An exhibition of a single painting by unknown artists would rarely cause controversy. But this one did.
That’s because this particular work had more politics in it than art. It also epitomized public discontent about the current state of Ukraine’s politics.
The painting called The Last Day of Rada went on display briefly at Alex Art House center in Kyiv between April 17 and 23. Its centerpiece is Ukraine’s parliament building ablaze.
The painting, 80 by 120 centimeters in size, became famous virtually overnight, as most Ukrainian media ran stories about it, quoting multiple art critics trashing it as “unprofessional” and having no artistic value.
Yet one journalist claimed that someone offered a lump sum for the work, just to get rid of it.
“A wealthy person from Ukraine’s 50 richest list offered $325,000 for the painting, but the author refused to sell it. The buyer wasn’t interested in the landscape at all, he just wanted to destroy it,” said Kostyantyn Usov, an investigative journalist from TVi.
But Oleksyi Vasylenko, co-founder of the auction house Zolotoe Sechenie that deals with modern art, smirks at the concept that this picture has any value, calling the hullabaloo around it “childish.”
“The real value of this picture is at least five zeros less,” he says.
The picture seems to be surrounded in controversy.
Usov was trusted by the author to keep the painting until it went on exhibition. Yet the journalist refused to name either the potential buyer or even the author, who likes to call himself Citizen Artist, alluding to the famous Russian project Citizen Poet, which combined poetry and politics, making satirical reflections on current events though TV and radio shows.
The real value of this picture is at least five zeros less.
- Oleksyi Vasylenko, co-founder of the auction house Zolotoe Sechenie
This is not the only artistic allusion involved. The picture’s name is similar to The Last Day of Pompeii, a world famous Russian artwork by Karl Brullov, created in 1830.
It depicts the famous eruption of Vesuvius volcano in 79 AD, which buried the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum in ash and pumice, killing the whole population.
Both the Last Day of Rada and the Last Day of Pompeii are full of color contrast, dominated by the orange blaze of fire. The picture of the burning Rada also has little shapes of deputies fleeing the burning building, while the silhouettes of passers-by on the foreground are staring and pointing fingers.
The picture has a simple, naive feel to it, and to a regular consumer it would not look like a work of a professional artist. The author himself described the style as “sincere.”
In a written note passed to Kyiv Post though Usov, the author explained that people on the Internet called his picture “the Ukrainian dream.”
“The idea was not mine, but I captured it,” he says.
Exhibition organizers said they were approached by a buyer under the nickname Venedykt Venedyktovych, who owns a ship building company and collects art. Yulia Filonenko, the show's curator, said that person’s representative said he had no intention of destroying the work, though, and wanted it for its artistic value.
The author told Kyiv Post he had several offers, mostly from Russians. “But I am expecting an offer that would allow the picture to breathe – stay visible and, ideally, in the country,” he said.
Filonenko says the painting has caused so much controversy because it hit the bull’s eye in a nation where people are sorely disappointed with politicians of all colors and ranks.
“This picture is a first shot from the bow. Changes are coming forth,” she says.
Staff writer Anastasia Forina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org