Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Art Arsenal, Controversy and Museum Night

As I'm back in the US, I'm working to keep up on Ukrainian museums. This post is just a grab-bag of Ukrainian issues and news and I invite my colleagues to share their news and perspectives.

Art a priori

The Eidos Arts Development Fund, a foundation devoted to contemporary art in Ukraine, has undertaken a major project, Art a priori, to pair young curators with contemporary artists in the development of site-specific installations in traditional Ukrainian museums. I had a chance to meet with Eidos staff when I was in Kyiv and learn about this effort which includes training for the young curators as well as support for the artists and marketing.

The projects (10-12 in all) have begun to take shape. To my knowledge, there's not been much discussion about what's appropriate to exhibit in Ukrainian museums. In the US, discussions about the Enola Gay, the Sensation exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, and Robert Mapplethorpe have been a part of museum discourse for years. I recall a discussion in my class at Kyiv-Mohyla about how American museums made decisions about what was exhibitable. My students seemed surprised that each museum made their own decision--and that the government did, at times, interfere, but generally, freedom of expression won. The concept of artistic free expression is still an emerging one in Ukraine. A press release from Eidos notes:
On May 21, 2009 the exhibition «New History», winner of the International Curatorial Competition “Art a priori: Contemporary Stories” announced by “EIDOS” Arts Development Foundation, had just started at Kharkov Art Museum, Ukraine.

Video works, photographs, installations, and objects made by well-known and young contemporary artists from Ukraine, Russia, Sweden, Rumania and Slovakia were displayed among artworks of the permanent collection. The opening was astonishing. It included a press-tour, a curatorial excursion for visitors, and a special exhibition tour for students studying art history.

But by the next morning, May 22, the art project was prohibited, despite plans to show the exhibition till May 25, and the exposition had to be uninstalled by personal order of the head of the museum. The order banning the exhibition was given in an incontestable and aggressive manner. The head of the museum pointed to obscene words contained in the art works and incompatibility with the museum's exhibition policy.
I don't yet know more from Kharkiv, but I admire the Eidos Fund's ongoing interest in supporting young artists and shaking up the museum world a bit.

When I was in Ukraine, I did have some conversations with museum workers about the proposed Art Arsenal in Kyiv. The Arsenal is a great historic building near Pechersk Lavra that has had a number of uses proposed for it. Its latest iteration is as Art Arsenal, a museum or exhibition that highlights other Ukrainian museum collections. Workers at several other museums expressed concern that their most important artifacts would have to be loaned, or permanently transferred to this new "museum."

What will it be? A press conference today, I hope, provided more information. The very concept that a new museum could lay claim to the collections of other museums seems inconceivable to Americans--but because museums and collections in Ukraine are all governed by the Ministry of Culture, it is possible. The current argument for the comprehensive museum is that the hundreds of Ukrainian museums, like US museums, only exhibit 5-10% of their objects and that by focusing attention at a central location on the country's treasures, more attention will be devoted to museums in general.

The staff at the Center for Museum Development do a great job of keeping the Ukrainian Museum Portal up-to-date with all kinds of information about Ukrainian museums--I use Google Translate and hopefully get at least a sense of the issues and events.

And, a new event, Night at the Museum, at the National Art Museum, which I learned about from my friend Anna's blog, Museum_my friends and me. Nights at the Museum are found all over Europe, and this is the second year for the Art Museum. Last year, a high end party--this year, open to all, and more than 900 visitors in just a few hours. The gallery rooms were darkened and visitors could explore with flashlights and in the entry, a DJ played music combined with images. Anna and her colleagues have had an interest in attracting teenagers to the museum and from her blog, this looks like a great start. Soon the museum will be stiff competition for the teenage-attracting club right across the street.

From top to bottom:
Night at the Museum, from Anna's blog
Opening at the Kharkiv Museum, from Eidos Fund
The Arsenal, 2008, from goldencalf at Flickr
Night at the Museum, also from Anna's blog

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