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Victor Pinchuk: interview for Flash Art

30 April 2008

Ukrainian collector, businessman, former politician and philanthropist Victor Pinchuk is one of the most significant collectors of the former USSR, and certainly the most important in Ukraine. His foundation, which comprises numerous activities such as a healthcare program focusing on neonatal centers, educational initiatives, the Kyiv school of economics and more, is all part of a general push to help modernize the country. The Pinchuk Foundation, which has sponsored Ukraine's representation in the last two Venice biennials, also opened the Victor Pinchuk Art Center in 2006 in downtown Kyiv. In October 2007, the center celebrated its one-year anniversary with "Reflection," a thematic exhibition based on new acquisitions from the collection, which featured works from both western and eastern artists, among them Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, Antony Gormley. Andreas Gursky and Oleg Kulik. Illy Chichkan and Blue Noses and Oleg Tistol. among others.

Chris Sharp: Thu recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Victor Pinchuk Art Center: Why exactly did you choose this specific location to house the Center? Victor Pinchuk: My first choice was different, actually, it was the arsenale a historic military complex in Kyiv. We won open tender for the privatization of this arsenale, for the right to invest in it and transform it into a museum of contemporary art. But then the Orange Revolution happened in November 2004, and the winning party had other ideas for the arsenale. Their dream was to make something like a Ukrainian Louvre or Hermitage, and because they were the dominant political party, they took this building from me, of course illegally, which wasn't a very popular action by this new government. I had three choices: to fight for this, because it was an illegal action against me; second, to forget about the whole project; or the third decision - which I made alter the Venice Biennale in 2005, because everybody was asking me about the location of my colIection, when I came back to Ukraine after the biennale - was to find another space, which I decided to do. I wanted to make something new. The idea came in June, and then in September we bought this space. Of course with some compromise, because this is not an excellent space. But now we are like a virus, we have already bought other spaces in this building.

CS: So you are planning on expanding?
VP: Yes, for example, the space in which Antony Gormley's Blind Light (2007) is located is a recent addition to the Center. And we have another new space we just bought. For our next exhibition we will add another three or four hundred square meters from this building, which is in the heart of our capital, and as such it is a perfect location, for tourists, 11w Ukrainian citizens. This is the cultural capital of Ukraine. One year ago, we transformed this space from offices into a new, fresh modern space for contemporary art.

CS: When did you hire Nicolas Bourrioud as a consultant?
VP: We hired Nicolas in about 2004. It was actually his idea to do Venice. In fact, he has played a very important role in the development of this Center and even for my education and the evolution of the whole project. We originally started from the idea of creating a collection and a space ha Ukrainian contemporary art, and he immediately helped me to understand that if I wanted to promote Ukrainian art. I had to put it into an international context, hence Venice.

CS: So the idea with the Center is to bring international art here, and to create a kind of import/export situation?
VP: Yes, of course. If we want to promote, that is export artists, we had to import foreign artists as well. It's like in trade, it's similar. If you want to sell, you have to buy. But this is different, this not about trade. This is about cultural exchange, which is much more difficult, but uses a similar ideology and strategies. And I think its working. Even our first exhibition about a year ago was more or less 50/50: western artists and Ukrainian artists. And then after that, we did a show with young, primarily emerging or unknown, Ukrainian artists and American artists called "Generations.UsA". A very interesting and rewarding experience. I was very happy with it.

CS: Formerly, you were a collector of more modern art, even Russian impressionism, etc. But since you opened the Center which is but one aspect of a general, philanthropic enterprise meant to modernize Ukraine, it seems that your interest in art has changed. One feels like you have really become engaged in contemporary art and have since, as I have heard started visiting artists studios and making purchases yourself. Could you talk a bit about that shift?
VP: I started my collection about 14 years ago and my first mentor was very famous in this part of the world, a musician, Vladimir Spivakov, who had a great collection of Russian impressionists. He taught me a great deal and offered me significant pieces for next to nothing. Little by little, I fell in love with this art and acquired numerous works, mainly in Moscow, but also in London, Paris, and even New York. Over the course of about ten years, I put together a decent private collection of Russian and Ukrainian art of that period. And then after that, I thought about sharing something like this with a Ukrainian audience, but once I started to think about that, I began to wonder what could he interesting for them, important for a Ukrainian audience of today. At the time, it was not my love, or hobby, it was just my idea that for society, it would he better. Initially, this consisted of two totally different projects, my private collection and the second, which I thought might be interesting and useful for society, an institution of contemporary Ukrainian art. We started with a symposium, roundtable discussions, with artists and art professionals, everybody agreed on the necessity and importance of a center. So, with the help of Ukrainian consultants, we started making acquisitions of work that I sometimes liked, and at others didn't like, but at that time, it didn't really matter, it was ok. Because art was not my life, nor was it even a big hobby. I just knew that it was important for our project and for society. So we went on to organize two or three big exhibitions in different spaces, one of which was in the arsenale. But then we started thinking in terms of strategy, and we realized that we had to work with international art. And then little by little, I got closer and closer, and more personally involved with the project.

CS: Were there certain artist's works that responsible for that?
VP: About that time we acquired works by Olafur Eliasson, Thomas Ruff, Xavier Veilhan, Sarah Morris, Carsten Holler, Philippe Parreno, Carsten Nicolai, etc. These were very interesting artists for me.

CS: So it was about that time that you started going to artists' studios?
VP: Yes. It was a very natural progression. It's a huge advantage for me personally to have certain relationships with the artists, without which the process of creating a collection would he much weaker, much less interesting. To have a relationship with artists, visit their studios, hear them speak about the work, this is all very special. It completely alters your relationship with the work.

CS: Did you visit Francois Pinault's collection when you were in Venice? What did you think of that?
VP: Yes, of course I did. I have seen both installations. The first, 'Where Are We Going?" And most recently, "Sequence I .". For me, this is very important. Pinault and the Palazzo Grassi are a kind of benchmark that I would like follow, at least in spirit. Of course we have totally different strategies, different niches, but I think collections and activity in general are about the 21st century. For the Center, I would to go from my generation and younger. Of course I love Warhol and Cy Twombly, among many others, but I don't think I could be very successful if I tried to create a collection with these artists, it's too late for them. I think we have to work with a new generation, Contemporary art of the 21st century. This will be our niche.

CS: What does the Victor Pinchuk Art Center have planned for the future?
VP: Well, we have already bought some additional spaces, and maybe for the next exhibition we will have some of them ready. Perhaps we will divide the building into two parts, one for a permanent installation of the collection, and the other for temporary exhibitions. Our main, strategic dream for the future is to create a new museum for contemporary art. We would like to build the museum on the river, in the central part of the city, but on the river. We have actually already bought the land.

CS: Do you already have an architect in mind?
VP: Yes, but I'm not telling just yet.

Author: Chris Sharp
Source: Flash Art