The article about Europos Parkas by Joyce E.Weinstein - SCULPTURE magazine The article about Europos Parkas by Joyce E.Weinstein - SCULPTURE magazine


Europos Parkas, Open-Air Museum of the Center of Europe



by Joyce Ellen Weinstein - Sculpture December 2000  

Gintaras Karosas first conceived of Europos Parkas, Open-Air Museum of the Center of Europe, when he was a 22-year-old student at the Vilnius Art Academy in Lithuania. He chafed at the highly structured Soviet-style classes in studio art, but lectures in contemporary art and Eastern philosophy deeply influenced him. They became the driving aesthetic for the design of Europos Parkas and the placement of more than 70 sculptures by artists from 22 countries.

To Karosas, the park is an ever-evolving personal work of art, a place “where everything exists in unity as a whole entity, where some places are empty and some places are full, where the placement of sculpture is sometimes unexpected, where some things are hidden, where there are often surprises, and where the happiness of discovery is paramount.” From the beginning, he rejected the idea of conventional landscape architecture. Only the main road into the park is formal. He never draws or plans, but says that he intuitively feels the “right placement of objects in the right place, everything connected in unity”.

To start the park Karosas needed permission from the authorities – a formidable challenge under Soviet regulations. After endless attempts, he succeeded in 1991 and began searching for land commensurate with his criteria – fully grown forest devoid of buildings. “Life is too short for planting,” he says. The land had to be close to Vilnius and have a “good feeling”.

Karosas finally selected a deep forest with fallen trees lying on top of one another – “ a mountain of trees like Siberia.” For four years, he worked alone, cleaning the land with a chain saw sent by Canadian relatives. During the initial work he began to think about the ideal placement of the first sculpture. “In the beginning,” he says, “it was difficult to feel where to place the sculptures, but it has become easier over time.” By 1992, a year after the fall of communism, there was a park, a house and a sculpture by Karosas himself but no way for people to enter – no road yet existed. Karosas and two men from a nearby village worked in all weather, and after two years they had a one-kilometer dirt road. Eventually the municipality laid asphalt.

Still attending the Academy, Karosas planned the First International Sculpture Symposium in Lithuania for his sixth-year final project. But the school authorities saw the project as an impossible undertaking, one that would make Lithuania look foolish in the eyes of the world. He was dismissed by the academy. Undaunted, Karosas continued. One of the first people in Lithuania to take advantage of a new law establishing nonprofit institutions, he sought sponsorship. Lithuanian UNESCO and the Soros Foundation gave materials, tools and organizational supplies. With their help, letters and invitations were sent to artists’ unions and academies in many countries. In spite of the organizational difficulties, 10 sculptors from Hungary, Greece, Finland, Lithuania and the U.S. participated. The artists worked in wood or stone and all the pieces created remain on the grounds today.

To everyone’s surprise this interesting, the event was a success, and it received tremendous publicity. Planning the second symposium was easier. An old factory with serviceable machinery was rented to build the Irish sculptor Laurent Mellet’s Requiem for a Dead Pony, a rusted steel structure resembling a horse whose leg is a wheel that turns to create a crying sound. Three other pieces were created that summer.

Today sculptors can attend the symposium, create work over time, donate completed work, or participate in events for young artists from Central and Eastern Europe. Recently an artist’s residency was established. Admission fees account for about one third of the park’s financial resources. The rest must come from membership and funding.

In 1996, the first large-scale project was planned. Although skeptical at first, Dennis Oppenheim agreed to build his Chair Pool, with the understanding that it must be completed in three weeks. After many conversations between Karosas and Oppenheim, money was raised for the construction. Sending an exact model, specifications and his assistant to supervise the construction in a local factory, Oppenheim saw the sculpture built in the agreed time. A second piece by Dennis Oppenheim, Drinking Structure with Exposed Kidney Pool now graces the landscape as well. Shaped like a house with corrugated roofing, the structure rests on two parallel welded steel tunnels, which form arcs that theoretically allow it to rock and the front portion to dip down steeply to reach the water. Leaning toward one side, the structure seems to embody contemporary feelings of instability.

In 1997, Magdelena Abakanowicz visited the park to consider the space for a small-scale sculpture. After seeing the fantastic possibilities, she planned a large-scale project. Karosas says that, like him, Abakanowicz seeks the right placement of the objects in the right surroundings. The result is Space of Unknown Growth, which spans an area of over 2,000 square meters. A range of massive boulders, in 22 variously sized forms, creates a majestic landscape, a space for deep personal experience. “Abakanowicz, “ says Karosas “feels the park work is one of her best.”

In 1998, after Karosas has made his park a success, the Vilnius Art Academy invited him to complete his studies. For his final project he created For Your Convenience, a series of granite, chair-like forms, Minimalist in concept. Creating its own landscape, tucked away in a grove, the work invites people to rest and contemplate the surroundings. Gratified by letters of support from prominent people and artists like Abakanowicz, Karosas now feels he has the moral support needed to continue with his work. As the art critic Michael Brenson says, “Europos Parkas is a bridge between different cultures.” Karosas wants Europos Parkas to be a bridge through art. He feels it does not matter whether those who come to the park like the art or not. What is important is what they come away with – the experience that nature, art and people are all connected, one unified whole.

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