An attempt to whitewash Art Arsenal after censorship in the previous show
Art Kyiv Contemporary, a forum which opened at Art Arsenal - Mystetskiy Arsenal on November 13 through December 1 - brought together 35 projects and more than two hundred Ukrainian artists. The national culture & arts complex took on the role of a dispassionate site for all manifestations of Ukrainian contemporary art. It has thus embodied a gracious and tolerant - and certainly, illusory - state, in which there is no more room for either a moral committee or adjustment of art to politics. This year’s forum offered a good chance for rehabilitation to the venue after the recent act of censorship: the destruction of Volodymyr Kuznetsov’s artwork by Art Arsenal’s director Natalia Zabolotna. This was done right before the opening of the Great and Grand – an art show dedicated to the history of Christianity in Kievan Rus and Ukraine – and before some of Ukraine’s and Russia’s top officials and clergy were scheduled to attend. The act stirred a wave of indignation, mixed with concern about future merciless repression, among artists. And it drew a dividing line between in the sensitive art community between those who supported and opposed Arsenal.
The latest show was seen as a conflict-free project of reconciliation. Without it, the Art Arsenal risked losing part of its contingent. The only element of curatorship in it was the concept of a platform for “open artistic communication between different arts institutions”. So, we were looking at the digest of contemporary art.
One of the participants of the exhibition, conceptualist Arsen Savadov, stated that Art Kyiv Contemporary – “is a celebration of art called on to take price tags off pictures and save Arsenal from villainy. The forum is oriented at the artistic process, not market favourites”. As a result, pieces by Arsen Savadov, the first Ukrainian artist to make it to Sotheby’s; Oleksandr Roytburd whose art is often sold at London auctions, and Anatoliy Kryvolap whose piece was auctioned for a record-breaking price in Ukrainian contemporary art, hang next to ten projects, created by little-known artists. According to the organisers, the latter were discovered thanks to Oleksandr Solovyov, former chief curator at the Art Arsenal. However, some of the top contemporary artists including Vasily Tsagolov, Oleh Tistol, Pavlo Makov and Zhanna Kadyrova, did not make into the show. Perhaps the organisers thought that they were too well-known to exhibit their works. Or their exorbitant price tags would irritate the audience of the down-to-earth forum. Or the artists themselves no longer want to participate in the Art Arsenal’s shows.
Art Kyiv Contemporary demonstrated apparent pluralism, exhibiting a wide range of works from traditional gesso and upcycling to ultramodern IT technologies and performances. The 35 art projects presented at the forum embraced all kinds of themes and aesthetics. The exhibition started with the neo-archaic piece by Roman Romanyshyn; colour alchemy by Tiberiy Silvashi; and symbolism from Petro Bevza – all delicate and sophisticated canvases. Moving on, the viewer found himself in a post-modern chaos. Kitsch spoke from the Soviet carpets of Anatoliy Hankevych and politically incorrect passions from Vladyslav Shereshevsky, peaking in the deliberately provocative erotic Kiss by Roman Zhuk. Art Arsenal’s strategy was to please everyone. Aristocrats would admire modern classics, young rebels – the projects of urban artists and video-art, and people with a sense of humour would enjoy cheerful provocative art. The exhibition was a metaphor of the entire country, where progressive and outdated ideas, high technologies, post-Soviet experiences, teenage rebellion and mature reasoning coexist freely. Academic painting, trash, advertising, design, talents without names and names without talent – everything was painstakingly concentrated under the shroud of Art Arsenal, where nothing threatened artistic freedom. The good thing was that there is plenty of space between the items. It kept them from merging into a schizophrenic cacophony.