«Global Art Scenes – City Project: The Art Scene of Kiev» - Free Essay Paper
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While looking at the development of contemporary art in any of its numerous and manifold expressions, it may seem that the modern Western metropolis plays a key role in this creative process. This paper, however, aims to prove that the city of the third world country with the growing economy and the unstable political situation can be a successful foothold for contemporary art development with the active participation of its residents and foreign artists. Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, can be an example of the rapidly developing art space which has a great influence on the global art scene. Its art establishments and history serve as the proof of this thesis. The paper starts with the description of the social and historical background that formed specific conditions for the development of the contemporary art movement in Kiev, while the modern art scene is described by representing three main art establishments predetermining the shape of the cultural environment of the city today. The last section describes the cultural mainstream of the past three years that formed the new vision of contemporary Ukrainian artists.
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Historically, Ukraine started its way to contemporary art only after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Kiev, as the capital of the country, was the biggest city where modern artists began seeking new western art-trends. It was virtually completely impossible to be an artist in regional centers at all due to the economic and social collapse in the 90s. Given that the consumers of art market did not have any idea about what the contemporary art looked like, the demand for artworks was largely confined to classical painting and sculpture. This issue emerged because Soviet art scene did not accept any contemporary trends, no matter what form of art they were expressed through.
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During the 90s the Ukrainian society was economically divided into a higher and lower class. The higher class consisted of the statesmen who started their careers in the Soviet Union and the criminals unable to appreciate contemporary art at all. This fact led to the massive outflow of the artists to the Western art market, where they could express themselves freely in a new modern manner. ‘Looking towards the worldwide art processes, the painters resolutely rejected the hackneyed soviet-realistic canon and turned to a postmodern ironical game with traditional painting’ ("Educational Program").
The situation changed at the beginning of the year 2000 when Ukrainian economics started to raise after a decade of decline. This provoked the middle-class emergence, the class of people interested in modern trends of culture and gradually beginning to create the demand on artworks differing from a realistic still life, landscapes and portraits. The even more significant trend was the awareness that any person has an ability to generate art using different means of expression. ‘You can be an artist, even if you cannot draw,’ - this realization was a turning point in the consciousness of Ukrainians and, of course, the access to information thanks to the Internet became a critical moment in the development of the art of today.
At this wave, businessmen started to invest in modern art. This factor marked the beginning of Ukrainian art market upsurge, and Kiev became the center of this movement. Therefore, the key catalysts in the development of the contemporary art scene in Kiev were the gaining of Ukrainian independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, economic growth at the beginning of the 2000s and free access to information through the Internet.
The Rise of Contemporary Art Scene
The first influential center of contemporary art in Kiev, “PinchukArtCentre”, was created by a Ukrainian businessman and philanthropist Viktor Pinchuk in 2006. The mission of the center is ‘Empowering future generations to become the change makers of tomorrow’. It gives stress to education, health, contemporary art inspiration, as well as the strengthening of the international integration of Ukraine ("About Victor Pinchuk"). As of today, it is regarded as one of the most dynamically changing and developing contemporary art centers in Central and Eastern Europe, free of admission fees and with over 1.7 million visitors. It gathers the “giants” of world art, making the present-day art available to people of all income levels ("About Victor Pinchuk").
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Another great example of a large-scale art foundation is Mystetskiy Arsenal museum created by a lawyer and former reporter Natalya Zabolotna in 2007. She gathered an impact and advancements from different progressive art curators (such as the Guggenheim and the Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf) to introduce some contemporary visions of Ukrainian and Western artists to the Art Arsenal (Nemtsova 2011). The core goal of this foundation is cultural and educational development of the people by presenting a variety of art projects and exhibitions with the participation of prominent Ukrainian and international artists. The most ambitious project was the first Kyiv Biennale of Contemporary Art Arsenale 2012, which gathered an unprecedented exhibition of works by 100 stars of the world art scene from 30 countries under the arches of Art Arsenal ("Kyiv Biennale (Ukraine) Biennial Foundation."). Now Mystetskiy Arsenal is the biggest foundation that successfully spreads the knowledge about contemporary art among the citizens of the capital, Ukraine, as well as the visitors from the entire world.
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There is also a less formal and institutionalized experience in contemporary art called “Gogolfest”, which is named in honor of a Ukrainian-born Russian author and playwright Nikolai Gogol. This festival was established by the president of DAKH Contemporary Art Center in Kiev Vlad Troitskyi in 2007. It is considered the biggest international multidisciplinary festival of contemporary art in Kiev and the whole country in general ("Top Annual Art Events in Kiev"). This festival differs from the previous foundations by creating the space where everyone can express themselves if the concept of the idea is meaningful and well-presented. The mission of “Gogolfest” is to develop cultural life in Kiev and inform about or rather emphasize the importance of cultural tolerance ("Top Annual Art Events in Kiev").
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These are the three biggest foundations dedicated to contemporary art. Simultaneously, a multitude of similar activities have been coming in sight in Kiev during the past ten years. This has created a strong platform for contemporary art development, including educational, social and cultural events.
As it has already been mentioned, Kiev art foundations are oriented towards the global art scene. It is confirmed by such a great establishment for Kiev art scene as Kyiv Biennale of Contemporary Art. A lot of foreign artists and curators presented their projects and shared experience there, such as Dr. Nicholas Cullinan – the Curator of International Modern Art at Tate Modern, who participated in Kyiv Biennale and presented his project there ("Arsenale"). The other foundations also try to attract foreign artists and curators to integrate into the international art scene actively evolving in the Ukrainian capital.
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The Rise of National Dignity
Before 2013, the contemporary art movement in Kiev gradually strengthened, exploring new ways and opportunities to show common trends and influence the social, political, cultural and economic life of the country. Ukrainian artists were mostly tailoring towards the western art scene due to the lack of own experience in this field. They experimented within the borders set by a long history of contemporary Western art. This process continued until Maidan, the revolution which started in Kiev in December 2013. After the revolution, the economic level of Ukraine has understandably fallen, additionally worsened by the Russian invasion and war in the eastern part of the country. Nevertheless, civic awareness and national dignity were raised, with the majority of the artists focusing on the qualities and strengths of the Ukrainian art and culture as the full value object, which influences international culture, politics and economy. Numerous exhibitions are now devoted to the political situation and war in the Eastern part of Ukraine in particular. Those exhibitions are mostly motivated by activism and patriotism with a strong subjective view that leads to a false image of contemporary art in Kiev and Ukraine ("Museum of Contemporary Art Leipzig").
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After the Maidan revolution, the political, social and cultural environment in Kiev changed. There were new presidential elections that led to the change of power in the capital. Previous political forces were mostly oriented on Russia, but after President Yanukovych’s overthrow, it changed to euro integration, which resulted in the reduction of censorship, in art as well. Kiev became an international art space for artists from all over the world. As a consequence, numerous murals appeared all over the city ‘The emergence of urban murals on the multi-storey buildings in residential areas, created by European and Ukrainian artists is a clear confirmation of this fact’. After the EuroMaidan, which continued for four months, the national movement reached enormous power. It led to the revolution in government and art. This is represented by the thematic of murals. For example, a memorial to Sergey Nigoyan, who was shot by Berkut riot police in 2014. Such murals are definitely socially significant. They fetch creativity to the streets to let passers-by enjoy art as it is in their day-to-day lives. The Kyiv's new European-style look involves this street art as the motivation and hope for the better future ("Kyiv's Street Art Revolution Builds").
The economic and political situation in the country creates many obstacles for the contemporary art development in Kiev. Nevertheless, it also stimulates Ukrainian artists to be proactive and create new artworks to support the country. For foreign artists, it is a good opportunity to express themselves in a new space, full of contradictions and hopes. That is why, Kiev’s art scene seems to be a perspective platform for the development of the international art scene and the creation of the environment for the emergence of new forms of contemporary art. It all combined, makes Kiev a full-fledged player in the world of modern art.