I am a monument to myself...

© PinchukArtCentrekadan pinchukViktor Pinchuk and Nikita The PinchukArtCentre Prize - its jury, finalists and winners - is a never-ending and rich topic for discussions and critique. This year’s list of finalists and winners drew strong reactions and were, literally, a surprise for much of the art world. KORYDOR asked some of the members of this community to share their opinions.

Olga Balashova, lecturer at the National Academy of Fine Art and Architecture

Obviously, the results of the competition are justified and not arbitrary. It’s hard not to agree that both Nikita Kadan and Zhanna Kadyrova are leadings figures without whose creativity it’s nearly impossible to imagine young Ukrainian art. Serhiy Radkevych, in this sense, is second-rate compared to his colleagues, but his project for the exhibition truly deserves attention, leaving his selection not beyond exception. 

Such a strong result, however, isn’t so much a victory for Ukrainian art, as for the PinchukArtCentre, because in its fifth year the institution finally turned its attention to the local artistic context and began to take its features into account in their work. This is good news.  

If you try to look at the situation more globally than just the professional level of the institution organizing the national award, it becomes obvious that Ukrainian critical art (namely, it was crowned this time), is nothing more than a prop, a decorative element working for the noble image of its benefactors - people that can afford it. 

Ironically, due to the jury’s professionalism and fairness, Nikita Kadan, who in his work criticizes the exploitation of labor, himself unwittingly ended up in the role of exploiter of the workers who assembled his work for the exhibition, but chose not to notice this, and not to give up the prize for his convictions. 

Olesya Ostrovska-Lyuta
, curator, critic, project manager at the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation 

For me, the jury’s decision was unexpected. Unexpected, because it coincided too much with the mood within the Ukrainian professional environment. For example, compare the list of winners with the recently published issue of ArtUkraine magazine, in which Zhanna Karydova and Mykyta Kadan rank at the top among artists of their generation. I don’t want to absolutize ratings as such, because any rating seems very relative and variable, but if you consider the prize as a kind of rating, then it’s clear that the opinion of the domestic and international community coincided. This greatly legitimizes and affirms the PinchukArtCentre Prize in Ukraine, unlike last time, when the unexpected decision seemed inspired more by the exoticization of peripheral art, rather than the perception of the art itself and its (art’s) ability to communicate (this topic was discussed on KRAM).    

At the same time, the decision by the jury, which included Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Kate Bush, among others, affirms a whole circle or generation of artists that has a radically different vision of art than, say, the generation of the 90s. It seems to me that the group of artists associated with Mykyta Kadan and Zhanna Kadyrova see their art more as an intellectual practice than the creation of existential objects or objects that have an existential dimension, which, again, from my observations, is how the generation of the 90s sees (or experiences) art. Overall, I must say that I was happy with the list of this year’s winners of the PAC Prize because it did a good job highlighting how Ukrainian art has developed over the past 5-6 years. 

Tamara Zlobina, editor of the contemporary art and feminism section of the journal of social criticism “Commons”

I am disgusted by PAC. All the institution’s activities are aimed at creating symbolic capital for a Ukrainian oligarch, “cleaning up” his image as a post-Soviet mobster in the eyes of his Western colleagues in the billionaires club. PAC’s impact on the development of contemporary art in Ukraine is a side effect, whose positiveness is questionable, and it’s time to say this out loud. So far we only hear marginal (and indicatively, female) voices in social networks (also indicative) (I’m talking about Masha Pavlenko’s protest and Alevtina Kakhidze’s article).   

Enough of this pathos of asceticism, heroic defense of the contemporary and opposition to national socialist realism. Because while we’re carrying on and rejoicing, saying that finally our artists are being sold at foreign auctions, tolerating unashamed curatorial crap, because “you have to understand the situation,” we forget to question the very way art is created, its positioning in society, its sources of funding. I got a bit depressed while writing this and thinking about where the money came from. Pinchuk, Voronov, Erste Bank, after all, right now I’m writing for KORYDOR, whose activities were supported by a grant from Akhmetov’s Foundation and is now funded by donations from a charitable auction – that is, from the pockets of those same capitalists. 

I understand the logic of Ukrainian artists to take everyone’s money and use every opportunity to talk with the public, hoping that the projects will speak for themselves. I’m just afraid that the belief in the potential of critical art to overcome the context of its presentation is illusory. All these anti-capitalist projects in an oligarch’s competition, Degot’s speech at the awards ceremony – it’s neutralized criticism that PAC successful transforms into a joke for its large audience. And the highly artistic quality of the projects only strengthens the walls of the voluntary artistic ghetto.    

From a purely human perspective, I also understand that artists need money to live, why they participate in auctions, sales, etc. But high prices and awards remain a problem for me – why should a lucky worker of the sphere of art earn more than a worker of the sphere of trade? The privilege of the position of their social class, the ideological conditionality of this privilege – that’s another discussion topic that is missing in the Ukrainian artistic context.

A proper response by leftist artists to the activities of PAC should be solidary and publicly articulated disregard. Somehow Artur Belozerov manages to keep his marginal LabCombinat afloat and Alina Kopytsia made a remarkable series of actions called Troiandoshyttia (Rose Sewing) without any material support and institutional connections. Where are the rest of our independent spaces? There are enough flats, building entrances, squares.   

“Take the money and run” isn’t always a good strategy. Occupy. Occupy РАС, Art Arsenal, the Union of Artists, the Ministry of Culture. Because if we don’t start talking about socialistic ways to fund art, it will never happen.

Alisa Lozhkina, Editor-in-Chief of “ArtUkraine” magazine

Regarding second place – Zhanna Kadyrova is an artist worthy of the prize and I’m very happy with the jury’s choice.  As for the winner, I can only say that in my opinion, Mykyta Kadan is a phenomenon that hasn’t fully happened because right now he’s just following certain trends. Mykyta is a talented individual, but I think we should expect more from him – his search for his own (not invented or borrowed), true artistic identity. “Fitting” into the global context can’t be the ultimate objective for contemporary Ukrainian art. There must be quality and originality. And this, in my opinion, can be achieved not through artificial intellectualization of an art work, but through genuine artistic search. 

And finally, I have on numerous occasions said that I personally question the political position of an artist who, on the one hand, takes part in leftist movements, and on the other, accepts a prize from one of Ukraine’s biggest oligarchs. 

Ekaterina Stukalova, art critic

If you’re talking about the PinchukArtCentre 2011 People’s Choice Prize, it’s all crystal clear. In the two years since the first Pinchuk prize, the Centre has significantly expanded its audience. The People’s Choice Prize that went to Mykyta Shalennyi was awarded by ordinary people that traveled from their residential neighborhoods to stroll along Khreshchatyk. It’s no surprise that they voted for the brightest and trendiest work in the exhibition.   

Things are also more or less clear with the Special Prizes: Zhanna Kadyrova simply had to win at least one nomination because there is no other artist of her generation in Ukraine whose art is so organic, talented, and able to surprise, who has such a set of important works for her age, and international success. The project she presented at PAC is very good in the context of her creativity, but it would have hardly brought her victory by itself. It is obvious that Zhanna won a well-deserved and expected prize for “lifetime achievement”. 

It’s difficult to comment on the second Special Prize that went to Serhiy Radkevych. Little is known about the artist. I had never seen his work before. The information on the PAC website says he does street art, and he won the prize, as the jury put it, for his successful “juxtaposition of religious iconography with the language and form of street art.” It’s difficult to say whether it’s a successful combination of the artist’s coherent artistic concept or simply a random mix of PAC’s institutional capacity and an artist’s classical education.    

The Main Prize going to Nikita Kadan was probably the biggest intrigue of the event. Obviously, given the growth of political and social tension in the real world, critical and civic positions will inevitably become actual in art. In light of the widespread tendencies in our region to vandalism and iconoclasm during social and political disturbances, Nikita’s project raises some important issues, and definitely deserved the jury’s comment that it “reflects on the nature of history and memory, while pointing to the future.” But, by those same criteria, they could have given awards to Volodymyr Kuznetsov or Lesia Khomenko, whose projects were also closely connected with the spirit and lessons of history, but whose results, in my opinion, were more interesting and contemporary.

Olena Chervonik, art critic

I wanted to start my commentary with the clich?: “I don’t envy this year’s jury,” but then I realized that I do envy them. Selecting the winners from such a strong group of works would have been a great intellectual pleasure.

I wasn’t surprised by the three winners, but I was surprised by the order: Zhanna Kadyrova’s project was much stronger than Mykyta Kadan’s installation that raised the interesting social problem of the destruction of political monuments, but didn’t articulate it clearly.  

The architectural design, as Kadan explained during one of the PAC Saturday Talks, was supposed to represent the notion of the Soviet monument which grew to gigantic proportion and dislodged its own hero from its pedestal. But without the artist’s explanation, the work was interpreted quite differently. The form and dimensions of the design could have been read within the megalomania of Stalinist architecture, so-called “wedding style architecture” - as the multi-tiered Stalinist buildings are ironically called in Western art studies circles. Construction of such “wedding cakes” was based in a variation of the theme of the myth of the tower of Babel: workers of all countries should unite and build their path to Soviet paradise – communism. Stalinist megalomaniac architecture was, first and foremost, a symbol of the unity of the proletariat.              

Then how should we interpret the placement of this symbol alongside a chronicle of the destruction of monuments that demonstrates an ideological split in Ukrainian society? Is this also a call to unite antagonistic ideologies? Is this a demonstration that the utopian myth of a single proletariat paradise on earth failed? 

The criticality that Kadan so strives for is localized in the language of the artist, not in the work he created. The verbal prevails over the visual, and the artist yields to the orator. The installation consists of an arbitrary set of symbols that don’t produce a clear statement. The variety of readings don’t reflect a constructive polysemy, but rather ambiguity, where possible interpretations don’t overlap, but cancel each other.      

Kadyrova’s project stands out because of the constructive multidimensionality in which you can simultaneously read an attempt to develop formal artistic tasks and social commentary. Kadyrova’s undeniable advantage is her ability to transform everyday materials, such as tiles or asphalt, into new artistic language. She doesn’t just construct artistic symbols in a gallery space, she creates new paradigms, means that can be used to formulate a variety of messages. I’m sure that Kadyrova’s project will be continued, while Kadan’s work will remain a one time, unclearly articulated statement.

Larissa Babij
, curator, critic, participant in experimental projects

Mykyta Kadan deserved the PAC 2011 main prize for his long-term work. The feeling of discomfort arises from the incompatibility of a socially active leftist position that he proclaims in his artistic activities and PAC’s solid economic foundation and its tendency to present mostly expensive speculative (market) art. How can there be cooperation between these two apparently contradictory positions?

Perhaps these positions aren’t so far from one another as five years ago when both Kadan and PAC began their activities, which in each case was based on a somewhat romanticized idea about contemporary art and its ideal (ethical and aesthetic) power/potential.

Today throughout the world (from Ukraine to the USA) it’s important to talk more openly about the material conditions in which critical thinking takes place – such as (but not only) in contemporary art. How can rich institutions and independent “art workers” cooperate? Do the priciples on which each of them stand rule out the possibility of helping one another? If so, then what new economic systems could better support life and thoughts?

The potential of contemporary art is the ablity to express a unique vision of the world (the artistic position) that the artist proposes the viewers. That’s how the audio sculpture by Ivan Svitlychyny – whose work I learned about thanks to his year’s exhibition at PAC – works. His work doesn’t raise any social, political, institutional or ideological discourses, instead it transfers the artist’s energy and research interest, invites the viewer to discover the personal experience of multidimensional perception.

Today we’re seeing paradigmal shifts in life and art. We live in a world that wants reorganization, in which you can’t predict its direction of development. Holding on to existing structures – ideological, economic, institutional, etc. – regardless of whether you’re “for” or “against” doesn’t matter. Art is taking a step into the unknown, and we have all become artists and we have to deal with the unknown.      

Oleksiy Radynski, editor of the Ukrainian edition of the “Krytyka Polityczna” magazine

I lost interest in this year’s Pinchuk Prize as soon as I learned that Zhanna Kadyrova won’t win the main prize. Whatever the reason behind the jury’s non-decision, it’s nothing but curious. Kadyrova’s works crushed the competition – the rest of the shortlisted works seemed helpless next to it.      

Kadyrova’s asphalt was evidence that art can still be, pardon the word, true. Not in terms of the nonsense about “real art”, but because it speaks the truth about our present moment, it postulate the political truth that, figuratively speaking, we have ended up before a piece of deaf, dark asphalt cut out of our shared sidewalk and displayed for public viewing in a private gallery of posh toys.   

This work is an example of total, all-encompassing social criticism (fortunately, Zhanna probably didn’t realize this, otherwise it wouldn’t have turned out so well). Such critical art can’t be disarmed with awards or positioning in an oligarchic context – it looks at it from above like at a spat-out wad of gum. If the embodiment of the social situation before the last social upheaval (perestroika) was, as Sorokin recently put it: “a gray wall made of cheap Soviet concrete,” then the embodiment of the present capitalist stagnation are these squares of fresh, sleek, “European”, but completely non-functional asphalt.      

Speaking about the award as such, the only positive result of this year’s edition is its politicization. Even Victor Pinchuk was forced to follow Mykola Ridny and use the taboo word “capitalism” (scandalous! What “capitalism”? In the civilized world it’s called “normal market relations”!) during the awards ceremony. The overall outcome is that critical art has established hegemony, let it be local and possibly temporary. It’s time to finally put an end to talk about whether “true leftist” art can take part in ethically flawed initiatives. “True leftists” can spray spit from their underground, but now is a defining moment for critical art in Ukraine – to see whether it can seize the opportunity of its hegemony and present society with its challenges (even if through the mediation of oligarchic art institutions). 

On December 9, 2011, the PinchukArtCentre announced laureates of the PinchukArtCentre Prize 2011 based on the decision of the international jury members. The winner of the Main Prize becomes Mykyta Kadan for his work “Pedestal. The Practice of Exclusion”. The finalist has been awarded UAH 100 thousand and one month residence in a studio of an internationally renowned artist. Additionally, Mykyta is automatically included in the short list of the Future Generation Art Prize - international prize for young artists.

The first Special Prize of the PinchukArtCentre Prize 2011 went to Zhanna Kadyrova and the second Special Prize was awarded to Serhiy Radkevych. The laureates receive UAH 25 thousand each and one month residence in a studio of one of the world’s leading artists. The Public Choice Prize of UAH 10 000 went to Mykyta Shalennyi for his series of works “Loneliness”.