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You're reading: Art critic: How I almost missed Mas’ art exhibit in Venice

VENICE – It all started with that pesky wheel.

For months, I had planned to visit the Venice Biennale, the major contemporary art exhibit that takes place in this culturally breathtaking city every two years.

I had planned how I would carry three suitcases over the bridge crossing the Grand Canal to the Santa Lucia train station – hook the smaller bag to a larger one like pilots do – store them at the station for the day, and then take a water bus to the 11th century San Stae church, which hosted at its entrance a small section of a monumental installation by Ukraine’s Oksana Mas. From there, I would go the Chiesa di San Fantin, near glorious San Marco Square, where I would visit the second section of her work.

I was fascinated by the concept of Mas’ project, titled Post-vs-Proto-Renaissance, part of which was on display at the Ukrainian Pavilion, which spans two sites: Inmates, intellectuals and other professionals from 42 countries have been painting 3,640,000 wooden eggs, or krashanky, for Mas’ installation.

Viewed up close, the sins and future hopes of the individuals who hand-painted the eggs are evident. From afar, however, collectively these eggs become a re-creation of sections of the Ghent Altarpiece.

Viewed up close, the sins and future hopes of the individuals who hand-painted the eggs are evident. From afar, however, collectively these eggs become a re-creation of sections of the Ghent Altarpiece, which was conjured by brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck of Belgium in the 15th century. Considered one of the world’s masterpieces, the altar, also known as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, illustrates Heaven on Earth.

Later that evening, after a day of art, I would board the 7:50 p.m. fast train to Milan.

Those were my plans, until that pesky wheel got in the way. Standing near the bank of the Grand Canal, I realized the right wheel of my new Caterpillar suitcase was broken. And not just broken, it got deformed. Somewhere between Kyiv’s Zhulany and Venice’s Marco Polo airports, a part of the wheel had been sliced off. So sliced, in fact, the heavy bag refused to move.

There seemed only one option – catching an earlier train to Milan. Mas, Post-vs-Proto-Renaissance and the Biennale would have to wait.

Now, hooking the large bag to the much smaller – the latter slithered across the station’s marble floor like a wounded lover – I miraculously reached the train. Getting the bags onto the wagon, however, was like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro; by the time I had reached my seat I was wet with sweat and smelled like those people on a Kyiv elektrychka (train) who should use deodorant but don’t.

Oksana Mas presents her work at the Venice Biennale. (

One of the descriptions on Mas’ website that describes her work notes that “ancient and modern art merge into an image embracing stories of sins and dreams of redemption, hope in the future and a yearning for purity. Depending on the distance, the work breaks down as if it were a digital file of egg-pixels, each one representing the dramatic destiny of mankind.”

Destiny was much in my mind as I approached Milan’s train station. For those who have never been there, the station, inaugurated in 1931 by Italian leader Benito Mussolini, is one of Italy’s busiest. A blend of many architectural styles, one of its defining characteristics is its considerable size; its façade, for instance, is 200 meters wide. How I would get out of the station, let alone to my hotel, I had no idea.

It is a testament to how long I have been in Ukraine that I thought nothing of it when a young gentleman offered me his hand and took my luggage off the train. Just when I thought my day couldn’t get more bizarre, it did. Out of the blue, another man with a trolley ran up and started to scream. The two men grabbed at my suitcases, tugging them to-and-from until finally dark-haired Ibrahim won out. Across the station and for four long blocks, he tenaciously carried the heavy suitcase with the broken wheel to my hotel.

By the time it rained that evening the way it hadn’t in Milan for months, I was beginning to think perhaps a higher authority didn’t want me to return to Venice to see Mas’ work.

Yet the next morning, I did return. (The Italians were starting another strike in the morning, but I won’t even go there.) Once in Venice, I didn’t take the waterbus; the day before a waterbus employee had inadvertently activated a 12-hour boat pass I had purchased on a previous visit and had carried in my wallet for over a month expressly for this trip. By the time I tried to use it the next day, it had expired. And so I took off by foot and reached Mas’ work to sounds of joy.

“Bello,” screamed a young Italian girl. “C’est belle,” noted a French couple.

I watched for a long time as people walked up to Mas’ work at San Stae and closely observed the eggs. Others took steps back, lifted their cameras and clicked because miraculously from afar the eggs became the Virgin Mary.

“Oh my, they are Ukrainian Easter eggs,” quipped one man at Chiesa di San Fantin, which housed the section of the work that boasted as its centerpiece the face of God the Father and Jesus. Here, in this darkened religious cavern, where whispers and drops of water were a backdrop, one could finally realize the extent of Mas’ project.

When it is completed in six to eight years, her work will be larger than the original, which is sized 3.5 by 4.6 meters. Mas’ will be 92 by 134 meters.

No matter how broken the suitcase, I will see it.

Mas’ work will be on display in Venice until Nov. 27, when the Biennale concludes. At San Stae church also see the unique “Apiary. Destiny Drums” by Ukrainian artists Mykola Zhuravel and Vitaliy Ocheretyanyy. Entrance to both venues is free.

Staff writer Natalia A. Feduschak can be reached at

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