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Masterpieces made of cardboard, wood, and stone

The Blue Gallery of Tbilisi is hosting works by Ukrainian artist Oleksandr Zhyvotkov
12 February, 2018 - 16:32
Photo from Oleksandr ZHYVOTKOV’s private archive

The renowned National Gallery of Georgia, where guests of Tbilisi get acquainted with the masterpieces of Niko Pirosmani, Lado Gudiashvili, Elene Akhvlediani, and David Kakabadze, has admitted to its premises an exhibition of a Ukrainian master, namely Oleksandr Zhyvotkov, who named the exhibit “Cardboard. Wood. Stone.”

The event is organized by Stella Beniaminova of the Stedley Art Foundation with the support of the Embassy of Ukraine in Georgia. They had done a lot of preparatory and diplomatic work and published an English-language catalog before the works (50 in total) reached their destination in the Tbilisi Museum of Modern Art after going over land and sea. The museum, which is a magnificent oasis of culture, was founded in 1917-20 by the artist and cultural scholar Dimitri Shevardnadze, and reconstructed and modernized in 2012.

In the artistic circles of Ukraine, Zhyvotkov has long been known as a distinctive master of painting. Beginning in 2007, the artist has experimented with non-traditional materials – cardboard, paper, gauze, sand, earth, soot, stone, and has convincingly mastered them. This artistic “reconnaissance mission” is not an end in itself for the author, but a way to increase the expressiveness of each new work and to activate the viewer’s perception. Paintings on canvas, on wooden boards, as well as on other materials that are artistically transformed by hand and fantasy of the master, and his sculptural objects – all of them are subordinated to the eternal dialog between existence and non-existence. Zhyvotkov is a rare phenomenon in that he is both artist and philosopher, and has extraordinary knowledge in the field of humanity’s prehistoric culture. He courageously looks at the undisclosed secrets of Nothing and Ideal. Back in the late 1980s, he discovered his own sign system as a painter, which includes fish, figure or head of a woman, cross, bird, etc. This symbolism, which you will always find in all his works, obviously resonates with the archaic images of Christian iconography. It is no accident that the Georgian audience saw and felt an obvious affinity between Zhyvotkov’s exhibition and their native archaic. The Ukrainian artist shares a language with any Georgian who treasures the 5th-6th-century temples and culture of that people. At the same time, the creator’s artistic form, in which the universal human meanings are encrypted, is obviously avant-garde and belongs to the 21st century. This is a wonderful paradox of this artistic phenomenon.

The Ukrainian delegation met, besides art connoisseurs and lovers, famous Georgian artists in the four rooms of the museum during the crowded exhibition. The event’s opening, which started with a solemn speech by the first general director of the National Museum of Georgia David Lordkipanidze, attracted attention of People’s Artists of Georgia Zurab Nizheradze, Teimuraz Murvanidze, Loretta Shangelia-Abashidze, and others. A large delegation came from Italy. It was headed by Professor Nicola Franco Balloni. In Ukraine, the director (until 2017) of the Italian Institute of Culture at the Italian Embassy is well known among musicians, artists, philologists, and diplomats.

The artistic masterpieces of Zhyvotkov which are now on loan in the Blue Gallery of Tbilisi bring viewers to the state of spiritual exaltation and sound like Johann Sebastian Bach’s chorals.

The emotional range of images on display is quite broad, reaching from prayerful concentration (images of the Madonna) to a dramatic fall into the abyss of exit (the Crucifixion of Christ). The master’s hand has created a truly magical field.

The highest assessment of Zhyvotkov’s work was offered by the Georgian audience. Academician Murvanidze said: “Modernism has existed for over a century. It would seem that it is impossible to discover something new in it without quoting from the great avant-garde artists. However, Zhyvotkov has managed to add a distinctive new page to this system of art.”

By Olha PETROVA, art critic