Mystetsky Arsenal, a former weapon factory of czarist Russia and now Kyiv’s leading art space, is relentlessly striving to make Ukraine a progressive art hub in the world. The current exhibition is an emphatic step in the right direction.
A collection of international projects from Japan, France, Germany and Poland, among other countries, share the spacious pavilion with Ukrainian art from nearly 30 galleries. Entitled “Art-Kyiv Contemporary 2011,” the art fair opened on Nov. 1 and was pitched as the “broadest platform” of Ukrainian art.
However, the most progressive artists of the show are undoubtedly the Japanese. As you make your way into the “special projects” galleries (turn right at the entrance) you are overwhelmed and slightly disoriented by a flurry of sounds.
Thus begins a multi-sensory exploration. The whole section is occupied by “The Group: 1965” – a project created by six artists born on the same year sharing the vision and spirit of their time.
At first, your immediate attention goes to a gigantic anime teen girl with an empty cartoonish glance.
Then you are confronted with a barrage of unpleasant images: vomit, obese people eating noodles, anime faces in pain and ecstasy and other nebulous objects. The sound coming from the wall adds to the chaos.
The work, named “Monument to Nothing” by Makoto Aida was meant to be displayed abroad, since it reveals what the artist believes to be the real Japan – a pathetic place utterly unknown to and misunderstood by foreigners.
The concoction of sounds around you comes from mixed media installations: a dark black room blasting electroacustic music, screens with Georgian polyphonic quartet, a performance class and a recreated Japanese public housing Negoya.
Volodymyr Kuznetsov’s “Small Red Fiat” is a reminder of European borderlandtradein the 1960s (Kostyantyn Chernichkin)
Peeking into the Negoya area you see several “rooms,” each with a life of their own, although that life merely occurs on large flat screens set in each room. In one, an artist imitates an electronica performance on a Mac computer; in another, a samurai is dripping with blood and frantically wiping it; another “resident” leaves his room plastered with photos after tsunami with shattered roads and cloudy skies.
The walk-through is a snapshot of random people’s lives, which when taken out of context appear bewildering and strange.
Passing into arsenal’s main area, Ilya Chichkan’s familiar monkeys will haunt you froma large horizontal painting created in collaboration with young graffitti artist PSYFOX.
They turned a white wall of the gallery into a street wall decorated with kaleidoscopic graffiti in the form of monkey faces in headphones shooting guns.
Of course, what contemporary art exhibit would not be complete without is a “found” object, in this case an entire car.
Volodymyr Kuznetsov presents his “Small Red Fiat” as a reminder of European borderlandtradein the 1960s.
The car is full of junk with an old TV on top playing nostalgic Polish songs. Another “ready-made” is Marie Reinert’s engine extracted from a boat, which is “a piece of praise for the motor.” The French artist travelled to Marseille to capture the life of Ukrainian sailors at work.
Often the medium of the artwork signifies more of its meaning than what it appears to be at the first glance. For example, in the spotlight of arsenal’s main area is American David Danuta’s “Ukrainian Flag,” glistering with light on its glassy surface.
Zooming in, you puzzle out a collage of newspaper cut outs from events in Ukrainian history and a surface made of hundreds of eye glass lenses. Datuna’s layered work implies the multiplicity of perceptions and outlooks on our history and politics.
In a commentary on the reality of “virtual relationships,” Anatoliy Belov hand draws the facebook profiles of his friends with short descriptions of their bio and interests.
Vinny Reunov’s “Louvre Ukraine” is a gigantic magazine cover which immortalizes such world known personas as Obama, Putin, Palin, Yanukovych, Elvis Presley, and others in a chaotic order (Kostyantyn Chernichkin)
Vinny Reunov continues the Ukrainian theme in “Louvre Ukraine” as part of the project “Made in Ukraine.” The painting represents a gigantic Time magazine cover with Obama, Tymoshenko, Palin, Elvis, and other public personas disjointedly immortalized in a chaotic commentary on mass culture.
Pertinent former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is the subject of Russian artist Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe’s five studio portraits. There is only one intriguing detail – in black dress,pearls and with her emblematic braid she is portrayed as a muscular man, who is, in fact, the artist himself.
In his series “Transformations” Mamyshev appears as Putin, Hitler, Dostoevsky, Marilyn Monroe among other celebrities.
Roman Zhuk’s series “Plea” stands out rid of any irony. Large images of adult hands folded and clasped as if in a prayer speak of people’s lives and souls through such decorations as tatoos, jewelry, and wrinkles.
Seemingly distorted portraits of legendary Picasso, Frida Kahlo and Chuck Clos by Tayana Gershuna become colorful as you put on 3D glasses that you get from the staff. And, you will also encounter Michael Jackson adorned with “diamonds” in his anti-gravity forward lean.
Since arsenal’s art fair format lessens the pressure on the visitor to see every painting, you’re free to meander into any corner that catches your eye, or simply jaunt through the middle of the museum soaking as much in at once.
Since the 30 Ukrainian galleries passed a strict selection by a council of art experts, you can feel confident all the works in the main areas are worth your while. The works are even on sale.
Kyiv Post staff writer Mariya Manzhos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos by Kostyantyn Chernichkin