Arsenale 2012 – Kiev Gets Its First Biennale

Posted filed underContemporary Art, Festivals, Ukraine.


A thoughtful exhibition unites works by Ukraine’s homegrown artists with major installations by Ai Weiwei and Louise Bourgeois at Kiev’s first biennale.

The Telegraph reports that “Arsenale 2012 takes place in an old weapons arsenal on a pretty hilltop street that overlooks a sea of apartment blocks typical of cities of former Soviet states. Peace and quiet is broken only by the solemn chime of church bells from the adjacent monastery … Unsurprisingly, the locals are not over the moon about their new neighbour, which aims to attract some 30,000 globetrotting art pilgrims in its debut summer.

Unsurprisingly, the locals are not over the moon about their new neighbour, which aims to attract some 30,000 globetrotting art pilgrims in its debut summer. It is no-doubt hoping to piggyback off the influx of tourists for the Uefa Euro Cup 2012 being co-hosted in the Ukrainian capital next month. The labyrinthine 50,000 square meter warehouse, now called ‘Arsenale’, is showing nearly 250 contemporary art installations including work by Chinese activist Ai Weiwei and the Ukraine’s own rebel artist Boris Mikhailov, whose explicit and often erotic documentary photographs parodied the ideal of the Soviet lifestyle, heralding a new wave of critical practice in the post-Soviet state – and propelling the artist to international fame.

On route to the biennale I had wondered if the multi-million pound exhibition could possibly silence its critics. It has been part-funded by the government of a country where a third of the population lives below the poverty line. The ministers have no doubt had a heavy hand in its organisation too; when I arrived to see a new exhibition at the Kiev National Museum (not officially part of the biennale, but organised to coincide with it), a contemporary artist was already removing her installation, at the request of the Culture Minister, on grounds of bad taste.

The nationalistic incentive behind this event is no secret. Twenty-two of the 99 artists who are being represented in the main exhibition are Ukranian-born. Many of Ukraine’s successful artists – like their writers, among them ‘The Master and Marguerita’ author Mikhail Bulgakov who was born in Kiev – are perceived by the world at large as being Russian. By presenting these artists alongside international giants like American Paul McCarthy and Japanese Yayoi Kusama, the Ukraine can hope to re-claim their lost identity. ”

Read on at the Telegraph.