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1 February 2006
VIKTOR Pinchuk is not the first or only collector of contemporary art in Ukraine, although his collection may be considered unique. Of course, this is in part due to the collector's personality: Pinchuk is better known as one of this country's richest oligarchs and the son-in-law of former President Leonid Kuchma. The amount of investment made in the collection and its accompanying institutional infrastructure is also impressive. But its most unusual feature is its public status, which was assumed from the very beginning. As a rule, rich people collect works of art for their own pleasure or in order to make a good financial investment, and it is not until their old age that they donate or bequeath their collections to public institutions. Pinchuk operates completely differently: his programme of acquisitions has been augmented by a series of public exhibitions, while the main aim of the project has been to establish a museum.
However, one should distinguish between the private collection of Viktor Pinchuk and the collection of the Contemporary Art in Ukraine Foundation, which he set up. As a private art collector, Pinchuk is much more conservative than one might expect looking at the selection made by the Foundation's experts. He gives preference to the art of the early 20th century - he possesses one of the world's finest selections of David Burlyuk's work.
The man who convinced Pinchuk of the expediency of putting his name alongside the names of radical artists was Marat Guelman, Russian gallery owner and election consultant, who has to be given credit for bringing art closer to politics in former Soviet countries. It was he who managed to persuade Pinchuk, who at that time enjoyed the favour of the then President of Ukraine, that a collection of contemporary art, without being particularly burdensome on the industrial tycoon's purse, would bring considerable dividends to his political and social image.
It would be wrong, though, to assert that Pinchuk took up philanthropy on consideration of political benefits alone. He is known as a patron of theatres, a good friend of famous musicians and an attendee of contemporary art exhibitions during trips around the world, which is quite eccentric for the Ukrainian nouveaux riches. Nevertheless, while compiling his collection of contemporary art he does not want to rely on his own taste, seeking experts' advice instead: Pinchuk's advisors are Alexander Solovyev, the main ideologist of Ukrainian art of the last two decades, and the French curator Nicolas Bourriaud.
It is Bourriaud's curatorial preferences that dictate the collection's sporadic international selection of artists, which include Carsten Holler, Philippe Parreno and Olafur Eliasson, among others. The Ukrainian part of the collection starts with works created in the mid and late 1 980s, when a whole generation of young artists, graduates and students of art academies began discovering their own artistic style, which was as distant from the social realist masterpieces of their grandparents' generation as it was from the moderate nonconformist art made by their parents' generation. Unlike contemporaneous Russian artists, who rebuffed painting techniques characteristic of official Soviet art and precipitated into the depths of conceptual art, Ukrainian artists remained painters. By appropriating the international trans-avant-garde style and combining it with the national baroque tradition and completely apolitical nonsense (unlike that of social art), Ukrainian artists created a recognisable and integral style of their own that came to be known as Ukrainian trans-avant-garde. The works of trans-avant-garde artists of the mid and late 80s - Oleg Golosiy, Alexander Gnilitskiy, Arsen Savadov, Alexander Roitburd, Vasiliy Tsagolov - now constitute the core of the collection.
The rejection of pure painting by Ukrainian artists, in favour of photography and video, began in the mid 1990s and continued into the new millennium, although painting still remains a popular and even self-identifying medium for many of them. A considerable part of the collection is devoted to the phenomenon of Kharkiv photography of the 1 980s-90s, represented by Sergey Bratkov and Boris Mikhailov who have already gained (the latter in particular) international lrecognition. Generally, one of the collection's main merits is a sort of expatriation of artists who began their artistic career in Ukraine but became famous abroad, for instance Oleg Kulik, Medical Hermeneutics Inspectorate, 'Pertsy' (Peppers) Group, Svetlana Martynchik and Igor Stepin.
Deserving individual mention are the exhibitions that helped form the collection. If the 2003 exhibition The First Collection' only outlined the suggested contours of the future collection and was displayed on the neutral territory of the Ukrainian Artists Union Exhibition Hall, the exhibition of a year later, 'Farewell to Arms', was held in a building seen as Pinchuk's future museum - a dilapidated edifice of the Kiev Arsenal dating back to the 19th century. The curator-announced confrontation of Mars and Apollo, of military space and civilian art, has unexpectedly developed into a real war between the now embattled oligarch and the new government that came to power as a result of the Orange Revolution. The political battles seemed to be projected onto the art scene when Pinchuk and his museum were ousted from the Arsenal building. The current plan for the premises is to set up a Ukrainian Hermitage under the personal auspices of President Yushchenko, who is also famous for his love for art, albeit in an ethnographic and traditionalistic manifestation. The conflict between 'old politics and new art' and 'politics of renovation and the art of archiving', as signalled by the confrontation of the Arsenal, is reflected in the collections of the two rivals: unlike Pinchuk, Yushchenko collects artefacts of Tripilya culture, folk-art objects and icons.
Surrendering in such a game is an ignominious thing to do. One of the latest acquisitions of Viktor Pinchuk is a three-level space in Kiev's poshest shopping mall. The current location of the future museum does not require funds for the restoration of an historical site and is much closer to the capital's centre than the Arsenal. However, in order to eliminate the kitschy feel that one inevitably experiences in such an environment, the commissioned French architects will have to work very hard. 'A la guerre comme a la guerre' - one can hardly find a better definition for the current status of Viktor Pinchuk's collection.
Author: Katerina Stukalova
Source: "Contemporary"