UKRAINIAN CONTEMPORARY ART: FROM 1980 TO 2000
More than twenty-year old history of Ukrainian contemporary art (the beginning is a historical representation of "Cleopatra's Sorrow" by Arseniy Savadov and Yuriy Senchenko at youth exhibition in Moscow in 1987), gives an impressive list of names, events, and works. A considerable age is obviously an important development phase of our native art of the end of 20th - the beginning of 21 century. It may seem strange, but the whole layer of contemporary art, - with numerous exhibition projects, with the acknowledged artists, with the galleries and collectors, -remains "yeasty space with unclear borders" (G. Yelshevskaya) in the public mind. Moreover, there are a number of reasons for it.
It should be noted, that Ukrainian actual art was not illuminated in the press regularly, except the first and last five years of development, and art-critics were doomed to marginal existence. Nineties were "dark ages" for Ukrainian art history that brought to nowadays almost no critical reports with adequate illumination of the art events (an exception is the catalogue preludes and annotations). The initial phase of contemporary art development - material collecting, appeared only in last few years. The situation paradox for 20th century Ukraine was that the information needed to create full art history of nineties was owned only by participants or exhibitions habitu?s. "Uninitiated" people had no access to it. The exit from this unhealthy hermetic situation was set, in particular, thanks to the academic articles, which, quite recently before, had avoided contemporary art theme ("Contemporary art", "The history of Ukrainian Arts" etc).
It is possible to verify such a gratifying phenomenon as weekly reviews in newspapers and magazines, which are done by art critics, not by journalists. Extremely important for the art self-definition is specialized press, in particular, art magazines ("Gallery").
Looking back on the past twenty years, we can quite certainly select two periods. First is short and bright blossom-time of transvanguard (1987-1993), completed by two significant events: the death of Oleg Golosij, "The Mozart of new Ukrainian wave", who personified in his creative work all tendency features; and the opening of the Centre of contemporary Art by George Soros (CCAS).
The last event was also a beginning of a second period. It was a time when western media-technologies break into Ukrainian art. Young CCAS, at the end of 1993, presented a project by "acknowledged leader of video-art" Vuddi Vasulok, who is Czech origin american. An art object creation and existence was understood in a new way. Since then, an expensive Ukrainian projects, leaded by curators, alternated with dimensioned educational displays of "leading western artists". The main figurants of the art scene begin being yesterday's transvanguard artists (Vasily Tzagolov, Arseniy Savadov, Oleg Tistol, Alexander Gnilitsky etc) and a new generation (Gleb Katchuk, Ivan Cupka, Olga Kashimbekova, Dmitry Dulfan etc). The circle of young curators-art-critics was formed (Nadejda Prigodich, Ekaterina Stukalova, Elena Mihailovskaya), a specialized galleries appeared ("Atelier Karas", "Blank-art", "L-art", "RA"), non-commercial projects were financed at the International Art fairs. Moreover, a specialized press appeared, but not frequently printed ("Parta", "Terra Incognita").
Very interesting to look into twenty-year-old art journals- they brightly characterize force alignment and the state of art-criticism of eighties and nineties, in other words, a situation "at the starting point". For example, some author in "Obrazotvorche Mistectvo" magazine naively analyzes a transvanguard canvas of Vasilij Tsagolov in quite a social-realistic manner from the "subject and form" aspect. Certainly, he was confused: the professional feeling does not allow him to ignore a prominent work, but it turns to nonsense. The situation inside the "innovators" environment, wished better: texts by Alexander Solovyov, a nowadays classic of art-critics, were turbid in sense, indistinct and intricate in expression. In general, a first half of nineties texts were inspired by opuses in Moscow conceptual art, which were taken too seriously by Ukrainian critics. Later on, in the second half of nineties, "Obrazotvorche Mistectvo" magazine already did not "lower itself" with the contemporary art reviews and analysis. It chose a specialization: national-patriotic orientated art of Ukrainian artists inside the country and abroad. The art, we are interested in, did not get to this category, and rather were seen as an enemy. It is surprisingly, because Ukrainian contemporary art itself never threw out from the sphere of interests neither Ukrainian present nor past. Moreover, it influenced well on "Obrazotvorche Mistectvo" magazine: its authors were forced to find new descriptive language for unrealistic works. The "national style", which they aimed to revive, was opposite to theory and practice, adopted by social realism. Therefore, shy attempts of the magazine to turn towards contemporary art are not surprising: it might be that studying of native modernism lead to an idea about succession of traditions.
From the other side, the critical texts from contemporary art environment of the nineties- the beginning of 2000's became more clear and subjective. Childish period had passed...
What is needed to be analyzed and criticized now? Maybe, there is nothing? And is there only heroic past is left? Is it possible to designate the beginning of 2000's as a new period, and if so, from what shall we start?
New generation came inside the art. But from the academy walls, which almost did not change since post-soviet times. Neither Vasilij Tsagolov and Yuriy Solomko nor any other famous Ukrainian contemporary artist were not invited to lecture there (even as an experiment!). The art of object, a media-installation and video art have no place in art education of Ukraine, where painting, sculpture and architecture reign until now. And a graphic design for the magazines and advertising. There is nowhere to find new art-critics. Same professionals tutor the appropriate disciplines (for example, basics of art-critisism) as in the beginning of nineties.
New generation of art-critics, as well as before, is cultivated only in contemporary art environment.
The other important component in art education - a museum, which is called to canonize artistic facts and phenomena, is much more hopeless. The display of 20th Century art, which is exhibited in the main museum- National Art Museum, possesses neither completeness nor objectivity. Four halls show quite good collection of avant-garde and "boychukists", a bit of "monumental sixties", modern-oriented Carpathians and Lvov inhabitants, an official line of social realism, metaphysical paintings of 70's and 80's... Together in one exhibition room are mysterious women of Grigory Gavrilenko, paintings of Nikolay Gluschenko that ablaze with color, lawful waves by Viktor Puzirkov and abrupt decorative canvases by Viktor Zaretsky. Certainly, there is no space for the art of 1980-2000 years in such a jumble. Moreover, it is difficult to imagine in this prudish art and sculpture space contemporary artworks.
The only one work that related to transvangardue is "Yes" by Oleg Golosiy, which meets the viewer on the stairs (and it does not belong to museum). The other tendencies in 20th century Ukrainian art are showed poorly or not exhibited at all. The problem is the room absence, although there are works in museum funds and in any case, they are signed in Ukrainian art history. However, the contemporary artworks in National Museum can be counted on fingers. In addition, the situation repeats oneself (or just does not change): as for arose up in 80's Ukrainian transvanguarde was a "postmodernism without modernism", so it is now for young artists and public, who meet the contemporary art anywhere, but just not in the museum.
Its formation takes place mainly in galleries and large exhibition projects. An important step was inclusion of Ukrainian contemporary art in catalogue "Ukrainian Art of 20th century"(1998), where it first time appeared as an equal phenomenon to modern art, avant-garde and social realism.
Galleries are still small islands for the "initiated", friends and acquaintances of artist. In addition, there are few in number enthusiasts, who buy artworks not for investment or as antique, but for please. Works are selling, known artists are not in need and galleries are multiplying ("Zeh", "Collectia" appeared lately and already began being famous). Endless talks about native art market has tired everybody, but left the question without answer. It is difficult to disagree that Ukrainian contemporary art is an export product. For example, to represent a country on Vien biennale. The inner market is half-legal and unstructured, without opportunity to realize noncommercial projects. In 2006, Pinchuk Art-centre (PAC) had tried to draw public attention to contemporary art consuming (CCAS had not been sponsored by Soros already), but its shameless luxury and self-representation make the idea unserious. An exhibition project transforms into sideshow in everyday routine. Although, every exhibition in PAC is large scaled and needs to be estimated and analyzed in detail. Indeed, there are still no reviews about essence, but plenty about emotions from the show.
The third period of Ukrainian contemporary art started around 2000 year and was signified by appearance of new names. However, is it a high-quality period? Is it possible for something to be new in postmodernism epoch? The "Old masters" of the end of 80's- the beginning of 90's grew into brands. They do knowable and bought product. Young artists base on the transvanguard tradition frequently (Rustam Mirzoev), on the art of object (Nataliya Marinenko), on computer programs (Alexey Say) and on the photography possibilities (Artem Volokitin). Their art is various and greatly differ from "erotic and brutal" (E.Stukalova) work of senior comrades. It is typical, that young generation, who gets across the gallery rooms into "noncommercial" spaces of Pinchuk Art Centre, does not overgrow into something principally different.
The local situation in Ukraine determines the originality of young artist due to uniqueness of certain phenomenon for Ukraine. An exception is a creative work by Alexey Say, which obtained a public acknowledgement right away. Say ironically plays with corporate culture with the help of Excel program. Cells of reports, graphs of product motion and payment bills create nice office scenes, luxurious still lives and exotic landscapes.
Symptomatically, that oil on canvas technique leads among a great number of artistic trends.
The thing is not only in conservative taste of an author or consumer but also in deep-rooted national stereotype that artist is a "painter" foremost, the one, who knows how to deal with canvas and brush. The founders of contemporary art canonized this opinion, and that is why the "Hamburg account" for the artist is professionalism in painting and drawing, with no attention to his creative sphere.
Debates around the place of Ukrainian art inside the international context, went to past, losing sharpness. Probably, 20th century Ukrainian art, except avant-garde, has little chances to get into the world artistic process. It is impossible to get world recognition only by interpreting the finds of international style, without offering own national product.
The inner situation, the own consciousness, a durable place inside the native institutions and the final recognition are very important for adequate development of contemporary art in Ukraine. It is necessary to blend inside the context of 20th century Ukrainian art, to legalize it, to show that it just seems that this phenomenon arose up from nowhere and developed fragmentary and irregularly. In fact, it organically grew from fundamentals of native artistic practice of past century. There is no break in tradition in the end of 80's, which still many art critics and artists become aware of. To accept oneself -it is the way to go over inferiority complex, to develop new artistic language, to find out individuality that we try to discern, comparing itself to others on the international forums.
As for the starting point of the third period, I would offer 2003 year. It is a date of the "First Collection" exhibition with its request to place in the museums a tradition from transvanguard to nowadays; also, it is an appearance of serious native interest in supporting arts. I believe, that the other lacunas in the system of Ukrainian contemporary art will be filled in.
The Art historian