A model of the new Modern and Contemporary Art Center in Vilnius, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind
Vilnius (AFP) - Local philanthropists are teaming up with a world-renowned architect to hand Lithuania's capital Vilnius its first modern art museum, with doors due to open in early 2019.
Designed by Daniel Libeskind, the author of Berlin's landmark Jewish Museum and New York's National September 11 Memorial and Museum, the Vilnius venue will feature Lithuanian art from the Soviet-era 1960s through to the present day.
A model of the future museum reveals a striking angular white concrete cube with a diagonal passageway and a large mirrored outer terrace at the back.
"It is not my largest project, it is one of the smallest," Libeskind said of the venue, the first of its kind in the Baltic states.
"It's a museum for people. It is not just for art lovers, but for families, for kids. People just enjoy the public space, then will enter the museum and then get also interested in all the contents."
Philanthropist Viktoras Butkus is spending 8.5 million euros ($9.2 million) on the museum and its unique collection.
Part of a vibrant crop of post-Soviet era entrepreneurs, Butkus earned his fortune in 2010 by selling his stake in Fermentas, an enzymes producer for biotechnology companies.
- Rich collection -
"Since Lithuania regained independence in 1991 ... neither museums nor collectors have bought works from this period" due to a lack of funding, he told AFP, referring to the period spanning the Soviet and post-Soviet era.
"A whole piece of our country's culture has thus disappeared" in galleries, companies or abroad, added Butkus, who is financing the museum along with wife Danguole.
Butkus has collected about 4,000 works of art, mostly over the past six years. They include paintings by surrealist Mikalojus Povilas Vilutis, by Augustinas Savickas -- vaguely reminiscent of Chagall -- as well as sculptures by Ruta Jusionyte.
The collection also includes videos and snapshots documenting the development of Lithuanian photography.
Danguole took art history courses to gear up for the project.
"They are the first to buy art not officially sanctioned by the state from the late Soviet era," says art historian Erika Grigoraviciene, adding that the Butkuses have compiled "one of the richest collections of the period".
"There are interesting paintings by artists exposed to solitude, despair, anger," she added.
"We noticed that there were many such works created after 1990, but galleries and museums did not have the money to buy them."
Painter Patricija Jurksaityte said the museum would offer a complete map of Lithuanian art unlike the country's National Gallery, which often displays just a single work from any artist.
"Their initiative will make it possible to get a better idea of how the artists' work has evolved," said the painter, who sold a dozen of her works to the centre.
German art historian Eckart Gillen calls its collection "a true revelation".
"From a critical distance and with a great empathy for their contemporaries, the artists document the melancholy of the years when time stood still," he says of the heady yet turbulent days Lithuania saw both before and after its 1991 independence from the Soviet Union.
- Online museum -
Pending the 2019 grand opening, the couple have created an online museum (www.mmcentras.lt) featuring a digitised collection of the gathered works , which can be accessed the world over.
They have also published art books for young readers, sent an exhibition of Lithuanian photography to visit local schools and launched several other art projects in Vilnius.
They also plan to grant wide access to their collections once the new museum opens its doors to the public.
"We'll organise thematic visits there. Since the paintings and other works will be on shelves and rails, they will be easy to take out," Butkus said.
"The more art and art fans we have, the better off we will be."