This February, The Radvila Palace Museum of the LNMA this offers the visitors of the museum a unique exhibition, entitled A Room of the Masterpiece. Frans Hals’s Evangelists from the Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art. The event will showcase the portraits of St Luke and St Matthew by Frans Hals, 17th-century ingenious portrait painter. Both paintings have arrived from the Museum of Western and Eastern Art in Odessa after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
An interdisciplinary group of art researchers and artists have designed a special Room of a Masterpiece for a unique museum experience. Special audiovisual and multimedia elements installed in the room will immerse its visitors into the environment of a masterpiece on display, heightening one’s individual engagement with art, undisturbed by either exterior sounds, images or other visitors.
‘Entering our Room of a Masterpiece, our visitors can expect an enhanced artistic experience,’ Dr Arūnas Gelūnas, director general of the LNMA, and the mastermind of the idea, shares inspirations behind it. ‘According to the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, an encounter with a work of art is like a meeting with your true self. Therefore, we want to invite our visitors into a unique, intimate and private engagement with the masterpieces of the world. The viewers will not only be enlightened, via audiovisual technology, on the works of art on display, the artists, and their historical context, but will have an opportunity to contemplate in solitude the original and to focus completely on the work. It is a great luxury and pleasure in the accelerated world of nowadays,’ the head of the museum explains the concept of the new format.
The idea inspired by David Lynch
An exhibition to be visited individually by each viewer is the first-time event in Lithuania. Dr Gelūnas, director general of the LNMA, emphasizes the time aspect of the concept of the exhibition: it is to immerse the viewer into time that runs slower than the time of the everyday.
‘The idea was born from the realization that we, the Lithuanian National Museum of Art, are a huge institution offering to viewers plenty of events of quality and content. Yet our visitors – busy and occupied contemporary individuals – have no time to engage deeper with each individual work of art. A specialized survey has revealed that during major events, a visitor spends approximately only seven seconds in front of one piece. While I want to image how a visitor falls in love with a specific artwork, visits it, starts an internal discussion with the artist, how the piece evokes in him different ideas and feelings.’
‘During the pandemic, I recalled a strange and mysterious film by David Lynch Mulholland Drive. One scene in the movie shows a spiritual conversion of the protagonist taking place in an empty theatre. The female protagonist is sucked in into a parallel reality, and the usual time is replaced by the time of an invented reality. I feel likewise tempted to lure our visitor into a similar situation – at least once in a lifetime, and for a short while. The concept of such a Room of a Masterpiece entails the stopping of our routine time and the transformation of it into time of art.’
‘Exhibitions of a single artwork are held by different museums, but they are not designed to facilitate an intimate visitor-artwork relationship. Therefore, we have decided that each our visitor will enter the Room of a Masterpiece on their own. Individual time in the presence of the artwork and its multimedia narrative will be a strong experience.’
The Room of a Masterpiece was designed by the award-winning stage director Paulius Markevičius, playwright Birutė Kapustinskaitė, composer Andrius Šiurys and a team of architects, designers, art theorists. The realization of the concept has been coordinated by Justina Augustytė, director of the Radvila Palace Museum.
The arrival of the masterpieces from Ukraine
The first artworks to be presented in the Room of a Masterpiece are the images of the evangelists, Saint Luke and Saint Matthew by the renowned Dutch portrait painter Frans Hals. The paintings are superb examples of the artist’s skill and his unique style, distinguished by the freedom and energy of his brushwork.
The war launched by Russia on Ukraine on 24 February 2022 threatens the cultural art objects safeguarded in the country’s museums by destruction and looting. The Lithuanian National Museum of Art and the Odesa Museum had pre-war plans of cooperation on their future exhibitions, which prompted decisions to implement safety measures and the evacuation of the artwork of high value from the country. After a major diplomatic and logistic effort required to do all the detailed planning and dangerous transportation, the paintings arrived into the storage facilities of the LNMA and have been restored at the Pranas Gudynas Restoration Centre of the LNMA.
‘The transportation of the artwork was organized via Western Ukraine. At the time around 800 of paintings and graphic prints were brought into Lithuania. The better part of these has already been presented to the public in seven events dedicated to the collections which arrived from Ukraine. To crown it, we have saved The Payment of Dues by the French artist Georges de La Tour, a fantastic, fabulous specimen representing his unique talent, and the portraits of Saint Luke and Saint Matthew by Frans Hals. While the display of these ingenious paintings, which have reached us under such extraordinary circumstances, in our Room of a Masterpiece is, I reckon, a present to every art lover,’ Dr Gelūnas says.
Though the year 2024 is not a jubilee year of Frans Hals, the heightened interest in the artist in Germany and Holland, can be explained, according to the director general, by the fact that people started longing for humanism which radiates from the painter’s work. Hals depicted men, women, and children, he also painted marginalized social types, drunkards, lunatics, beggars who were not customary subjects of his period. Frans Hals is the first master of portraiture in the world to capture smiling people.
What is a masterpiece?
The Room of a Masterpiece exhibition will invite the viewers besides contemplating the legacy of Frans Hals, to attempt answering the question about the nature of a masterpiece.
‘A masterpiece transcends time. It is a work of art appreciated from a perspective of eternity, not only a thing of contemporary fashion. Equally, I believe, such a work should transcend any geographic boundaries. A piece appreciated only by a narrow circle of perceivers is a specimen of local art, but when the work is admired worldwide, like the portraits by Frans Hals, it is a proof of the high professionalism of painting,’ such is the answer by the head of the museum.
Concept of the exhibition by Dr Arūnas Gelūnas, director general of the LNMA
Stage director Paulius Markevičius
Playwright Birutė Kapustinskaitė
Composer Andrius Šiurys
Project financed by the Lithuanian Council for Culture
Sponsor AAS BTA Baltic Insurance Company
Exhibition partner: the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union
The Lithuanian National Museum of Art is one of the largest national art museums in Lithuania with the aim of building, safekeeping, researching, conserving, restoring, curating and exhibiting the collections of the arts and cultural artefacts of national significance at its nine divisions in Vilnius, Klaipėda, Palanga, and Juodkrantė.