The late Lithuanian-American artist Romas Viesulas shares a centenary with the country where he was born, and which he returned to metaphorically for inspiration throughout his artistic career. His art was framed by the experience of exile. In his graphic work, he sought to universalize this personal experience through an expressionist idiom. Ambitions for a career in diplomacy were upended when the country he was to represent ceased to exist as a diplomatic entity. Instead of a legal degree, Viesulas was ultimately awarded a ‘Diploma for Displaced Persons’ by Paris' Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1947. The fact of this school - founded and financed by the French authorities, in Freiburg Germany after the war - is remarkable. It was created specifically for refugees from war. This was the unlikely academic foundation which launched his artistic career, and ultimately led him to win three Guggenheim Fellowships among numerous other awards, and to represent his adoptive United States in the 35th Biennale di Venezia in 1970. Forging an artistic identity in exile from the materials he was able to take with him, and those he found outside his native country, Viesulas sought to transcend the narrowly political to address questions of loss and belonging. Call him an ambassador of statelessness, on behalf of a state whose sovereignty came to be recognized again, and restored. Certainly he was a craftsman, whose technical expertise and innovation as a printmaker made for an arresting vision. It earned him a place in some of the world’s most prestigious museums - the National Gallery in DC, MoMA, Metropolitan, LACMA, Art Institute of Chicago, Brooklyn Museum among others. Exhibiting his work in the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington, DC for this dual centenary weaves together the parallel lives of those in exile and those that remained, in a celebration of self-determination. For many years the Embassy building on 16th street was practically the seat of a government in exile. This event recalls the function of this stately building and its remarkable historical trajectory over a century that saw it go from Embassy to legation and then back again. In doing so, it also marks a kind of ‘homecoming’ for an artistic vision that interprets and echoes this history, by a Lithuanian-born American artist who has been gradually rediscovered in his native country, and whose work is in the permanent collections of the foremost museums of the United States, including the National Gallery at the end of the street on which this Embassy so proudly stands.
Entrance is free to public. Photo IDs required at the door.
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