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Correspondent 8

Contemporary Art, Like Ukraine’s Never Seen Before

By Paul Miazga

I remember a time here when the biggest things going in the Ukrainian art world were works of Soviet-era realism, or art from a time that is nearly 15 years in the past. To me, this said a lot about why the art on the storied Andriyivsky Uzviz and elsewhere in Ukraine was rather bland if not outright awful: no imagination, simple themes (ships at sea, naked reclining women, cartoon caricatures of household pets, forests) and about as compelling to the mind as stale white bread is to the palate.

About the only artist visible over the last few years in the country has been Illya Chichkan, who at times has dared to makes waves and create alternate perceptions of art. His canvases, not always stunning in their approach or composition, have included chimpanzees painted to seem more human than they perhaps are and even other animal themes. Like the country as a whole when seen from the outside, there were hints of brilliance, but nothing to bring any of these hints to life.

About 18 months ago, however, multi-millionaire Viktor Pinchuk - the son-in-law of the former president and a former parliament deputy who once wielded enormous power in Ukraine – entered Ukraine’s art scene as a would-be patron. He announced his decision in early 2005 to create Ukraine’s first-ever contemporary art gallery. Like other rich and powerful industrial and political barons, Pinchuk was trying to polish his public image in the face of investigations by the new president and prime minister into his past business dealings. For a time Pinchuk was virtually on the run, but while the investigations stalled, his plans for the gallery moved forward.

Opened two weeks ago, the Pinchuk Gallery of Contemporary Art in the Arena City complex is a wonder for Ukrainians used to regarding art as a crutch for tired old hacks on the uzviz. Spread over two levels, the gallery offers visitors a truly interactive experience in art from a variety of Ukrainian and European artists:

  • a 5-meter-high frame of 280 lights dims or brightens once the viewer steps inside, the light changing as the viewer’s retinas adjust to the changing brightness;
  • strobe lights illuminate zippers mounted on a turntable, the light creating the effect of the zippers zipping and unzipping by themselves; water captured on top of large, vibrating slabs of metal, the water taking on various textures and patterns that can be manipulated by simply blowing on them;
  • a dark-room video sequence of words that move around on the walls using an algorithm that mimics molecular dynamics. The words – male, female and food - change when they come into contact with one another to produce additional words – child, father, old, virus and dead;
  • a video of, among other things, three men underwater in a collapsible sphere who support each other in resisting the push of those outside the sphere, and
  • Illya Chichkan, who presents a rather curious video of rabbits as puppets in a manic disco dance ritual that has either a comic or disturbing effect on the viewer.

Some friends have said that the best part of the whole experience is from visiting the bathrooms on each floor of the gallery or from the café on the sixth floor, which offers a unique bird’s-eye view of the downtown from this very minimalist space. I do not necessarily agree with them that the bathrooms are the best part; in fact, given the gallery patron’s past reputation as a shady businessman with insider connections and this country’s dearth of captivating art projects, the Pinchuk Gallery has many things going for it, most of all the fact that it even exists.

The Pinchuk Gallery of Contemporary Art is open Tuesday to Sunday from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is free.

You can find some more information on go2kiev Culture page.


The Pinchuk Gallery of Contemporary Art in the Arena City complex in downtown Kyiv has two floors of compelling and interactive art, including Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba's 'Memorial Project Minimata.' (www.likeyou.com)


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