For many people, contemporary art presents a challenge, as it tends to be more about ideas than aesthetics, encouraging an active dialogue with an artwork.
And if you prefer that kind of engagement, PinchukArtCenter is always the right place to get a pulse on contemporary art.
This fall 20 young Ukrainian artists shortlisted for the 2011 Pinchuk Art Centre Prize display their interpretations of Ukrainian history and society, globalization, sexuality and other intriguing topics. The exhibition opened on Oct. 28 and will run through January.
“These young artists made their own elaborate statements and show in an advanced way where the Ukrainian generation of artists is going,” said Bjorn Geldhof, artistic manager of PinchukArtCenter.
Thanks to billionaire Viktor Pinchuk’s artistic, technical and financial support, about 60 works were custom made for the show, which now occupy the third and fourth floors of the center. Notably, in this exhibition, each artist was given a private section in which to showcase their art, which creates an atmosphere of repeated interruption, as you move from one mini-exhibition to the next.
“Book of People” is a personal universe Hamlet Zinkovsky creates with the help of nearly a thousand matchboxes.
For example, 20-year-old Alina Kleitman, the youngest participant, is using one small room to transport the viewer into a dirty street where smutty girls in torn clothing lecherously sprawl on the ground enticing the males to action. Shattered by alcohol and drugs, the women have devolved into mere sex objects in this work.
“I invited over some girls and gave them alcohol and told them to let loose, ‘to let their hair down’,” says Alina about shooting the scene. The life-size photographs of the girls, as well as the garbage and cigarette smoke, make the installation frighteningly believable.
Submitting a “ready-made” object for display in a museum, like French artist Marcel Duchamp did with the urinal in the early 1920s, was once considered subversive and appalling.
Oleksandr Roytburd paints Alexander Pushkin and other historical figures as Jewsas part of his “friendly provocative” collection “If there is no water running from your tap.”
Today, however, artists widely experiment with this art technique. Contestant Zhanna Kadyrova dubs a grayish textured square piece of asphalt on the wall “a portrait of reality.” Something we walk on daily, and yet never notice, is elevated to an artifact, which evokes the inexhaustible question of “what is art?” These particular asphalt blocks came from Shargorod in Vinnytska region.
Perhaps, the most meticulous and detailed work of the show is the “Book of People.” As you walk into a circular black-walled gallery separated by velvet black curtains, 999 portraits of builders, porters, taxi drivers, and others hand-drawn on the bottom of match boxes appear in dim lights, attached to the curved walls.
“There are no distinguished personalities among these characters, only simple villains.” Artist Hamlet Zinkovsky, unsurprisingly, gives each of them a nickname to “make it easy to distinguish between multiple Vova’s and Sasha’s: so there are Siniy (Blue), Apelsin (Orange), Fagot and others.
The installation is accompanied by a book with stories about each criminal – some fictional, others taken from real life. Something about this personal universe is inundating, and might make you dizzy, but, perhaps that’s precisely what it feels like to be in the center of an unfamiliar crowd.
The beauty of this collection is in its harmonious diversity. Political themes of Chinese expansion or the Koliyivshchyna rebellion of Ukrainian cossacks pair naturally with arresting photographs of orphans, gigantic tires, a metal fruit kiosk, sexual orgies, or colorful computer graphic art.
The most cheerful highlight of Pinchuk’s show might be the portraits of poets Alexander Pushkin and Taras Shevchenko, Mahatma Ghandi, and the Klitchko brothers portrayed as Hasidic Jews with peyos (side curls), donning kipas, and holding Torahs.
Alina Kleitman’s “Capture” is a provocative depiction of women as male sale objects.
The artist, Oleksandr Roytband, drew inspiration from the Soviet song “The Jews Are All Around” by Konstantin Beliayev that jokingly identifies Hemingway, Khrushchev and other celebrities as being “hidden Jews.”
“My portraits are friendly provocative,” says Roytbund, unconcerned with political taboos. His work is not a part of the competition. “My work is joyful and neutral without any pro-Jewish or anti-Semitic feeling.” And it’s true as you can’t help but smile when you see the paintings.
Those impatient or bored with deciphering meaning in contemporary art can frolic and roll shoeless on a bumpy camel-colored carpet in a separate gallery. The winner of the last year’s Pinchuk Future Generation Art Prize, Cynthia Marcelle, 35, brings a recreated landscape inspired by her native Brazil into the gallery. Under the carpet, is a layer of dust, symbolizing our tendency to “hide our mistakes and dirt from our eyes.”
A cylinder of dust at the end of the gallery resembles a horizon of mines, but be warned not to touch it – it may cause skin irritation. “This art work happens only with the presence of the audience. You are part of the landscape,” says Cynthia. It’s amusing to walk in the gallery and feel like you are, in some way, an art work, and that you are also its creator.
Kyiv Post staff writer Mariya Manzhos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org