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Henry M. Robert

Diplomats and contemporary art

The Ambassador of Italy Fabrizio ROMANO: “Ukrainian and Italian collection will adorn the buildings of our embassy and Institute of Culture from now on”
8 October, 2013 - 10:47

Achille Bonito OLIVA, a legendary art historian, critic, and founder of trans-avant-garde was the honorary guest at the exhibit’s opening day.

“The Embassy of Italy and the Institute of Italian Culture in Ukraine decided to create their own ‘Collection of Contemporary Art,’ which will present selected artworks by Italian and Ukrainian artists. The creating of the collection was initiated by the Ambassador of Italy Fabrizio Romano. Today we are opening the Ukrainian part of the exhibit, which includes about 60 pieces, among which the works by such famous artists as Oleksandr Dubovyk, Lucien Dulfan, Pavlo Makov and others. The collection covers a 50-year span of contemporary Ukrainian art. It was provided and is supervised jointly with Stedley Art Foundation, which has organized numerous international projects aimed at promotion of Ukrainian contemporary art,” Nicola Franco BALLONI, director of the Italian Institute of Culture in Ukraine, told The Day.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy has been working on its own collection since the 1990s, and now it is perhaps one of the most fascinating and full collections of modern art in our country, and works by prominent Italian modern artists have been adorning the ministry’s building for two decades now,” Romano says. “I am sure that this Ukrainian and Italian collection, which will adorn the buildings of our embassy and Institute of Culture from now on, will not only intensify the bilateral cultural dialog, but also become an important contribution to the consolidation of friendship between our countries. I want to give special thanks to the renowned Ukrainian collector Stella Beniaminova, without whose help this project would have never been implemented.”

Italy and Ukraine have had strong connections, especially in the areas of music, art, and literature. A number of artistic styles and movements came to Ukraine from Italy. Baroque, futurism, and trans-avant-garde became especially close for us, since they revealed the southern vitality, dynamic picture of the world, and internal dramatic nature, inherent in both nations.

There is another aspect of Ukraine’s special attitude towards Italy as a Mediterranean country with the dominating spirit of liberty and love for freedom. In the 19th century it was the ideal which Ukraine strived to achieve in its dreams for independence. Artists traveled there “for light and air,” numerous antique monuments, and for the sake of communication with like-minded people from various countries. And in the Russian Empire Ukraine was even considered “second Italy,” with its special flavor, customs, folk types, and what is the most important, free atmosphere and independent character of its inhabitants. Lesia Ukrainka wrote once that “I see something in common between the history and literature of Ukraine and Italy,” and she did it for a reason. The exhibit is based on this fundamental principle of freedom, which is expressed in the cultures of both countries.

“The works from 1960 to 2000 represent unofficial Soviet Ukrainian art as well as new trends, which are characterized by close ties with the European tradition, desire for freedom of artistic self-expression, and avoiding any ideological pressure. Classics of domestic art of the second half of the 20th century addressed the universal values, perceived through the prism of the national mentality and historical experience,” said Oksana BARSHYNOVA, art historian, head of the 20th and early 21st century art department at the National Art Museum of Ukraine. “The exhibit starts to unfold with Italian motifs, apparent in works of Pavlo Makov and Oleksandr Matviienko. The etchings of fantasy landscapes by this leading master of contemporary graphic art are based on specific quotes from classic art. And the author literally appeals to the image of labyrinth as the leitmotif of the European tradition in his grand composition from the series “Gardens.” In his pop art version of shots from his favorite films by Fellini, Matviienko presents pieces from the half-realized, half-experienced flow of impressions, colored with various emotions and feelings. It is noteworthy that in both cases the artists treat these topics as close and well-known, inseparable from their own perception of the world.”

The theme of common space of Christian culture has been revealed in paintings of an extremely appealing artist Vahan Ananyan, who was the leader of Kyiv art scene in the 1980s. His expressive images of the Virgin and Child and saint warriors remind of the early Renaissance works, and at the same time are the “anticipation” of the new postmodern tendencies in Ukrainian art with their recognized closeness to Italian trans-avant-garde. Birds over the City by Dmytro Kasatkin look not only like messengers from other worlds in this context, but also like recognizable quotes from gilded mosaics in medieval Italian churches.

Representatives of Ukrainian unofficial art, Alla Horska and Ernest Kotkov, defended their own territory of freedom. While addressing the tradition of monumental art of “boichukists,” they did not merely renew the artificially broken ties, but also immersed into global culture, in particular in proto-Renaissance, which Mykhailo Boichuk and his followers included in their system during the 1920s-1930s. Parajanov and Muse by Kotkov depicts the famous director of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors with his wife as two like-minded people, united by a common sense of beauty and art. Andrii Bludov gives a modern interpretation of Ukrainian ethnography by creating a peculiar palimpsest through layering two different means of expression, photography and painting.

Italian cities and countryside, the bright southern sun, typical Italian cityscapes are presented in paintings by Serhii Zhyvotkov and Iryna Makarova-Vysheslavska. Images of heavenly patrons in Ananyan’s interpretation next to Zhyvotkov’s painting give the generalized image of Venice a special air of dream city, an ideal city that is being kept safe under their watchful protection.

Kyivite Oleksandr Dubovyk, who created his own system of visual signs, is one of the most fascinating underground artists. His works demonstrate a gradual assembly of an individual art language, from delicate and very lyrical images of natural shapes to laconic and picturesque formulas where the monumental artist’s experience was combined with intellectual interpretation of iconographic and avant-garde classics.

A number of works in the collections are united by the theme of biblical history and ancient mythology, the key elements of European culture. And although they belong to different stylistic trends, chosen motifs, and generations of artists, The Kiss by Lucien Dulfan, Satyr and Nymph by Vasyl Miazin, and cinematographic in its origins Rehearsal by Oleksandr Matviienko become a conversation about the most important things: fate, choice, life collisions.

Various images of cultural memory are found in works by Matvey Vaisberg (Creation) and Valerii Shkarupa (Mesopotamia). The authors reinterpret the notion of the civilization’s origins in their own way as a gradual filling out and expansion of abstract forms.

Artists of the 1960s-1980s resorted to abstract or figurative art of various trends, which were popular in Europe at that time, to overcome cultural limitations imposed by the Iron Curtain. Their views, aspirations, and attitudes towards art were developed by artists of the 1990s-2000s, who consolidated the notion of art as a territory for independent self-expression and a bridge between various countries and epochs. The exhibition of Ukrainian contemporary art, created by the Embassy of Italy and Italian Institute of Culture in Ukraine, tells about the most important humanistic values: personal freedom and respect for common cultural memory.

By Tetiana POLISHCHUK, photos by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day