Optics & Structure: Works by Kazys Varnelis, 1966-1976

On 30 June, Optics & Structure: Works by Kazys Varnelis, 1966-1976 opens at the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius, Lithuania. This show, which runs through mid August and which I am curating, surveys the key decade when my father developed his distinctive approach to painting and experimented with constructions in space. 

During this period Varnelis explored the possibilities of light and shadow in monochromatic canvases rigorously divided into geometric shapes inscribed with smooth gradients of shadow. These works are the mature product of Varnelis’s experimentation with acrylic paint on canvas to explore the interplay of flatness and depth, the illusion of concave and convex surfaces and the production of striking optical phenomena. 

Living in Chicago and sympathetic to the Miesian architecture then being built in the city, the artist intended these paintings to be exhibited in large, modern spaces, notably art galleries, museums, and public buildings, with plenty of room for the works to be seen both in isolation and in juxtaposition. 

Displaying some fifty-six paintings from the collections of the Kazys Varnelis House-Museum as well as some little seen works now in the Ellex Collection, this exhibit marks the first time that a significant number of these works will be shown together in the sort of setting they were designed for since the small number shown in the “Three Agendas” exhibit in Vilnius, Budapest and Tampere twenty years ago and the first time that the majority of Varnelis’s classic works will be exhibited in one exhibit space since his 1974 one-man show at the Milwaukee Art Center.

Accompanying the exhibit of Varnelis’s paintings will be reproductions of the artist’s experiments in space (constructions or sculptures), a reconstruction of a three-dimensional model that the artist built to show how his work might appear in the “documenta 6” exhibition, as well as documentary material demonstrating how Varnelis, along with the curators and architects of his day, thought about exhibiting his work.