Andrius Arutiunian, Vytautas Balčytis, Giulia Crețulescu, Bojana Cvejić & Lennart Laberenz, Vladas Drėma, Ulrik Heltoft, Mindaugas Lukošaitis, Marianna Maruyama, Petras Mazūras, Domas Noreika, Rita Olšauskienė, Alina Popa, Miljohn Ruperto, Iza Tarasewicz, Gintautas Trimakas, Peter Wächtler, Darius Žiūra

Participants of the exhibition opening

Florin Flueras, Yen Chun Lin ir Gediminas Žygus


Edgaras Gerasimovičius, Virginija Januškevičiūtė

About exhibition

The inaugural exhibition of the Sapieha Palace seeks to unfold the spirit and history of the palace itself, as well as the diverse narratives surrounding its past. The works on displays and their arrangement act as a soft, transparent layer placed over the palace spaces, having been painted and repainted multiple times. The spatial and conceptual interaction thus reveals the previous and ongoing influence of a multitude of forces. The exhibition will run until the end of the year, undergoing constant changes throughout this period.


The writer Ursula Le Guin considered most stories to be straight as an arrow, noisy and dramatic, revolving around heroes, their hardships, struggles, achievements, and tragic endings. However, weapons and hunting, as she points out, were invented later than the handful or the armful for gathering food. The stories of how something is gathered in pieces, brought home, what takes time, what falls into oblivion or repeats day after day, are neither arrow- nor spear-shaped. Yet if you take the time to listen to them, they sound just as intriguing, but also novel. 


Thus, the walls of the palace begin to speak through sometimes the most unexpected stories. Tales of tranquillity, handfuls of suns, martial arts, and the art of concealment are interwoven with time travel, disputes with craftsmen, and incantations performed in a secret language.


The title of the exhibition, Refuge, is inspired by the Latin inscription on the front façade of the palace, proclaiming that ‘the great palace, risen from the ruins, will protect the war-weary in quiet peace’.


The building, originally erected as a resting place for battle-fatigued heroes, has undergone numerous changes in ownership and purpose over its three-hundred-year history. However, it has consistently been associated with warfare and healing. At different times, it has functioned as a war tool and a trophy, housing barracks and even a military hospital. In the inter-war period, it was repurposed as an eye clinic. Later, during the Soviet era, the palace was again used for war-related purposes, only this time as a training school for military personnel to learn the operation of anti-aircraft radar systems.


The builder of the palace, Kazimierz Jan Sapieha, was the commander-in-chief of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, making the theme of war and peace particularly significant in the decoration of the palace. The entire ensemble, comprising the country residence, its park, and the later adjacent Trinitarian monastery complex, was intended to serve as a testament to the past and future achievements of the Grand Hetman. However, as time passed, the narratives surrounding the palace and the Sapieha family diverged. Today, the palace stands as both a monument to the past and a modern work of art, revealing a multitude of stories about its history.


As restorers uncover more traces from different periods, the walls of the palace reveal inconsistencies, interruptions, contradictions, and a wealth of diverse perspectives on the past. What may have seemed irrelevant, unwanted, or disposable at one time has been valued anew in others. The many nuances of history often remain a mystery, especially as each narrative bears witness to individuals and collective voices that have been forgotten or intentionally erased from history. The inaugural exhibition at the palace aims to highlight the coexistence of these diverse narratives and voices, as well as the various ways of reflecting on both the past and the present.


Moreover, the exhibition also reflects on the Baroque as a period that left an indelible imprint on Western culture. In Vilnius, as in much of Europe, the Baroque emerged in the aftermath of war, fires, and diseases that ravaged the city. It was an epoch that explored fragility, impermanence, and the interplay of light and darkness in its own unique way. The Baroque era emphasised both the human ability to shape the world with their own hands and the humble acceptance of elemental forces beyond human control, transforming the city and its communities. The drama of constant change and divine promise, exalted by the Baroque, continues to resonate with the fires and hopes of subsequent periods.


In his memoirs, Jan Stanisław Sapieha, one of the bishops of Vilnius during the eighteenth century, recalls watching through the windows of the Sapieha Palace as a huge fire destroyed a large part of the city. The unbearable sight left him breathless, and while the country residence provided physical refuge from the disaster, his spirit remained shaken for a long time. The exhibition, centred around the motif of refuge, aims to bring together exhibits that continue or give meaning to this and other narratives related to the palace’s history. Themes of war and refuge, sickness and healing, miracle and disaster, beginning and end permeate nearly all the works on display.


Historical research and consultation: Laura Misiūnaitė

Exhibition architecture: Laura Kaminskaitė, Povilas Marozas

Graphic design: Goda Budvytytė, Vytautas Volbekas

Coordinator: Povilas Gumbis

Communication: Denisas Kolomyckis, Aistė Račaitytė, Emilija Filipenkovaitė

Technical implementation: Vsevolod Kovalevskij, Antanas Dombrovskij, Almantas Lukoševičius, Ilona Virzinkevič

Translation: Alexandra Bondarev

Copy editing: Gemma Lloyd, Dangė Vitkienė

Funded by: Lithuanian Council for Culture

Supported by: Arc Bucharest Residency, The Administration of the National Cultural Fund Romania

Information partners: 15min.lt, LRT, JCDecaux, Echogonewrong.com, Artnews.lt

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