The Ways Contemporary Art Reaches Churches: 1990–2019

2020 09 14

Celebrating its tenth anniversary, the Church Heritage Museum continues its mission to discuss Christian heritage with the public and help people discover and understand its richness and significance to Lithuanian culture. Contemporary sacral art is the least recognised and valued kind of such heritage. The situation is problematic: neither creators nor fans of contemporary art tend to look for it in churches, while in the eyes of the faithful, new artworks in the houses of worship often appear to be challenging the Church tradition. Because of such tension, since the restoration of Independence (1990), it has been difficult for quality contemporary art that expresses the deep intentions of both the artists and the commissioners to find its way into Lithuanian churches. It seems that it was all down to just a handful of enthusiasts, and that artworks would only reach church spaces and stay there if the intentions of the author and the commissioner happened to luckily coincide.

The exhibition showcases the initiatives of parishes, monastic communities, priests and lay commissioners that have made it possible for contemporary art to get into Lithuanian churches and chapels. The artworks on display have come into existence when such initiatives coincided with the artists being open to commissions of sacral nature or having a personal desire to work within the subject of Christianity. The brief biographies and memoirs provided next to the artworks, sketches and models make it possible to grasp the goals and experiences of the artists. The exhibition is not aimed at showcasing all the sacral artworks that have been created in Lithuania in 1990–2019. Instead, it comprises exhibits that are representative of certain “cases”, showing the variety of ways in which contemporary art got to churches, the complex histories of cooperation between artists and commissioners; items that stand out thanks to their artistry and quality of execution, as well as their unique ways of expressing traditional Christian themes and ideas. 

 What preceded the period presented in the exhibition was a revival of Church cultural life upon celebrating the 600th anniversary of the baptism of Lithuania and the beatification of Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis (1987). These events allowed the faithful to once again feel as a significant part of the Universal Church, after having been pushed out to the margins of public life by soviet repressions and anti-church policy. The sentiment of the revival was echoed by the enthusiasm of Christian communities when rebuilding and decorating the houses of worship that had previously been taken over by the soviet state, and by the need to build new churches. When Lithuanian independence was restored on 11 March 1990, the freedom of religion and creativity was regained as well. Unsurprisingly, religious life soon prospered and there was a sudden increase in the number of new churches being built. The restitution process that began at that time guaranteed the Church its right to take back buildings it had owned before the Second World War, where parishes and returning monastic communities were now able to settle in. This meant that there was a need to appropriately fit out the houses of worship, yet achieving this goal was often hampered by a lack of theoretical and practical knowledge as well as funds.

The number of commissions of artworks for church spaces decreased in the beginning of the 21st century. At the time, sacral art was being created by finishing works that had already been started previously, under the initiative of either individual clients or the artists themselves. The most recent change (and therefore most difficult one to evaluate) is the new wave of images of the blesseds and saints that emerged towards the end of the 2010s. Between 2014 and 2019, the images of John Paul II, St Mother Teresa, Bl. Jurgis Matulaitis, Bl. Mykolas Giedraitis, Bl. Teofilius Matulionis adorned many Lithuanian churches. The creation of these sacred images would often be entrusted to foreign painters, but the exhibition also includes interesting pieces by local artists.

We like to view contemporary art from 1990–2019 as a question of what the development of present-day sacral art tells us about the Lithuanian society. The question is open for debate, awaiting the attention of researchers. 

Organisers of the exhibition would like to thank:
Rev. Rimvydas Adomaitis, Rev. Petras Avižienis, Nora Blaževičiūtė, Ksenija Jaroševaitė, Paulius Juška, Rev. Kęstutis Kazlauskas, Ramunė Kmieliauskaitė, Algirdas Kuzma, Lida Kuzmienė, Neringa Markauskaitė, Aurelija Rusteikienė, Rev. Jonas Sabaliauskas, Rimantas Sakalauskas, Vladas Urbanavičius, Alfonsas Vaura, Kunotas Vildžiūnas, Nijolė Vilutytė, Vaidotas Žukas, Anykščiai Sacred Art Centre, Anykščiai parish of St Matthew, Elektrėnai parish of Blessed Virgin Mary Queen of Martyrs, sisters of the Congregation of the Eucharistic Jesus, Vilnius parish of Bl Jurgis Matulaitis, Vilnius Monastery of Sts Philip and James the Apostles, Vilnius St Joseph Seminary, Vilnius Observant Franciscan (Bernardine) Monastery of Sts Francis and Bernard, Vilnius parish of All Saints, Želva parish of St Ignatius Loyola, Samogitian Museum Alka and Samogitian Diocese Museum, journal "Artuma".

Curators: Sigita Maslauskaitė-Mažylienė, Birutė Valečkaitė
Organiser: Church Heritage Museum
Coordinators: Violeta Indriūnienė, Kamilė Jagėlienė, Indraja Kubilytė, Vidmantė Narvidaitė, Rita Pauliukevičiūtė, Sandra Stonytė
Architect: Ieva Cicėnaitė
Designer: Gedas Čiuželis
Photographer: Arūnas Baltėnas
Sponsors: Archdiocese of Vilnius, Lithuanian Council for Culture, Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania 
Media sponsors: „Clear Channel“,

More information:
Tel.: 8 5 269 7800


Vilniaus Akivyskupija            

Informational sponsors