Rasa Andriušytė, exclusively from Milan

www.kamane.lt , 2011 01 06

Entrance to the exhibition of M. K. Čiurlionis in Milan. Photo by Osvaldas Daugelis

In brief: The exhibition of the Lithuanian artist “Čiurlionis. Esoteric Trip 1875-1911” (curators Gabriella Di Milia and Osvaldas Daugelis) was opened in the main museum of Milan, Pallazo Reale, in the imposing complex of Visconti Palace, which was turned into a museum after the World War II. An exhibition of the surrealist Salvator Dali is open at Pallazo Reale Museum at the moment. Visitors were earlier invited to exhibitions of Edward Munch, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky; therefore, the exposition of the Lithuanian artist called one of the fathers of modernism of the 20th century in Italy does not appear random too.

The offer of culture is incredibly huge in Milan. Works of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Sandro Boticelli are kept in well-equipped museums, old churches and monasteries. Queues are stretching at Museo Del Novecento, at Islamic art and one-painting exhibition: the work of Tiziano Vecelli “Woman with a Mirror” (1515) brought from the Louvre Museum in France is showcased here.

Tiziano Vecelli. "Woman with a Mirror". 1515. Property of the Louvre Museum. Photo of Peter Harholdt

Tiziano Vecelli. "Woman with a Mirror”. 1515. Detail. Photo by Peter Harholdt

The Cathedral Hall at Pallazo Reale. The pavilion of Museo Del Novecento in front of the entrance to the exhibition of M. K. Čiurlionis. Photo by R. Andriušytė

Dome of Vittorio Emanuelle II Gallery. 1877. Photo by R. Andriušytė

The offer of culture satisfies the most diverse interests and tastes in this city of North Italy. Realising the scale and diversity of this offer in Milan, one becomes curious how and by what the guest from North, the subtle M.K.Čiurlionis finds his place in this Babel of cultures. What was the thread that joined the mature Italian gallery visitor and Lithuanian artist, who created music and paintings more than one hundred years ago in the eastern corner of Europe?

M. K. Čiurlionis. "Sacrifice". 1909. Photo from the funds of NČAM

The Italian art critic Gabriella Di Milia takes interest in works of M.K.Čiurlionis for a long time already. She researched the works of Čiurlionis in the theosophical perspective since 1980, she tried to decipher the symbols and meanings of his paintings.

The main idea of the exhibition in Milan was to present M.K.Čiurlionis' works as part of esoteric occult spiritual searches in the European culture. The concept was targeted at the wide public. The title of the exhibition is really attractive as it intrigues the visitor.

M. K. Čiurlionis. “Heaven”. 1909. Photo from the funds of NČAM

The opinions of art specialists regarding the role of occultism and esoteric in the works of M.K.Čiurlionis differ. Of course, symbolism, with which the works of M.K.Čiurlionis are identified, is closely related with mysticism. Still, researchers know only few facts of biography of M.K.Čiurlionis that would testify about his clear relation with theosophy. The most vivid example, the painting “Vision” (1904-1905), proves that the occult sphere was slightly familiar to the artist. By the way, this painting is not showcased in Milan. Another factual proof of the certain relation of the artist with theosophy is the texts of M.K.Čiurlionis. They contain many thoughts of the artist about universality, transcendental unity as the source of life, cleansing of a man's soul as the key to the cognition of the Universe. However, few clear arguments exist that would prove the entity of philosophical attitudes of M.K.Čiurlionis. As a result, the organisers of the exhibition faced a rather difficult task to highlight the esoteric aspect and to distinguish motifs that were born out of theosophical meanings from images used generally in symbolism as well as from archetypes of Lithuanian culture. They are intertwined in the works of M.K.Čiurlionis; therefore, all this becomes a question of interpretation.

“Sonata No. 6 (Sonata of Stars)”. Allegro. 1908. Photo from the funds of NČAM

Gabriella Di Milia is an art critic without the burden of the Soviet period; perhaps this is the reason why her attitude to M.K.Čiurlionis is so fresh? While organising the exhibition in Milan, she boldly interpreted M.K.Čiurlionis as the artist who embodied spiritual searches of the beginning of the 20th century, a mystic, one of fathers of modernism. She grounds her theosophical attitude hermeneutically or comparatively. Therefore, the explanations of some particular works presented in Milan may be accepted as original esoteric interpretations of M.K.Čiurlionis‘ works. The author presents an example: the interpretation of the work Sonata No. 3 (Sonata of a Grass-snake, 1908) in the article.

“Sonata No. 3 (Sonata of a Grass-snake)”. Finalle. 1908. Photo from the funds of NČAM

After visiting the exhibition in Milan, a person may really form an opinion, not only by the aspect offered by the organisers, and to realise the uniqueness of the artist's personality as well as his creative aspirations. The most significant part of works of M.K.Čiurlionis is showcased, starting with “Peace” (1903-1904) and “Creation of the World” (1905-1906), ending with painted sonatas and “Rex” (1909). The esoteric accent of the concept determined the possibility to see paintings “Fairy-tale” (Fairy-tale of Castle), “Heaven”, “Angel” (all painted in 1909) in Milan, which travel abroad not so often, many drawings and graphical works. Photographs made by M.K.Čiurlionis, notes and the unique book of letters (1901-1902), in which M.K.Čiurlionis used to rewrite letters sent to close people, are showcased respectfully, similarly to paintings in the exhibition.

Fragments of the exposition of M. K. Čiurlionis in Milan. Photos by O. Daugelis

Generally, the exposition looks fresh and impressive. The warm red colour of walls of the exhibition hall surprises at the beginning, but later it becomes clear that the decision of Italians to present paintings of M.K.Čiurlionis in the purple background is very professional. The red contrasts with the prevailing green and yellow shades of paintings, and the deep violet of information stands gives prominence to the yellow, pink and orange strokes of tempera. “Creation of the World” is exhibited in a slightly unexpected manner – on three walls (in U form); and the cycle appears more persuasive emotionally in this way.

Catalogue of the exhibition: Čiurlionis. Un viaggio esoterico 1875-1911. Milano: Mazzotta, 2010. Photo by R. Andriušytė

After the year 1990 M.K.Čiurlionis became a wanted author, a discovery for foreign museologists, art critics and musicians. The works of M.K.Čiurlionis have been exhibited in many famous world museums during the latter 20 years (in Paris, Koln, Bonn, Grenoble, Tokyo, Tallinn). Each exhibition is like an ointment to the hearts of Lithuanians. Thus, the exhibition “Čiurlionis. Esoteric Trip 1875-1911” is a significant event of Lithuanian cultural life, without any doubt. The exhibition corresponds to the level of exhibitions of contemporary European museums. It has a clear concept, has been prepared professionally and provided with diverse informational material, replenished by educational entertaining events and even souvenirs. One may agree with Stasys Goštautas from the USA, who wrote after a retrospective exhibition of M.K.Čiurlionis in Paris (2000) that international exhibitions were the best that could happen to this Lithuanian artist.

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