Samuel Bak “KEY TO THE CHILDHOOD CITY”
The exhibition presents 75 artworks by Samuel Bak created from 1946 to 2007, which are part of the collection of the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History. The exhibition is dedicated to the year of the Vilna Gaon and Lithuanian Jewish History, celebrated in 2020.
An exhibition of Samuel Bak’s artworks of this scale is represented in Kaunas for the first time, and a large part of the artworks that reached Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History in May 2019 as a gift from S. Bakas to Lithuania, have not been shown in Lithuania so far.
The exhibition Key to the Childhood City is a glimpse into the city of Samuel Bak’s memories – the no longer existent Jerusalem of Lithuania – allowing us to secretly peep through a keyhole. It presents lithographs, drawings and paintings of objects from the artist’s childhood such as the streets of Vilnius that often turn into claustrophobic courtyards located on the strictly demarcated territory of the ghetto. It also represents still life compositions, which form yet another kaleidoscopic puzzle emerging from the depths of the artist’s memory, composed of fragments of memories that are ‘glued’ together to form the world of the past. In Bak’s artwork, glass bottles, cups or vases never form a complete puzzle and there is always a missing element, such as an eyelet or a crack in a glass.
When creating in the style of allegorical realism, Bak uses many symbols that need to be identified and decoded in order to understand the world according to Samuel Bak. A pear, chess piece or key often reappear in his artwork. A pear (the fruit of knowledge) reminds Bak of the paradise lost and of the war, or rather hell, discovered. A chessboard turns into a play with human destiny, and a key becomes a symbol of lost lives.
Abandoned cities are visited by angels, yet another mystical symbol (figure) found in Bak’s artwork. Samuel Bak and his mother survived World War II by hiding at the monastery on St. Ignoto Street in Vilnius, which was later turned into the Vilnius State Archive in the premises of which Fr Juozas Stakauskas, religious sister Maria Mikulska and teacher Vladas Žemaitis hid and saved 12 Jews from death. At that time Bak was reading Christian literature and was convinced that he had a guardian angel – an invisible protector from all evil.
During the period of Nazi Germany and the occupation, S. Bakas (born in 1933, Vilnius) was imprisoned in a ghetto, in the HKP labor camp, and hid in a monastery in Vilnius. Since 1945 he lived in a displaced persons camp in Germany. In 1948 he emigrated to Israel, later lived in France, Italy, Switzerland. In 1993 the artist set in Weston, Massachusetts, USA. He received his artistic education at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and at the L’Ecole des Beaux Arts School in Paris. Bakas has held solo exhibitions at the galleries and museums in major cities in the United States, Israel, and Europe. 12 books have been published about the artist, as well as his own memoirs “Painted in Words”. In 2017, S. Bakas was awarded the title of an honorary citizen of Vilnius, and in 2018 – Knight’s Grand Cross of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. In 2017, the only one Samuel Bak Museum in Lithuania was opened as a new exhibition space of the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History. In June 16, 2019, the Samuel Bak Gallery and Learning Center was opened at the Houston Holocaust Museum (Texas, USA).
Curator: Ieva Šadzevičienė, Head of Samuel Bak Museum of VGMJH
Exhibition coordinator: Eglė Komkaitė, Deputy Head of M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art