Russian Art to Have Its Day in Kiev

BloombergViktor Pinchuk
KIEV — Viktor Pinchuk, a billionaire known for his collection of Western artists such as Damien Hirst and Andreas Gurksy, is turning to Russia for his latest show.

The steel tycoon opened the largest exhibition of Russian contemporary art in Ukraine's post-Soviet history at the same time when the Kiev and Moscow governments were battling over natural gas sales.

"Art doesn't have boundaries," Pinchuk said in an interview at his Kiev art center. "Ukraine is a place where art tendencies can intersect, coexist and enrich one another."

The 48-year-old industrialist built up his multimillion-dollar collection between 2005 and 2008 as art prices were pushed higher by Russian buyers. He wants his shows to enrich Ukraine, where ministers have blamed Russia for the country having remained one of the poorest in Europe.

Pinchuk's latest show, "21 Russia," features works supplied by galleries of 21 Russian artists including Dubossarsky and Vinogradov, Alexei Kallima, the Blue Noses, AES+F, Valery Koshlyakov and Dmitry Gutov.

Alexander Soloviev, Pinchuk's curator, said that while the display is a survey of leading artists during Vladimir Putin's era, there is nothing political about it.

"It's about art for art's sake," Soloviev said.

Still, one work has a political tint. Sergei Shekhovtsov's "Throne" is a 3-meter-high Styrofoam installation of a tsar's throne. It premiered at XL Gallery in Moscow in March last year, on the day of the elections that were denounced by pro-democracy campaigners for being under control of the Kremlin.

"Throne" is capped by mock video surveillance cameras, possibly a reference to the increased powers of security forces since Putin, a former KGB colonel, came to power.

Alexei Kallima's "Terek-Chelsea" (2005) is a 5-meter canvas that shows the Chechen football team defeating the English club owned by billionaire Roman Abramovich. In reality, the two sides never played each other. Terek was the Russian national soccer champion in 2004.

"It's easy to put East European art into a bracket, as if to say, 'They're wacky East European artists,'" said Ruth Addison, general director of Triumph Gallery in Moscow, which owns the Kallima work. "To show it along with Western art makes people question values and make comparisons."

Pinchuk also opened a show of works by British photographer Sam Taylor-Wood, including self-portraits from 2004 that show her suspended in air. The harness that held her has been digitally removed to give the impression of levitation.

Also featured is the world premiere of a video portrait of Ukrainian boxing world champions Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko. "3-minute Round" is a single work with side-by-side video portraits of the brothers, who are friends with Pinchuk.

"I've always been interested in boxing and these big powerful men and wanted to capture the moment of either victory or defeat after the fight," said Taylor-Wood. "Thank goodness they won."

Visitors were most impressed by Taylor-Wood's "Sigh" (2008), a 15-meter video installation with eight screens showing the BBC Concert Orchestra. While the music is heard, the performers have no instruments and are miming.

"The musicians were confused and reluctant when I asked them to do this," said Taylor-Wood. "They had to have exact physical memory of the music. I didn't want them to use instruments."

"Sigh" premiered at the White Cube gallery in London in October, and this is the second time it has been shown.

Pinchuk is a client of White Cube, whose owner, Jay Jopling, attended the opening.

Pinchuk owns 12 works by Taylor-Wood in the current exhibition. Taylor-Wood is represented by White Cube, as is German photographer Gursky and British artist Hirst.

"Please, no questions about purchases and money," Pinchuk said before we started the interview.