The Zappa section is the last paragraph. The Young Lithuanian is Saulis Pukstis. I hope this does not detract from your enjoyment of the whole article
A Home For the Vilified
World Sculpture News [ Stop Press from our sculpture correspondent!!!]
By Adam B. Ellick
It started innocently enough in 1997 when Viliumas Malinauskas drove to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius to purchase a gravestone for a deceased relative. Before reaching his remote destination, he stumbled upon the body of comrade Vladimir Lenin. Nearby was Joseph Stalin. Karl Marx wasn't far behind.
It was a communist sculpture graveyard in the form of a junkyard. For nearly five decades of Soviet rule, such works gloriously adorned virtually every city center in Eastern Europe. But when communism collapsed in 1991, liberated citizens took blowtorches to the statues of their evil leaders. Although numerous works were crushed - some even exploded with dynamite - many were rescued and have been quietly collecting dust in state - owned storage areas, like the one Malinauskas encountered, ever since.
On his drive home, the millionaire entrepreneur coined a revolutionary idea: the world's first Soviet Sculpture Park. Four tiring years later he founded Grutas Park, a two - acre thick pinned forest in southern Lithuania providing a peaceful resting place for more than 60 realist statues of former communist leaders and partisans. Despite the fervid controversy that swept this tiny Baltic nation, the park officially opened on April 1, 2001 and has counted 200,000 visitors from 100 different nations.
The purpose of his endeavor, he insists, is to provide a medium so younger generations can learn about Lithuania's tragic past, when one - third of its population was deported to Siberian labor camps and murdered under Stalin and Lenin. To prove his point, Malinauskas, 41, erected a small Soviet history museum - decorated with Red party paraphernalia - in the solemn park. One banner reads: "Love the communist party, dear child, as you love your mother."
"When I see these statues I can remember my youth and recall how tragic it was for most of the people. If you destroy and forget it's easy for new ideologies to come back."
Despite his noble intentions, Malinauskas's mission has been the target of fierce protests and a borderline - crazed media blitz here in Lithuania. His plan is too close for comfort for conservative politicians and some 60,000 survivors of Soviet prison camps, who desperately tried to halt the park's inception. They claim this now - independent republic is regressing by displaying the statues, especially in the very forest where Soviet and Nazi armies killed Lithuanian freedom fighters 50 years ago. One member of parliament has vowed to bomb the park after he completes his term. Malinauskas has received heaps of hate mail and threatening phone calls. But he's also collected loads of praise and proudly presents six books of guest signatures expressing appreciation.
Leonas Kerosierus, the park's most outspoken critic, calls Grutas "Marxism and Leninism under open skies." He carries a portfolio of letters from organizations and individuals opposed to Grutas. He's accumulated more than a million signatures and endorsements from the Lithuanian Catholic Church, national NGOs, prominent academics, art professors, and Lithuanian - Americans. Despite his backing, a poll showed 63 percent of Lithuanians favor the park.
"Imagine if there were monuments for the people who ordered the terrorists at the World Trade Center ruins?," asks Kerosierus, a retried politician who helped lead Lithuania to independence. He points out that no Hitler statues reside in Germany. "How would you feel if a stranger came into your community and started raping, killing and robbing you. Then, after a while, another guy comes and builds monuments to those murderers and rapists in the same place."
"These aren't statues from Eastern Island that were built thousands of years ago. It's only 10 years since the fall of communism and this ideology is still alive in the minds of the people," says park critic Zibartas Simonaitis, a Lithuanian architect.
Malinauskas answers his critics by pointing to a Soviet history book that rests on his office shelf. He quickly finds his desired page to show a photo of a young man. Jurgis Malinauskas, his father, spent 10 brutal years cutting trees in Siberia, while mother and son worked seven days a week on a collective farm, earning an annual salary of $10. Then he adds, "my uncle died in Siberia."
All of this bitterness has fueled a flurry of worldwide media interest. At the park's entrance Malinauskas displays articles, both pro and con, from as far as Asia and America. One Lithuanian magazine features Malinauskas on its cover and dubs him "the Devil." Another outlet twinned the park "Stalin World," a catchy theme that quickly spread. But the mild mannered Malinauskas shuns the term and says America's magical wonderland doesn't resemble Lithuania's real - world horrors.
The drama began when he received opportune news just a few months after envisioning the park. The State competition was offering the long - hidden statues to whoever could best display them. A few municipal museums drew up proposals requesting state funding. But Malinauskas's plan, which didn't require financial support, was far more enticing to the cash - strapped State.
Technically, he doesn't own the statues, which arrived on a 20 - year loan. He's so confident in the State's support that he invested more than $1 million in the park, which is just a fraction of the 200 - hectares complex that also houses his canned mushroom export business and mansion, where he lives with 13 family members.
He spent $120,000 merely transporting the statues - the heaviest weighs 75 tons - and broke 16 tires along the way. He built a Soviet - themed restaurant where patrons can dare to down cutlet, blackbread and an obligatory shot of vodka amidst old Soviet tunes that blare from the park's loudspeakers. Barbed wire fences and lookout towers, which convey an eerie concentration camp feel, trace the 1.5 - kilometer path, which was once nothing but swamp. There's even a mini - zoo for children too young to grasp the exhibit. Construction has commenced for a Soviet art gallery. His bid to install a running deportation train that would transport visitors from Vilnius to the park was derailed by the Culture Ministry, which deemed the plan insensitive. Instead, the authentic train rests at the park's entrance.
Demonstrating his business savvy, Malinauskas doesn't hide from his critics. The park features five wooden statues that mockingly profile his most ardent opponents including Kerosierus. He says the humorous works mysteriously appeared at the park's entrance one morning. Critics, however, are convinced it was a solicited public relations stunt.
If critics like Kerosierus had their way, they'd prefer to see the communist statues on display at the KGB Museum in Vilnius, a haunting building and underground torture chamber where a 1,000 Lithuanians were once beaten to death. In fact, Simonaitis, the architect, drew up a proposal to display 20 statues in its main hall and courtyard. He argues the museum, with a professional tour guide, would better explain the nation's horrific history.
"Statues in the park are being displayed in better places than they were in the city," says Simonaitis, aggressively pointing his fingers. "They are being given more honor than before."
Kerosierus says the park is akin to violence in America's entertainment industry, where certain programming incites youths to act violently. He says Grutas doesn't fully or properly explain the ideologies, allowing for vulnerable visitors to leave with the wrong impression.
But Kerosierus' accusations, like most critics, seem a bit tainted for one simple reason: he's never been to Grutas, and he won't go unless someone "cuffs me and takes me." Perhaps he's unaware the park's captions and explanations, although rather scarce and repetitive, were provided by the very KGB Museum that he praises.
Malinauskas notes many prominent Lithuanians were staunch park opponents until they visited. Take renown realist sculptor Dr. Konstantinas Bogdanas, who once spoke out against Grutas. What's more is he refused an invitation from Malinauskas to help design the park. But he converted after finally meeting Malinauskas at Grutas.
"You can't reject those past 50 years because intelligent people made art and it's still art, whatever its flaws are," says Bogdanas.
"My main theory is if you want to evaluate and discuss, you should see first," Malinauskas says in a serious tone. "I have plenty of time to solve problems with healthy people, but I don't care to speak to sick people."
Kerosierus refutes: I haven't seen the Incas civilization. I haven't seen the pyramids in Egypt. I haven't seen a single American city. But by reading the mythology, history and literature I became familiar and started to know these things. My family, like millions, was sent out, exploited and murdered by communists. And there's no measurement to describe all the loses that were not born because of the communists."
The park, says Kerosierus, is the plan of former communist leaders who seek a revival. Lithuania's parliament consists of 60 percent former communist officials, including its prime minister Algirdas Brazauskas. Many of these scarred politicians and communist sculptors attended the park's opening.
All parties agree on one fact: Malinauskas's growing collection of communist sculptures is a global rarity. Hungry is home to a sculpture square with 26 works, many of which are communism - themed. There's a social - realist sculpture gallery in neighboring Poland that boasts just one Lenin. Many cities in Eastern Europe have been deliberating and debating what to do with their unwanted communist statues for nearly a decade. In rural Russian many Lenins still stand strong, but in Baltic and Warsaw Pact nations the works are long gone. Some were sold to the West, while many remain in storage. One Latvian city decided to submerge its Lenin head in marshlands with an adjacent plaque about the mushrooming of evil. Another melted its bronze bust into souvenir bells now sold to tourists. The Helsinki Art Museum in Finland was set to purchase a Lenin for $8,600 until heated protests deterred officials.
There are currently 66 statues at Grutas. The first 44 were provided by the State while the reminder were purchased privately by Malinauskas. Among the highlights is the Lenin statue that once starred in Vilnius's main square. Russian sculptor Nikolai Tomski constructed the 6 - meter bronze bust in 1952. When a crane dismantled the standing Lenin in 1991, its legs snapped leaving a legless Lenin dangling in mid - air. This symbolic scene made its way onto international newspaper front pages the next morning. Malinauskas funded its restoration and the re - assembled Lenin now dominates the Grutas collection.
In fact, Malinauskas financed repairs for many of the statues, which were in poor condition following years of abandonment. A handful of works still bear scars from anti - communist protests, including blue and red paint, and an occasional fissure or dent.
The most famed repair came to a beheaded statue of Lenin and Vincas Kapsukas, leader of Lithuanian communist party. When the park first opened, the two heads rested on the ground beside their bodies. The statue, like many at Grutas, has a storied history. In 1979 the historic Vilnius University, the oldest in the entire USSR, awaited its 400th anniversary. The Soviets, less than anxious to tout the longevity of a non - Russian institution, didn't plan a celebration. When the Lithuanian delegation went to Moscow to ask how to handle the anniversary, Moscow officials - furthering their agenda - decided to unveil a sculpture of Lenin and Kapsukas, to represent the brotherhood of the republics.
Bogdanas, the sculptor, tells the story: "There were debates going on because the problem was both men were short but Lenin was ideologically higher. We had to solve this problem. The sculpture shows Lenin a little bit taller, and Kapsukas is more modest and asking for advice. It was a very typical order. I don't think it's a good piece of art. There is no beauty. It's just another ordered work for me. It was done quickly in two months. As soon as the government found out such a political aspect was given to the sculpture, the celebration was permitted and it was beautiful."
During communism, a city's population virtually always dictated the size of its Lenin statue, with larger cities receiving larger Lenins. The park exhibits Lenins from Lithuania's three largest cities, plus many small town works.
Grutas features one of only three sitting Lenins ever made. The monument once stood in Druskininkai, a small town just seven kilometers from Grutas, where today one of Malinauskas's sons is the mayor. The town is plagued by the nation's highest unemployment rate - more than 20 percent - a statistic that the social - conscious Lenin would find inexcusable.
There's a 3.6 - meter bronze statue of Maryte Melnykaite, a female Soviet partisan captured by Germans and pressed for secret information. When she refused to betray her beloved communist party, she was promptly murdered. Her loyalty earned her the famed "Name of Soviet Hero" award. Although Malinauskas doesn't know the value of his collection, he says one collector was prepared to pay $625,000 for Melnykaite before she was granted to Grutas.
One of the most unusual works at Grutas is Rusu Karys, or Russian Solider. The 3.8 - meter statue consists of aluminum and other metals from 23 German planes that were shot down by Soviets. It was crafted by German prisoners of war in 1947 and stood in Siauliai, a central Lithuanian city, during communism. Inside the monument is a bottle filled with names of the prisoners of war.
Malinauskas's favorite monument is the first to greet visitors. Kryzkalnio Motina, or Mother of the Cross Hill, rests on an island. The 4 - meter, 13 - ton realist bronze bust portrays Lithuanian's mother grieving for perished solders following Fascist rule from 1941 - 1945. She's also expressing gratitude to the Soviet Army that liberated the land. She stood beside a Lithuanian highway from 1972 and survived a bomb in 1991. Bronius Vysniauskas spent two years creating the Mother. Today, the 78 year-old lives in Vilnius.
"The most important thing about the park isn't to let these statues disappear. The park has saved 50 years of our sculpture school," he says.
For most of the 20th century Lithuanian sculpture has been dominated by politics. Following the Russian Revolution in 1917 the Soviet art school was quite avant - garde and one of the world's best. Then, social - realism, "social on the inside and realistic on the outside," flourished from 1932, after Soviet writers deemed it the most effective style for controlling the public.
In the USSR, social - realism was the sole artistic option in the first decade after the Second World War until Stalin's death in 1953. During this period - the strictest under communism - mass deportations were at a maximum. In turn, artists complied with State demands and produced in a naturalist, academic style - they wouldn't dare to even dream of abstract art - throughout all Soviet republics.
At a 1956 communist party meeting, Nikita Khrushchev apologized for Stalin's brutality. A suddenly looser government permitted artists to adapt more creativity, and eventually an impressionist element hit the Lithuanian scene. While Russian sculptors remained loyal realists, Lithuanian sculptors started receiving noted recognition of their progressive adaptations.
"Sculpture during this time was the strongest part of art in the Baltics We were the best ones. Lithuanians just had the blood for sculpting," says Vysniauskas.
By 1970, Lithuanian sculpture incorporated doses of modern art such as expressionism and fauvism and although still in the realist realm, Lithuania art was less detail - conscious. Artists, including poets and writers, could finally personalize their craft without fearing Siberia.
Still, during virtually all of communism, orders were demanded from Moscow to the Lithuanian Culture Ministry's Sculpture Council. Only proven artists and loyal communists would receive the high honor of creating a Lenin statue.
"The most important things is there was no artistic freedom. Even a conversation like this would end up with who would be the first to go," said Bogdanas.
Surrounded by dozens of his famed sensitive portraits, Bogdanas sits in his tiny studio in Vilnius. He is asked one simple question: how many Lenins have you made? He waves his arms and chuckles, "many, many" says the 75 - year - old with a thin gray beard. He lived comfortably during communism solely because he played the political game. After studying at the Imperial Russian Art Academy in Leningrad, he served as the president of the Sculpture Council for 10 years, and spent eight years in the communist parliament. At age 60 he was awarded the highest honor, a Lenin Medal.
"You need to live under the Russian occupation to understand what it's like. My art colleagues from other nations asked me why I did these works. If you didn't agree to do it, they would either kill you or send you to Siberia. Naturally the entire culture was declared as a tool for propaganda. If you wanted to do something for yourself, art for yourself, you had to also give a tribute to the ideology. People should be humanistic and forgive those who sometimes created works that were against their real values."
Bogdanas - between sips of his homemade alcohol that tastes like cough syrup - says all works were heavily censored during communism, but the entire Council meticulously inspected important orders. He recalls one statue that nearly sent him to Siberia. He fulfilled a secret assignment from a church and before mounting the bust, he placed a religious note inside, an illegal act in itself. Someone found the note, which prompted a KGB investigation. The church's priest was questioned, but he refused to tell authorities that the distinguished Bogdanas was responsible for the letter. The result: the priest was sent to Siberia and Bogdanas never saw him again.
Today, Bogdanas still creates realist works, such as a precise portrait of Lithuania's democratic president Valdas Adamkus. In 1995 he sculpted the world's only bust of rock legend Frank Zappa - it now stands in Vilnius - after a request from a young Lithuanian who sought to test his nation's newly found freedom.
Malinauskas, with similar intentions, views his park as a sign of Lithuania's democratic progress. The sculptures, once uselessly resting in a desolate backyard, are now a source of education for thousands of visitors. Depending, of course, on whom you ask.
© copyright 2007 Adam B Ellick | All Rights Reserved | site credits and colophon
A Blanket in my Muesli. A Blanket in my what??
He's a CEO for Chrissakes!