint, the texture of brushstrokes, the surface of canvas, and the interplay between the layers of paint. This apparently ‘traditional’ medium is always open to the infinite expressive possibilities of contemporary art. I suppose this is what fascinates me the most about painting.
Pamėnkalnis Gallery is currently holding the show “Artists, Galleries, and Abandoned Spaces” by the 2017 YPP Award winner Alexei Gordin. The show
will be open until the 13th of November. Meanwhile the Titanic Gallery features “Cross the Line”, a solo show by Vilmantas Marcinkevičius, one of the YPP project initiators and organisers. The show will be held until the 1st of December.
On the 9th of November the announcement of the YPP winner will be followed by an opening of an exhibition of artworks by the YPP finalists in the TSEKH Gallery, Vilnius. The winner will receive a 2,000 EUR cash prize, an invitation to a two month residency in the Hangar Art Research Centre in Portugal, and the space for a solo show in the Pamėnkalnis Gallery, Vilnius.
This year the work of the finalists will be assessed by an international jury: Francesca Ferrarini, an independent art consultant from Italy; Bruno Leitão, an art theorist from Portugal; Kaido Ole, one of the most prominent Estonian painters; Līna Birzaka-Priekule, an art historian from Latvia; Neringa Bumblienė, a curator at the Vilnius Contemporary Art Centre; and Žygimantas Augustinas, a Lithuanian artist.
2018 YPP features not only more prizes for the finalists, but also a secondary jury. This year’s special monetary prize will be provided by “Autoriai”, a Lithuanian creative agency that works in close collaboration with the artists from around the Baltic Sea region. The YPP winner will also be selected by the additional interdisciplinary jury comprised of Lina Lapelytė, a composer and sound artist; Jolanta Marcišauskytė-Jurašienė, an art theorist and a curator at the Vilnius National Art Museum; Julijonas Urbonas, an artist-scientist; and Nerijus Keblys, the Artistic Director at “Autoriai” agency.
This year The Rooster—a gallery that works exclusively with the up-and-coming artists—will provide an additional prize in the form of a monetary bonus for one of the YPP finalists.
The information about the YPP Award and all the related events were taken from the official website www.ypp.lt.