Saturday, January 17, 2009
Contemporary Art in Kyiv
On Friday night, a totally different view of Ukraine. Thanks to Myron Stachiw, director of the Fulbright office here, I attended an opening at the Pinchuk Art Centre , one of Kyiv’s most popular places. The Art Center is right downtown in a very contemporary art space on several floors with a top floor café with a great view of the city. The opening, which was invitation only, was packed, and packed particularly with young people.
For me, the art was interesting, but the experience even more so. Great people watching of all sorts—mostly all in black, as befits all contemporary art openings. Several of the artists were there and lots of conversation everywhere. I had two favorite art pieces, both video installations, and favorites because of they way they engaged audiences.
In one, in a long narrow room, a row of large cardboard boxes were stacked and open. As you looked down into them, each one had a different little video piece of people doing different things—I think maybe all on beds. What was fun is that you couldn’t see what people were looking at, and their expressions ranged from laughter to quizzical. Because people gathered around the boxes, you gained the opportunity to share the moment with friends, and perhaps even with strangers, something that seems not much a part of Ukrainian life.
I met the director of the Pinchuk Foundation who said that, as soon as the exhibit opens to the public, there will be queues outside waiting to get in as they are for every show, it almost doesn’t matter the content—they’ve had 400,000 visitors in two years. I’m guessing that far outstrips other Ukrainian museums. It’s a great argument for free admission. They do several shows a year and are very clearly a part of the larger contemporary art world—their next show is Damien Hurst. I hope, while I’m here, to get more of a chance to learn more about the Pinchuk Center and its work
They are an art center, not a museum, and I found myself wishing for a bit more interpretive material—but that’s no surprise, I usually do when I see highly conceptual contemporary work. Mass MOCA’s interpretation strikes me as a great solution. In each space, you can pick up a little rack card about the piece—it’s not obtrusive, but provides people like me with some background about the artist and his or her intent.
How does all this happen? Victor Pinchuk is one of Ukraine’s very richest men and his foundation is one of the largest and most active here. His foundation undertakes a broad range of activities including scholarships, work on HIV/AIDS, the Art Center and more. Without the constraints of the government, or an entrenched staff, or the endless struggle for funds, he is able to create the Art Center that interests him—but clearly interests everyone else as well.
What’s also intriguing to me is what we take for granted at home but is perhaps new here. All these different ideas about museums and culture are what creates a vibrant cultural life for a place: folk music in a concert hall, Maria Prymashenko’s paintings, complex video installations in an all white space; and even the rock band playing at the subway entrance as I made my way home on a snowy evening. There’s room for all of it.
Opening at the Pinchuk Art Center, January 16, 2009