Art and Oligarchy

In Kiev we spontaneously walked into Pintschuk Art Center, which is named after and financed by Ukrainian oligarch Wiktor Pintschuk. The fact that an oligarch exercises control over the most influential Ukrainian modern arts museum sounds problematic. Art is supposed to be critical and should be able to freely and independently question society, the term oligarch denotes the opposite of this idea. Or does this thought interpret too much into this exhibition that felt more like a commercial feel-good exhibition (in spite of its heavy topics) than like a political statement?

To begin with: Who is Wiktor Pintschuk? After Ukraine’s independence in 1991, a small circle of business tycoons managed to accumulate a significant part of the country’s GDP and with it political and societal power. One of them is Wiktor Pintschuk who is believed to be the second richest person in today’s Ukraine. Also, he is married to the daughter of former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, owns a philanthropic foundation, the Wiktor Pintschuk foundation, and was a member of Ukrainian parliament between 1998 and 2006. His biography sounds like a textbook oligarch’s biography: Industrial engineer in steel business who made the “right” financial decisions after the collapse of the Soviet Union, gets involved in the production of rail car wheels, pipes and tubes, specialty steels, alloys and other machines, media as well as politics and philanthropy. The list of Pintschuk’s philanthropic endorsements is long and contains many high-profile cooperation partners such as the Clinton Foundation, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Steven Spielberg and many others. While he supported Wiktor Janukowitsch and the Party of the Regions during the Orange Revolution, he later turned towards a pro-EU position, founded the Yalta European Strategy (YES) in 2004 and also supported the Maidan protests.

The exhibition Fragile State shows the art works of the following artists: Marina Abramovic, Jan Fabre, Urs Fischer, Douglas Gordon, Damien Hirst, Carlos Motta, Oscar Murillo, Santiago Sierra, Barthelemy Toguo and Ai Weiwei; internationally well-known artists. We can consequently assume that a lot of money was invested into the exhibition. The title Fragile State reminds of the concept of failed states but does not pick up on this topic. Rather the title seems to play with this ambiguity: “It provokes conversations linking the fragility of our body and mind, and the fragility of ideologies and historical understandings. It draws parallels between the fragility of youth and that of a country at war conflict or the fragility of life and that of a State at risk.” (see website)



The first thing we noticed was the strict security check at the entrance which did not correspond to the fact that otherwise security was very, very relaxed. Security at the entrance seemed focused on searching bags and confiscating anything that could be used as a weapon (even plastic bottles) while people were allowed to touch the art pieces inside of the exhibition. Many selfies were taken kissing Ai Weiwei’s Lego installation and the atmosphere in the museum could be described as a laid-back see-and-be-seen. People were dressed up and took more pictures of themselves with the pieces of art than of the art pieces.

The art works touch on many serious topics like Tschernobyl , HIV and Ebola, conflict and border. Douglas Gordon’s work, The End of Civilisation, for instance, shows a piano being burned at the Scottish-English border. Another video installation shows two people with radiation protection suits simulating sex moves in a deserted town (probably Tschernobyl). Nothing hints at the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Maybe this is the reason for the feel-good atmosphere despite these serious issues.

The highlight seemed to be the performance Generator of Marina Abramovic. The security guards at the very long line on the fourth of the four floors explained that we should wait until it was our turn. Then, each should enter separately and we would be deprived of our senses. We did not know what to expect and would not find out because the line was too long. We already felt so overwhelmed by all the new impressions of Ukraine – not primarily of the exhibition – that, having heard of Abramovic’s performances, we feared the experience to be too intense. To avoid an emotional breakdown we decided to have dinner.


Ein Gedanke zu “Art and Oligarchy

  1. Pingback: Im Dunkeln Tappen – und wie die Journalisten von „Hromadske“ damit umgehen | viadrina goes ukraine. Exkursion 2017

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