Looking back with… Vytautas Kumža, the winner of the NN Art Award 2022

During Art Rotterdam, NN group will present the NN Art Award for the seventh time: to a contemporary art talent with an authentic visual language and an innovative approach. NN Group has been a partner of Art Rotterdam since 2017 and has been awarding an incentive award every year since then. An annually changing jury of art professionals makes a selection of four promising talents, from which a winner is ultimately chosen. The conditions are clear: it concerns artists who have been trained in the Netherlands and who show their work during Art Rotterdam. NN Group will purchases one or more works from the nominees for its corporate collection. Last year, the NN Art Award (worth €10,000) was won by the Lithuanian artist Vytautas Kumža. We’ve interviewed him to find out what winning the prize has meant to him and how he has experienced the past period.

Vytautas Kumža “Inner Dialogue” 2022

How did it feel to win the NN Art Award? 
Vytautas Kumža: “Honestly, I was really surprised to win the NN Art Award. I had known work by other nominees for years and it was just great to be included in such an impressive group of artists and to present artworks together. I was the youngest of the group, so it felt great that the jury believes in me and sees the importance of continuing my practice — and that they are also supporting it with this award.”

Vytautas Kumža by Visvaldas Morkevičius

What has the past year been like for you?
VK: “The past year has been really intense and productive. I had a busy season and many art fairs, new works were presented at June Art Fair in Basel, Art Dubai, Enter Art Fair, Unfair and I have ended the year with a solo exhibition in Vilnius. I feel like I did develop a new way of working last year even though it was quite a full year. 
I have traveled quite a lot during the past year and every place I visit leaves an impression or aesthetic in my mind. In my work, I don't photograph people, because I'm more interested in gestures that people leave behind. So what is happening and what I see around me certainly leaves traces that are later translated into my practice, sometimes in a more subtle or direct way.”

Vytautas Kumža “Fragile chair II” 2022

How did the works that you showed during Art Rotterdam come about? Do you follow a specific process?
VK: “The series of works that I presented in the NN Art Award booth was inspired by the imaginations of people, that were created as a result of the recent times and its stories-flooded screens; in which urban spaces were taken out of social relations. I have noticed in the world of the post, the new form of imagination was gaining momentum, but its contours were blurring. By rethinking various everyday processes, I constructed photographic and glass constructions of found objects and memories and created several possible scenarios that deceive the gaze and question the logic of its view of the viewer. With this confusing instability I ask the question: ”Can observation change the nature of things or give them a different meaning?". While leaving visible "seams and edges" in multi-layered photographic plans in the same way as lead sealed glass pieces, I created seamless stained glass constructions. This transparent obstacle, between the print and the viewer, becomes an indicator that we are looking through one's constructed ‘filter’ of vision.”

Vytautas Kumža “Did I?” 2022

Are there any particular things you were able to achieve thanks to the prize money?
VK: “I was able to create and produce a lot of new artworks, so all the prize money was invested in that. There wasn't even a question of where and when it should be spent, so I did it with confidence and I'm really glad I didn't have to think too much about it, that I could just do it and see the result, which in the end I was happy about. In the past year I have started to experiment more with different ways of incorporating glass and combining it with other objects. I have also expanded my practice in a more sculptural way. And I'm glad that there were a lot of opportunities to present it last year. During Art Rotterdam 2023, some of the most recent works will be presented, followed later in the year by a solo exhibition at the Martin van Zomeren gallery.”

Vytautas Kumža “Dizziness” 2022

What is your ultimate piece of advice for young artists?
VK: “It’s a tough question because there isn't one ultimate piece of advice, because everyone needs something different and has their own unique path. Although I would just say to just keep making work and to not stop, even if it sometimes seems impossible to do so. I believe that as an artist, you have to get used to ups and downs in every stage of your career. It's just a matter of making your practice a part of your routine and taking it seriously, while being open to mistakes, accidents and suggestions.”

Interview by Flor Linckens

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