‹‹Writing in 1915, Carl Einstein, the German theoretician of African art contemporaneous with Walter Benjamin and Aby Warburg, declared that museums were the foundation for living schools. Einstein argued against the idea that works of art from the past possessed a kind of material and sentimental immortality. Instead, he wanted to nurture an intellectual lifeline between the museum and the research institute. The greatest strength of a collection, he wrote, lay in its mobility. In other words: in the intentional act of switching the position of exhibits back and forth between analysis, interpretation and public visibility. The itinerancy of objects would encourage rigor, make people look again, understand better what they saw, and take apart what they believed or assumed. Collections would reflect the extremes of intellectual explorations and exhibitions would speak of human experience and knowledge. If not he claimed, museums would become nothing more than “preserve jars”, and “anesthetize and rigidify into a myth of guaranteed continuity, into the drunken slumber of the mechanical”.››1
‹‹Behind the White Curtain is a work by Darius Mikšys for the Lithuanian Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale of International Art. It attempts to bring together and display a symbolic exhibition curated by a modern state and turn it into a real exhibition and national archive. Acting as both a self-constructed and self-organised public mirror, Behind the White Curtain constitutes a collection of artworks by artists who received the State Grant from the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania over the last two decades (1992–2010)››2
‹‹After winding our way through the labrynthian streets of Venice in search of the Lithuanian Pavilion, housed in a palatial Venetian church in a desolate square, we find the eponymous White Curtain amidst a vast open space littered with various disaparate artworks. A large painted canvas resting on a rolling easel, a sculpture of a motorcycle made from delicate gold-painted wire, a monitor playing a performance piece, and a bench on which a number of heavy hardcover books are resting.››3
‹‹Over the boundaries of the white walls of an exhibition area, over the traditional way to display paintings and works, the pavilion, entirely created and curated by Darius Miksys, offers a new “formula” to interact with the exposed works […] The exposition is thus “symbolic” whereas it is the visitor that chooses what work he/she prefers to watch closely.››4
‹‹The catalogue and also the display mechanism somehow remind me of a shop. You could feel like a customer who sits in a shop and has things displayed in front of him.››5
‹‹The selected work will be able to be admired for limited time, then will be replaced by other works, other choices, other preferences. All this is a real revolution: the rules of the game are curiously inverted and the audience’s interaction is stimulated through a sort of performance that bring works to life, according to personal tastes and preferences.››6
‹‹The performative aspect of selecting and passing the book over, then watching while Mikšys and his assistant curators brought each artwork out from it’s place behind the white curtain, their hands in the white gloves of archivists, is also enjoyable.››7
‹‹Sometimes the exhibition tends to fall apart very quickly, sometimes not, but sometimes it falls apart immediately. And visitors are not sensitive to that kind of thing. Entropy works within minutes and it goes into nowhere. You get bits of something you were seeing as good and in half of an hour it becomes absolutely messy for a long time.››8
‹‹After lingering for a while it became apparent that visitors interact with the archive in various ways, some organizing their own exhibition of various works, others (like me) finding an anomalous work they’d like to see in real life.››9
‹‹Behind the White Curtain is an installation and performance, taking place on both sides of the curtain. One side serves as a storage space for the entire collection while the second operates as a rotating exposition; shaped according to the specific interests of each visitor.››10
‹‹The idea was to construct an art collection with people who received art stipends. The collection had to be represented similarly to these private gallery collections, which are usually being shelved in storage; and being professional, for instance, you could acquire any of these works to be shown. Otherwise they would remain in the storage.››11
‹‹He decided to draw this work to a conclusion by establishing a mechanism for bringing this collection together and displaying it in Venice. All the recipients of a state grant for visual arts were contacted with a request to select one of their own artworks from the period of several months when they were receiving the stipend, to be briefly displayed on request from visitors to the Lithuanian Pavilion.››12
‹‹The Lithuanian state selects artists for a symbolic exhibition by allocating prizes and grants to further the practice of Lithuanian artists. It could be seen as a targeted programming of cultural products. In this way, the state acts as a curator, whose exhibition hall does not have walls, and whose exhibition is on show for decades. Is it possible to see such an exhibition? How does one visit it?››13
‹‹Though, as an artwork in itself, the Mikšys’ archive intriguingly spoke to the ineffable nature of describing and proffering a brand of art that would appropriately encapsulate the aesthetic of a nation. By using the Lithuanian State Grant as an extraneous structure for determining those who would represent the face of the country in Venice, the artist highlights the impossibility to communicate something collectively–the phenomenon of nationality–that can only be personally rendered.››14
‹‹Therefore, there is no finite image of the collection, but there are concrete contributors, whose autonomy is emphasised rather than denied. Although the vision of state-curated art is not strictly defined, it exists as a possibility for the viewer: having opened the catalogue, the viewer can take a look behind the curtain and create one’s own collection – that is, employ one’s own imagination after hearing the idea.››15
‹‹The white curtain sparked criticism even before it was installed: many found it offensive that the artworks may never appear on display. Others feared that Miksys is merely manipulating the two hundred artists’ names as easily obtained symbolic capital and robbing these artists of a “real” opportunity to participate in the biennale, or railed against the decision to cut the arbitrarily defined applied arts section out of the scheme.››16
‹‹But still, what makes me critical about Behind the White Curtain? It is the fact that the author does not disappear fully. With Gilles Deleuze in mind, a game, an experiment is in process, and it seems intriguing. But the final representation or meaning has been foreseen. It makes me suspect that by trying to enlist only the fine arts – mostly modern painting, graphic art, sculpture – into the project, the aim to show state-funded art as provincial art is set. While looking at it in this perspective, the conceptual level fades out and the trivial level of the undercurrent of relations between CAC and the modernists (the artists’ association) reveals itself.››17
‹‹But above all, often clouded by the issues of logistics, responsibility and display, there is the most disturbing uncertainty: is this a prank? The opening lines of the project’s official description start off with a depiction of Lithuania’s first national exhibition in 1907, and an astounding question: what would such an exhibition look like if it were put together today? Can he seriously be trying to distil a body of work in which the (Lithuanian?) viewer “could recognize him- or herself, like in a mirror or the cinema screen”? And – will we ever know?››18
‹‹I’m very pleased by the fact that the discussion around the project has been evolving in the direction of presentation and representation to ourselves, rather than to the world. This was the essence of the idea behind the project – to comprehend and become self-conscious instead of simply showing ‘the best we have’ to an abstract viewer from a ‘world’ that we don’t always feel a part of.››19
‹‹On the other hand, tendency to representation doesn’t block the other features of the project. Especially through the representation (there are many ways to think of and qualify it) the most positive features of the project come out: self-reflection and discursiveness. Despite the elimination of the categories of subjectivity and authorship, a conscious looking from the “state” position, Mikšys’ project is self-reflective. In the case of national Lithuanian art, institutional complications, the role of the state, as well as in the case of the Venice Biennale as a phenomenon. Behind the White Curtain in a certain way reflects the Lithuanian “national taste” or the state position and priorities, but also it is a small model of the Biennale.››20
‹‹The presentation of each state focuses on the idea of a certain artist, which usually says very little about the context from which it emerged. In the case of Behind the White Curtain, it’s vice versa – instead of the tip of the iceberg, we focus on that huge and invisible part of it that usually remains underwater. This is a truly unusual attention shift.››21
‹‹What makes me a little bit sympathetic to this project is its attitude towards the Venice Biennale as a phenomenon. It is a big and well conceptualized art/world fair, where the work of art might be important, but the way artists and curating institutions use the given public relation possibilities is much more important. And if Lithuania never gets it right in the Eurovision song contest, it almost every time hits it in Venice. Especially with the Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas Villa Lituania project in 2007, which has already become a classic (public) relational art example in Lithuania. In this sense, sending a relational art project to Venice is a good decision, but closing it with an anticipated result (a simulated performance of representation) is not the best way to do it.››22
‹‹After four whirling days of exhausting happenings, lectures, vernissages around the whole city, public relationships and meetings, the Jury of the 54th International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia confered the […] Special Mentions to the Lithuanian Pavilion (the artist present is Darius Mikšys) for its conceptually elegant and productively ambiguous framing of a nation’s art history.››23
‹‹This truley collaborative and interactive offering from Lithuania and Darius Mikšys seemed to be one of the few participating countries at the Venice Biennale who attempted to represent a reflection of their nation, while also underlining the idea that, regardless of this collective accumulation, each work must endure an individual’s eye for its final show.››24
‹‹The international visitors of the exhibition will be the medium to make Lithuanian art materialise from out of the void, by bringing it out from behind the white curtain. We could not understand this collection in any other way except by dancing a shamanistic dance around the constantly expanding void. Taking part in a séance, during which objects emerge out of the void.››25
‹‹The viewer wields a certain amount of power in the act of selecting which works are brought out by the collection ‘handlers’, and which artworks are left behind for the next visitors to see upon arrival. “Each new visitor is left with the curatorial experience of the previous.” Mikšys agrees.››26
‹‹The most important thing is how each participant in the collection sees him or herself in the context that is offered by the idea, which remains purely imaginary. The artists probably realise that their participation (or not – one should probably see these two positions as equal) changes the idea itself but only to the extent that it is reflected from the outside.››27
‹‹Theoretically you can produce your show. And several shows were produced. By artists and curators, they were spontaneous although we were saying that you could even book your time and invite guests, provide some drinks and we would provide the space and the artworks. Normally it happens that there is an interaction of several visitors, those who are active. And probably even those who were not asking to show any of the works they still take part by seeing the works. So this interaction is a complete secret for me and I can only say that it happens. This interaction happens from time to time and it takes one form or another depending on the visitors and on the background of the visitor. Someone quickly asks to remove something, another starts to rearrange the exhibition, others are tolerant to anything and they don’t want to remove anything.››28
1 D. Mikšys in A selection of fragments from a conversation with Darius Mikšys, Edited by Michelangelo Corsaro in ‹‹CAC interviu››, n° 18-19, Vilnius 2011. p. 11.
2 Lithuanian pavillion at the 54th Venice Biennale (2011), press release, in www.cac.lt.
3 M. Ross, 54th Venice Biennale: Behind the White Curtain in the Lithuanian Pavilion, in ‹‹Jotta››, London, july 2011. www.jotta.com
4 V. Di Pietro, Lithuania: there are no boundaries behind the curtain, in ‹‹Artitude magazine››, Macerata, June 2011. www.artitude.eu
5 D. Mikšys in A selection of fragments from a conversation with Darius Mikšys, cit., p. 10.
6 V. Di Pietro, Lithuania: there are no boundaries behind the curtain, cit.
7 M. Ross, 54th Venice Biennale: Behind the White Curtain in the Lithuanian Pavilion, cit.
8 D. Mikšys in A selection of fragments from a conversation with Darius Mikšys, cit. p. 11.
9 K. Archey, Darius Mikšys’ ‘Behind the White Curtain’ at the Lithuanian Pavilion for the 54th Venice Biennale, in ‹‹Artinfo, International Edition››, www.artinfo.com.
10 Kęstutis Kuizinas in conversation with Darius Mikšys, in ‹‹Roundtable A Journal for the 9th Gwangju Biennale›› n°1, Edited by Carol Yinghua Lu. p. 18.
11 D. Mikšys in A selection of fragments from a conversation with Darius Mikšys, cit., p. 9.
12 V. Januskeviciute, Behind the white curtain. Darius Miksys, in ‹‹Eurozine – europe’s leading cultural magazines at your fingertip››, www.eurozine.com.
13 ILLUMInations: 54th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia, catalogue of the exhibition, Marsilio Edizioni, Venice 2011. p. 399
14 K. Archey, Darius Mikšys’ ‘Behind the White Curtain’ at the Lithuanian Pavilion for the 54th Venice Biennale, cit.
15 D. Mikšys in Kęstutis Kuizinas in conversation with Darius Mikšys, cit., p. 26.
16 V. Januskeviciute, Behind the white curtain. Darius Miksys, cit.
17 J. Marcišauskytė-Jurašienė in A Conversation by the White Curtain, in ‹‹Studija, visual arts magazine››, www.studija.lt
18 V. Januskeviciute, Behind the white curtain. Darius Miksys, cit.
19 D. Mikšys in Kęstutis Kuizinas in conversation with Darius Mikšys, cit., p. 22.
20 J. Marcišauskytė-Jurašienė in A Conversation by the White Curtain, cit.
21 K. Kuizinas in Kęstutis Kuizinas in conversation with Darius Mikšys, cit., p. 23.
22 E. Juocevičiūtė in A Conversation by the White Curtain, cit.
23 C. Nuzzi, Illuminazioni – 54th Art Biennal of Venice, in ‹‹Posi+Tive magazine››, June 2011. www.positive-magazine.com
24 M. Ross, 54th Venice Biennale: Behind the White Curtain in the Lithuanian Pavilion, cit.
25 D. Mikšys in Kęstutis Kuizinas in conversation with Darius Mikšys, cit., p. 23.
26 M. Ross, 54th Venice Biennale: Behind the White Curtain in the Lithuanian Pavilion, cit.
27 D. Mikšys in Kęstutis Kuizinas in conversation with Darius Mikšys, cit., p. 26.
28 D. Mikšys in A selection of fragments from a conversation with Darius Mikšys, cit., p. 9.
Darius Mikšys (b.1969, Kaunas, Lithuania). His projects vary from a video documentation of a visit to the Parapsychology Fair at the Vilnius Sports’ Palace to the attempted production of Gilles Peterson’s shroud, selling an empty bottle of perfume on e-bay, proposing an ABBA museum in Qantas plane for Tempelhof airport in Berlin, creating a body of sculptures titled “My Jeff Koons”, and establishing the very first Lithuanian cricket club named “Abdul Aziz’s Holiday IX”.
special thanks to CAC – Contemporary Art Centre Vilnius