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Art Becomes an Agent of Disruption in Ukraine

25 May 2012

Never on the map of the contemporary art world, Ukraine is experiencing an unusually high level of activity in this realm with a new solo exhibition by British sculptor Anish Kapoor, the first international Bienalle of Contemporary Arts in Kiev and the emergence of the Future Generation Art Prize.

This trend was started by the Pinchuk Art Center and is developing into something much larger than just an exhibition by contemporary art masters for a small creative community. The Ukrainian public, as well as Ukrainian artists – still fresh and curious – are delving deeper and deeper into the world of the conceptual and abstract. More galleries and art auctions are opening in various cities within the country; contemporary art has become a very popular subject for Ukrainian media and artists are experimenting with social and public art more then ever.

Arts and creativity are known to influence minds and society, explained Richard Armstrong, the Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. This concept, for instance, was behind the creation of the Guggenheim Museum in the 1930th, he said. In the entire post-Soviet territory, access to anything modern and contemporary was forbidden for many decades. Contemporary art, for many not the easiest aspect of culture to understand – and also one of the most expensive — only recently made its way into Ukraine and was met with great enthusiasm.

The Pinchuk Art Center, the pioneer center in that region, continues to bring the most interesting artists to Kiev. Here is the video from Anish Kapoor’s opening that took place last week in Keiv’s historic Bessarabka district.

Kapoor, the Mumbai-born British sculptor, has brought a selection of about thirty works to Kiev. According to Armstrong, the Pinchuk Art Center’s strategy is not typical for post-Soviet territory. “In the place like that the idea would be to make a very broad subject,” he said.  But the Center explores an artist in depth through a comprehensive exhibition.

In addition to showing Demian Hurst, Olafur Eliason, Takashi Murakami, Andreas Gursky, the Center always has room for Ukrainian artists like Boris Mikhailov and Pavel Makov.

When Pinchuk Art Center was first founded by a Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk and his foundation, there was plenty of skepticism:

“Even I had some doubts”, Pinchuk admitted in an interview during Kapoor’s opening. “Who knows, people would think he’s a little bit crazy, contemporary art…”

But the experiment has proved to be a success. The center allows thousands of visitors, most of whom have grown up without seeing the original works of Pollock and Warhol, an opportunity to see something new, and little by little extends the boundaries of their perception of beauty and art.

The cultural experiment has grown to such an extent that even Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture decided to catch up with the rest of the world and organized the First Kiev International Biennale called “Arsenale”. The event is hosted in Art Arsenal, another center in Ukraine focusing on modern art, with the mission of conceptualizing the country’s culture and present its historical and artistic heritage in a global context. The Biennale started on May 24th and will continue through July 31st. Works by more than 100 artists will be presented in Kiev, including Ai Wei Wei, Louise Bourgeouis and Jake and Dinos Chapman. Has anyone ever seen anything by Ai Wei Wei in Kiev before?

Another subject that brings attention to Ukraine among artists is the international Future Generation Art prize for artists under the age of 35. The $100,000 prize was established by Pinchuk’s foundation in 2010 to support young artists. It is given to one international winner, and to one Ukrainian winner. Brazilian artist Cinthia Marcelle won the first edition of the prize.Artem Volokitin, the local winner, accepted an apprenticeship at the studio of British sculptor Antony Gormley  as part of his award.

It’s interesting and exciting that internationally acclaimed artists are showing their work in Ukraine. “What was important for me, is to show my art there and share it with people of my own generation and younger,”  said Olafur Eliasson, a Danish-Icelandic artist known for his large-scale installations, who had a solo exhibition in the country.  “Art is the voice that is contributing into Ukrainian society.”

Let’s not forget that the Soviets were afraid of Western culture. Who knows, maybe disco had a hand in all of that social change and perestroika? If Ukrainian politics and economics can’t  speed up the process of creating a more progressive and innovative mindset, maybe Art will.

Author: Katya Soldak