Vilnius – Viktoras and Danguolė Butkus’ 5000-piece-plus collection of Lithuanian art dating from the 1950s to today was assembled in less than 10 years – today, the pieces are housed by MO Museum, a new cultural powerhouse in Vilnius designed by Studio Libeskind. The institution adds victory to victory: a portion of the works in the collection is art that was considered ideologically unacceptable by Soviet authorities, consequently omitted from national museum collections of the time.
Showing retroactive respect is just one fraction of the museum, though – the collection is continually expanding with modern Lithuanian work. Also representative of the generation of artists who comprised the creative community during the restoration of Lithuania’s independence in the early nineties, MO is not just a museum, but a collective historical account. Despite being private, MO is, in every sense, a gift to the city of Vilnius and Lithuania in whole.
Studio Libeskind has spearheaded culturally sensitive projects like the Jewish Museum in Berlin, opened in 2001, and The World Trade Center master plan, which began in 2003 and is still in development – rendering the past and expressing it in the current. As the city of Vilnius rapidly maturates, it’s hard to imagine a studio that could have been better suited to creating an evergreen space for MO: a museum with and without walls, according to its director, Milda Ivanauskienė.
Before the new Amos Rex museum was built in Helsinki, they had rejected the Guggenheim proposal for an outpost in the city. Was a similar force at hand in Vilnius with MO – that is to say, is there a certain need now to prioritize pride for national work and cultural identity rather than import it?
MILDA IVANAUSKIENĖ: Amos Rex demonstrates a clear alternative to build culture and create value from within rather than to import culture: although the forces at hand to drop the Guggenheim project and to develop MO museum did not have a direct link one with another, the end-result reflects similar values that were vocalised in Finland. The core mission of our exhibition and public programs is to offer innovative, inclusive, topical and attractive presentation and mediation of modern and contemporary Lithuanian art in a wider international context.
One of the goals of the museum is to make Lithuanian artists more recognised and appreciated in Lithuania. It’s important for us to introduce never-before-seen works of art created behind the Iron Curtain to an international audience and create links with different art scenes. The second show Animal-Human-Robot, will represent some of the collection’s highlights alongside with internationally renowned artists – Hito Steyerl, Katja Novitskova, Daiga Grantina, Mikelis Fišers and others.
The MO Museum building was conceived as a cultural gateway to link the past and future
How does the design of the museum represent the city? Welding the history of Vilnius together seems very important in recent projects by Lithuanian designers.
The MO Museum building was conceived as a cultural gateway to link the past and future: it stands at the intersection of the medieval Vilnius Old Town and the city’s newer westward expansion. Studio Libeskind’s design is inspired by Vilnius’ historical city gates and references local architecture both in form and materials: it’s linked to Vilnius through the use of the golden ratio. The rectilinear exterior façades are finished in crisp white stucco referencing materials found in the classical architectural landmarks of the city. It establishes a harmonious relationship between tradition and innovation.
Symbolically, the interior courtyard cuts through the entire building and features a dramatic staircase connecting a plaza at street level with an open terrace on the roof allowing the structure to flow between exterior and interior, the public and the private. There is also a possibility to explore the open museum spaces 24/7, a new perspective in the centre of Vilnius.