Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Ukrainian art and European choice

Winners of young artists’ competition MUKHi 2017 announced in Kyiv
4 December, 2017 - 17:37
Photo courtesy of the organizers of the exhibit

MUKHi (a Ukrainian acronym that stands for “young Ukrainian artists and...” and is consonant with “mukhi” – “flies”) is a competition founded by gallerist and curator Maryna Shcherbenko and held since 2009. Anyone aged up to 35 can take part in the contest except for those who have already won in it. For, as a rule, finalists become very well known artists not only in Ukraine and compete with noted masters.

“The cause is a fair selection of competitors,” comments Oksana BARSHYNOVA, chief, 20th-early-21st-century art research department, National Art Museum of Ukraine; teacher of the contemporary art history, national Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture, Ukraine.

This year Barshynova is a member of the contest’s international expert commission for the second time in a row. In addition to her, the jury includes Jerzy Onuch, ex-director of the Contemporary Art Center at Kyiv Mohyla Academy and the Polish Institute in Kyiv; gallerists Tetiana Tumasian (Kharkiv), Gunnar Kvaran (Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo), and Oleksandra Homeniuk (Hales Gallery, London/New York).

“Competition experts are trying to be as unbiased as possible. We do not even take into account the space in which the contest finalists’ exhibit may be opened. I myself saw the exposition at the Taras Shevchenko Museum during the vernissage only. It was very interesting,” Barshynova says.

MUKHi were exhibited at the Taras Shevchenko for the first time. Before that, finalists’ exhibits had been held at the Institute of Contemporary Art. This year the contest has received 456 applications from young authors in various regions of Ukraine. The organizers have selected a dozen of projects instead of the planned 10.

“In 2015, many of the contestants explored the themes of war and traumas as well as of the current sociopolitical situation. Now the young authors have addressed the same problems more subtly. Almost all of them dropped straightforward options. In spite of a young age, many of the current participants know very well how to put their ideas across,” Barshynova emphasized. “And 12 finalists were the result of an unusual consensus of the experts.”

Yet Barshynova is too diplomatic in her appraisals. In reality, according to a well-known national tradition, MUKHi nominees strove to evade altogether acute social issues and even the topic of war. Both the “stars” and the totally unknown short-listed authors preferred “pure” art to the topics of the day. For example, Kinder Album (Lviv) presented a very impressive cycle of analogue photographs, “Not My Hotel,” in which hotel rooms symbolize the fluidity of time. Dmytro Chervonyi (Hlevakha, Kyiv oblast) turned to the theme of a “little man.” He placed his India-ink-drawn “heroes” under a magnifying glass, as if it were a microscope. In the installation “While I Am Young, I Make Bad Works” (with a toy speaking parrot), the Odesa-based Mykola Karabinovych makes play with Oleksandr Brener’s classical performance “Why Didn’t They Invite Me to this Exhibition?”

The MUKHi 2017 grand prix was awarded to “Hollywood-Troieshchyna,” a project by Mykhailo Alekseienko (Kyiv). The artist, who was physically in Troieshchyna, hoaxed his colleagues and acquaintances by means of social media and convinced them that he worked on contract in… Hollywood. The award for this ironic mockumentary was 40,000 hryvnias and a trip of Alekseienko himself not exactly to Los Angeles but to quite a real FUTURA art residency in the Czech Republic. Incidentally, the artist’s 2018 exhibit will be also held in Kyiv’s Shcherbenko Art Center.

Two special prizes (15,000 hryvnias each) went to photo artists: the Odesa-based Oleh Dymov for the conceptualistic photo project “Document of a Condition” and Kyivite Maria Proshkovska for “Sensitiveness,” a cycle of nude self-portraits.

MUKHi makes it possible to see with your own eyes how the young contemporary art of Ukraine is changing. “Even in comparison with 2015, there are fewer traditional techniques in and approaches to the exposition,” competition curator Maryna SHCHERBENKO says. “Today, the oeuvre of our artists mirrors contemporary worldwide trends by a hundred percent. The Ukrainians are integrated into the worldwide art space and can well compete with their Western counterparts.”

Among the traditional downsides, there is an incredible deal of kitsch (I mean the bulk of the participants, not the finalists). The “young ones” are trying to spread around the well-known techniques. They are reproducing somebody else’s ideas… But this must be the common feature of young people in any epoch, who are looking for their own way in art.

Ukrainian young artists are extensively working in Europe today, not only at our contest. And this poses a certain problem. They are losing touch with the “inner” context. And, as a result, they address European, not Ukrainian, problems. Conversely, searching for new names in the national contemporary art and integrating these artists into the national art milieu still remains MUKHi’s goal.