Cultural Nationalism and the Avant-Garde: Teisutis Zikaras in Kaunas, Freiburg, Melbourne (summary)

Jane Eckett (PDF)

Two conflicting forces shaped post-Second World War Lithuanian art in exile: cultural nationalism and School of Paris modernism. Cultural nationalism frames most post-war accounts of senior Lithuanian artists in exile, while younger artists who migrated to Paris or New York are more likely to be co-opted to a Lithuanian diasporic avant-garde. Teisutis Zikaras (1922–1991) felt the pull of both forces. The youngest son of sculptor Juozas Zikaras, he initially adhered to his father’s academicism and nationalist romanticism. At Kaunas Art School, during successive Soviet and German occupations, he studied under Juozas Mikėnas and Vytautas Kašuba and with them retreated to the lyric poetry and neoclassical calm of Aristide Maillol and the interbellum ‘return to order’. In post-war Freiburg, in Germany’s French-occupied zone, Zikaras encountered modern French art – particularly that of Pablo Picasso and Ossip Zadkine. The impact of this encounter is registered in his final works made at Freiburg and, in the 1950s and 1960s, in distant Melbourne, Australia. This article argues that the antithetical forces of cultural nationalism and French modernism shaped the work of the younger Zikaras while also contributing to his subsequent obscurity in Lithuania and Australia. It also recoups a significant body of modernist work to the Lithuanian art historical narrative.

Key words: émigré artists, exile, Lithuanian diaspora, sculpture, modernism, cultural nationalism