The Kaunas Modern Art Foundation (KMAF) has accumulated over 100 paintings, graphic works, and sculptures.
The core of this collection consists of the older generation of painters: Vytautas Povilaitis (father), Antanas Martinaitis and works by painters from Angis group that was established at the end of the 20th century, such as Alfonsas Vilpišauskas, Arūnas Vaitkūnas, Henrikas Čerapas, Raimondas Gailiūnas, Rimvidas Jaunkauskas – Kampas, Ričardas Nemeikšis, Kęstutis Lupeikis. In addition to that, the foundation owns works by painters of different generations important for the history of Lithuanian painting: Pranas Lapė, Eugenijus Varkulevičius-Varkalis, Laima Drazdauskaitė, Jovita Aukštikalnytė, Algis Skačkauskas among others.
The painting archive is the largest but graphic art and sculpture collections also contain some prominent names, like Edmundas Saladžius, Petras Repšys, Žibuntas Mikšys, Algimantas Puipa, Vytautas Kazimieras Jonynas, Liudas Truikis (pieces of scenography), Robertas Antinis (senior), Leonas Strioga, Edmundas Frėjus and sculptures by old Lithuanian folk artists. The wide range of surnames points to the diversity of generations, styles and even location (there are some emigrant artists) but they can all be attributed to the 20th-century modernism. Moreover, this collection of mostly Kaunas artists can lead us to where it all began – Kaunas Art School of the interwar period.
Although KMAF was officially registered a few years ago, the fine arts collection has long been accumulated. At the end of the 20th century, Giedrius and Eglė Andziukevičiai decided to acquire paintings by Vytautas Povilaitis (1927-2009). At the time, they did not dream about a rich collection of Lithuanian modernist artists, the work Šokis, 1992 (Dance) simply decorated the newly established family home. Since then, painter Vytautas Povilaitis was often visited by Giedrius Andziukevičius. He was not only buying artist’s works himself but was also urging friends to acquire some, especially during the last years of the painter’s life. This friendship opened up a path to the art world. Andziukevičiai family got acquainted with other Kaunas and Vilnius artists and it wasn’t a one-off acquisition of paintings. Later, meetings and informal conversations followed.
In the book about Vytautas Povilaitis published by KMAF in 2011, Giedrius Andziukevičius remembers not only his favorite painter but also his own path towards modernist art. “Around 1994 I learned that Kaunas has a very modern painter V. Povilaitis. I called him and went to his studio on Kęstučio Street. It was the same house, in which painter Kazys Šimonis once had a studio as well. I was immediately fascinated by the painter’s friendliness and youthfulness and decided to buy a painting … I had studied at the Kaunas Antanas Martinaitis Art School, so most of Kaunas artists were my teachers there, for example, Edmundas Saladžius, Laima Drazdauskaitė, and others. Later on, we all became friends.”
Thus, Andziukevičiai family started augmenting their art collection according to their taste and in addition to that became friends with the artists. Often these principles – aesthetics, and liking for the author of the artwork – coincided. Andziukevičiai not only visited artists’ studios but also invited new friends to their home. Naturally, a tradition was born – after an artwork was acquired and settled at home, its author was invited to see where his artwork was placed.
Eglė Andziukevičienė remembers these meetings as an irreplaceable experience and describes them as individual art lessons. It is no secret that two or three decades ago there was a different understanding of the arts, most often limited to the name of M. Čiurlionis. Especially Lithuanian art of the second half of the 20th century was sort of left to its own devices, lacking the current possibilities of promoting and creating stories about art classics and living legends. Therefore, people of other professions (for example, like Andziukevičiai coming from the medical field) were able to come into contact with artists only accidentally.
In official interviews, smaller nuances are usually obscured and in addition to that, a more self-contained person will not reveal all of his or her intentions or sorrows in a one-off conversation. From Giedrius Andziukevičius’ memories, we learn little-known facts, for example, that Vytautas Povilaitis used to paint with crow feathers or utilized paint used for construction or print, and instead of using a palette, he would pour the paint on the floor. And he did that not because he wanted to come up with a different type of brush stroke or style but simply because he did not have traditional tools for painting. Vytautas Povilaitis has also shown Giedrius Andziukevičius his first attempts at abstract painting, which had become a legend of Lithuanian abstractionism. “Once, he pulled out this small piece of cardboard from a huge pile of canvases (about 25×35 cm) with barely visible colors. It was dusty and covered in soot (Šančiai studios were heated with small heating stoves that burned coal). This was Vytautas’ first abstraction painted in 1958. Unfortunately, this historical work probably did not reach our times.”
Hushed up stories and conversations that emerge next to the artist’s paintings are like extended labels bringing the artist closer to the viewer, allowing us to better understand how and why these works appeared in the collection. And this is a story of only one painter, one acquired painting, opening up ways to artists’ unexpected discoveries. Now, Eglė Andziukevičienė summarizes this once-born hobby to collect as an irreplaceable value. “Paintings seem to educate you, you get used to them, conceive an affection for them and grow together. And the fact that with them we also discover wonderful people is a great added value that cannot be compared to anything else.”
Thanks to these conversations and friendships, the circle of artists expanded, and the house was filled with good paintings, graphic works, and sculptures. Then, the second stage of Andziukevičiai collection began. “There came a moment when we realized that we were not simply acquiring paintings to decorate our space but doing something bigger that could be important to history, and that was not a calculated financial investment.” Therefore, we can describe the collection as a field of a subjective connoisseur of aesthetics, which consisted of an assessment based on direct visual experience, personal knowledge, artist friend’s consultations, and peer reviews.
Based on these parameters the face of the collection started forming. After reviewing their collection, Andziukevičiai began to expand the collection of works by painters connected to Angis group. In addition to Angis members from Kaunas, the collectors were interested in painters from other cities whose artworks in exhibitions affected them personally. Their works did not formally supplement the collection (although they matched typologically) but were chosen as artworks akin to it. The oeuvre of Angis group that covers various Lithuanian cities formed its core in the late 1980s in Kaunas, around Alfonsas Vilpišauskas and his students at the Kaunas Stepas Žukas Applied Arts College (currently Kaunas College Justinas Vienožinskis Faculty of Arts).
Still, this collection is mostly related to the art spirit developed by Kaunas Art School. This is also confirmed by the passionate desire of Andziukevičiai to acquire works by artists directly related to the interwar period art school and its ideas. Therefore, several works of art patriarchs were found and later acquired. They include scenography drawings by Liudas Truikys and Vytautas Kazimieras Jonynas’ graphic works. Both artists studied at the art school and, as was customary then, trained in Paris. Pranas Lapė has also experienced the methods of Kaunas Art School. He had enrolled in the already reformed art school (Kaunas Applied Arts Institute) during the war and despite the changes, some old professors were still teaching there. What Kaunas Art School considered new and important – the aim at expressive strokes, constructive stylization of folk art – was viewed by the young artists, who worked during the Soviet period and their works are now a part of the collection, as a way to resist and oppose socialist realism.
In addition to the search of historical artists, KMAF often collaborates with contemporary artists. With the emergence of new artistic stages, the collection has entered its third phase. It gained a name and a status (in 2012 the KMAF was established as a public institution). Now, the Foundation not only connects the Andziukevičiai collection of Lithuanian modernist art but also sums up other cultural activities and draws new guidelines.