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First Generation

18 December 2010

SUCH A SHAME that Sir Elton John couldn’t make it to Kiev on that fateful Friday, the ninth of December. It would have been fun to see him talk shop with the guys who were there, but probably it’s just as well. Lining up for dog-and-pony duty throughout a long evening of photo ops, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, and Andreas Gursky brought more than enough dazzle to Victor Pinchuk’s inaugural Future Generation Art Prize. The Ukraine’s billionaire collector established the biannual $100,000 grant this year to support international talents under thirty-five. Six thousand applied via the Internet.

The quartet of male superstars from the Gagosian firmament was not the only constellation of art professionals that the oligarchic art patron corralled for this testosterone-fueled event. At a cozy reception in a Milk Bar–like aerie on the top floor of the PichukArtCentre, Moderna Museet director Daniel Birnbaum, the Tate’s Sir Nicholas Serota, the Pompidou’s Alfred Pacquement, and the Guggenheim’s Richard Armstrong hobnobbed with curator/scholars Rob Storr, Okwui Enwezor, Ivo Mesquita, and Yuko Hasegawa, the token woman on a jury headed up by Eckhard Schneider, the center’s director.

The ease with which Pinchuk drew such high-level authorities to Kiev in the dark of December was impressive, but the skeptic in me asked Enwezor if he was being paid to participate. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “Usually one does get a fee for serving on juries, so I assume this will be no different.” What about the artists, whom Pinchuk had handpicked to mentor the prizewinner? Strictly quid pro quo? “Victor can be very persuasive,” said the jovial Hirst, who arrived in a Day-Glo orange knit cap that seemed to obsess the posse of paparazzi surrounding him. He didn’t have a chance to elaborate before Schneider herded everyone downstairs, where an exhibition by the twenty-one finalists for the prize was on view, along with a solo show of happy-flower wallpaper and tondo paintings of same by Murakami.

When the photographers gave him some momentary breathing room, I asked Murakami what he had to do as a mentor artist. “This is it!” he quipped. There was talk of Michel Houellebecq’s new Prix Goncourt–winning novel, La Carte et le territoire (The Map and the Territory), in which a fictional Koons and Hirst appear as collaborators on a new artwork. “I heard about this,” Koons said. “Me too,” said Hirst, amused by the idea, though neither artist seemed interested in doing such a thing.

However, Hirst is following in the footsteps of Pinchuk and Dakis Joannou, a board member who didn’t make the trip. Next year, Hirst will open what he described as a “huge” new exhibition space in London to show his own collection. For his part, Pinchuk modeled the FGAP on Murakami’s Geisai prize, after serving on one of its juries. Everything’s connected.

Spread over three floors, the prize exhibition included video, installation, drawing, and photography but not much in the way of painting. Some say Pinchuk started buying into the global art elite eight years ago to insulate himself from local political intrigue, but when he led a small delegation through the galleries, his enthusiasm for the work on view seemed absolutely genuine and convincing.

What’s more, his art center is the only institution in Kiev for international contemporary art. And if the steady stream of young locals pouring into the building that weekend was any indication, Pinchuk is meeting a crying post-Soviet need among Ukrainians to connect to the modern world through it.

On his tour, he took some pride in showing off multiroom environments by both Cao Fei and Romanian artist Nicolae Mircea, as well as videos by Brazilian artist Cinthia Marcelle, among others. But he didn’t hear the conversation among the museum directors and curators in the shuttle bus I hopped to the prize ceremony at the Ivan Franko Theater, talk that settled on the dearth of women among the mentor artists and the jury.

Weren’t there any who could command the same kind of attention—that is, market share? Birnbaum suggested Marina Abramović. “She is so powerful a personality she could wipe them all off the stage,” he said, conceding that her prices had yet to catch up. Cindy Sherman, Marlene Dumas, Tracey Emin, Doris Salcedo, and Vija Celmins were the other names bandied about before we arrived at the theater, feeling slightly depressed by their absence.

Inside a second-story salon were canapés and the artists short-listed for the prize, as well as the lone woman on the FGAP board, Miuccia Prada, who arrived at this reception with her husband Patrizio Bertelli and the Milanese dealer Giò Marconi. Christian Jankowski accompanied his girlfriend, Jorinde Voigt, a finalist, and Pinchuk was joined by his appealing wife, Elena, whose AIDS charity in Kiev won the couple this year’s Enduring Vision Award from the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Sir John is also an FGAP board member. (See? In a global economy, everything’s connected.)

Finally, it was time for the award ceremony in the media-rigged theater, where eight cameras recording the action were projected live, multiplying images of the audience and the presenters on the loges and on an enormous scrim at the back of the stage. The proceedings began with the high-hatted Dakha-Brakha band performing with the Dakh Theater Company, whose actors cavorted on a three-tiered structure while a psychedelic laser light show reminiscent of ’60s rock concerts played over them.

To emcee the awards, White Cube’s Tim Marlow then took the stage with Olga Freimut, an Ukrainian TV personality with no apparent connection to art. They introduced Schneider, who presented the board and the jury, whose one absentee member, Ai Weiwei, pep-talked the finalists in a prerecorded video. “What is the reason we are meeting together?” Schneider asked. “Because of the love of art,” he said. Citing the Hugo Boss and Turner prizes as precedents for the award at hand, he brought Storr and Hasegawa onstage to present the $20,000 Special Prize to runner-up Mircea, who is definitely some kind of discovery.

After an interminable hour-long performance by a jazz trio from Moscow (Elton, we really missed you!), the big moment arrived. Marlow brought up the four mentors for a little forced patter before Enwezor and Birnbaum pronounced Brazil’s Cinthia Marcelle the winner. She’s actually thirty-six now. No matter. There wasn’t a soul present who wasn’t happy that a woman was taking home the prize. “I’m proud to stand on this stage with the greatest artists of our time,” Pinchuk said. “I wish you all great success,” he told the losers. “The world needs your success. These people are here to inspire you. You have to have great success in your life!”

“I don’t think inspiration is a very good word,” Mircea told reporters at the onstage press conference that followed. “I think it’s all about work.”

With that, everyone boarded shuttle buses once again for a trip to Aura, a nightclub situated at the top of a hill where a bizarre pair of Soviet-era heroic sculptures stood watch over the city of golden domes under an arc of rainbow lights that suggested a carnival relic. Jet lag sent me home early enough to catch a few winks before the next reception, a brunch on Saturday at Pinchuk’s corporate offices, where some of the jewels in his collection were installed. They included Koons’s blue cracked egg, a few Antony Gormleys, a glittering Hirst pill cabinet, a couple of Sarah Morris paintings, and one of the best Gurskys I have ever seen. It was the object of much intrigue among the guests, who were also distracted by photographs of Pinchuk with the Obamas, Bill Clinton and the Rolling Stones, and Paul McCartney, among others, as well as an enormous bear that Pinchuk had brought down on a hunt.

“I don’t think you should kill bears,” Nathalie Djurberg told Pinchuk. “Birds are okay but leave the bears alone.” He nodded, clearly thrilled to be meeting the artist who had created the Natural Selection video in the art center show, one of his favorites. Koons, meanwhile, examined a picture of his terrific new balloon rabbit sculpture, now in Pinchuk’s collection, with Prada. She listened carefully as he went on to speak of the tentacles surrounding his Blue Diamond, which Pinchuk also owns, as sperm that double as female appendages. “I believe in the power of women,” he said.

“Women do have power,” the designer replied, sounding the underlying theme of the weekend. “But we have to decide how to use it and not continue to live in the shadow of men.”

With that, the party broke up.

Author: Linda Yablonsky
Source: ArtForum