[artinfo] Who Benefits? Sabotage of the Ukrainian Presentation at the Venice Biennale

Jerzy Onuch onuch@cca.kiev.ua
Fri, 23 Mar 2001 15:48:29 +0100


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Jerzy (Yuri) Onuch
Curator

Who Benefits? Sabotage of the Ukrainian Presentation at the Venice Biennale

Ten years of independence have not rid Ukraine neither of Soviet style 
institutions nor Soviet style behavior. The latest victim may well be 
Ukraine's first appearance at the Venice Biennale, an event due to open in 
three months.

In October, 2000, I was appointed curator of the Ukrainian presentation by 
Mr Evhen Karas, officially designated commissioner for the Biennale by the 
Ministry of Arts and Culture. Today (March 22nd) I learned, through a news 
item in a Kyiv newspaper, which quotes a press communique of the Cabinet of 
Ministers dated March 20th, that on March 15th the Cabinet appointed a new 
commissioner, that a new curator has been designated and a new art project 
chosen to represent Ukraine at the Biennale. I was neither notified that my 
appointment was being reconsidered nor have the artists I chose for the 
Biennale been told to stop work on their project.

This latest development in what has been termed "the Biennale scandal" 
follows the publication, on February 15, 2001, of an open letter to the 
Minister of Arts and Culture from the Artists' Union, published in 
Literaturna Ukraina (the official paper of the Writers' Union). The letter 
called on the Minister and the Vice Premier to dismiss the official 
commissioner and me ---  the official curator of the Biennale presentation. 
Issue was made of my non-Ukrainian status (I hold both Canadian and Polish 
citizenship but have been working in Kyiv since 1997).

The letter does not mention that it was I who initiated the idea for 
Ukraine's participation in the 49th Venice Biennale and convinced both the 
Minister of Arts and Culture --- Bohdan Stupka and the Vice Premier for 
Humanitarian Affairs - Mykola Zhulynsky ---  to make an official submission 
the Biennale. In September, 2000, the Ministry of Arts and Culture 
announced its decision to participate in the Biennale and appointed Evhen 
Karas, an advisor to the Minister, as the commissioner; Mr Karas chose me 
as the curator, a choice approved by the Minister. Work on preparing the 
presentation began immediately - a working group of six persons was 
organized and the artists - Ihor Podolchak and Ihor Dyurych of the Masoch 
Fund ---  were chosen. The organization of the Ukrainian presentation was 
thoroughly open and public - press releases were issued and press 
conferences organized to announce each step of the Venice initiative; the 
process received widespread media attention.

But problems were brewing in the background; not everyone accepted the 
rules of the Biennale. Attempts to put forward a so-called alternative 
presentation were made by Mr Valentyn Raievsky and his friends, backed by 
support of the Parliamentary Committee on Culture and Spiritual Affairs. 
When informed by the Ministry of Arts and Culture that it had no authority 
in this matter, the Committee backed off.

When most of the preparatory work for the Biennale presentation had been 
done, the Artists' Union moved in with its open letter and usurped the 
project, insisting that it was the only body with the exclusive right to 
make decisions about who is to represent Ukrainian art at international 
festivals. The interests of an organization set up under Stalin's regime to 
control artistic activities in the USSR became more important than 
professionalism and competency.

It seems that the Artists' Union succeeded in pressuring Vice Premier 
Mykola Zhulynsky to have the Cabinet of Ministers appoint another 
commissioner. He is to be Oleksandr Fedoruk, head of the State Agency for 
the Control of the Transfer of Cultural Treasures Outside Ukraine, while 
the new curator is to be Mr Valentyn Raievsky.  Quoted in the above news 
item, Mr Raievsky smears me and questions my motives for being in Kyiv: 
"How is it that we have left our borders so unprotected that we don't know 
who is working on our territories and with what aim?" (Ukrainske Slovo, 
March 22).

In initiating Ukraine's presentation at the Venice Biennale, I wanted to 
show that Ukraine can take part in artistic discourse with the rest of the 
world. Unfortunately, I discovered that this society has many entrenched 
interests unwilling to give up their Soviet-type control and their perks. 
In challenging the monopoly of institutions like the Union of Artists for 
the sake of the independence of art, I have been thrust onto the political 
stage to fight for Ukrainian art, for the freedom of expression and for an 
open society. I appeal to the art community to express solidarity with 
those who believe that art can only flourish in a society that values 
freedom and openness.

Kyiv, March 22, 2001


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<html>
Jerzy (Yuri) Onuch <br>
Curator <br>
<br>
<b>Who Benefits? Sabotage of the Ukrainian Presentation at the Venice
Biennale</b> <br>
<br>
Ten years of independence have not rid Ukraine neither of Soviet style
institutions nor Soviet style behavior. The latest victim may well be
Ukraineís first appearance at the Venice Biennale, an event due to open
in three months. <br>
<br>
In October, 2000, I was appointed curator of the Ukrainian presentation
by Mr Evhen Karas, officially designated commissioner for the Biennale by
the Ministry of Arts and Culture. Today (March 22nd) I learned, through a
news item in a Kyiv newspaper, which quotes a press communique of the
Cabinet of Ministers dated March 20th, that on March 15th the Cabinet
appointed a new commissioner, that a new curator has been designated and
a new art project chosen to represent Ukraine at the Biennale. I was
neither notified that my appointment was being reconsidered nor have the
artists I chose for the Biennale been told to stop work on their project.
<br>
<br>
This latest development in what has been termed &quot;the Biennale
scandal&quot; follows the publication, on February 15, 2001, of an open
letter to the Minister of Arts and Culture from the Artistsí Union,
published in Literaturna Ukraina (the official paper of the Writersí
Union). The letter called on the Minister and the Vice Premier to dismiss
the official commissioner and me ---&nbsp; the official curator of the
Biennale presentation. Issue was made of my non-Ukrainian status (I hold
both Canadian and Polish citizenship but have been working in Kyiv since
1997). <br>
<br>
The letter does not mention that it was I who initiated the idea for
Ukraineís participation in the 49th Venice Biennale and convinced both
the Minister of Arts and Culture --- Bohdan Stupka and the Vice Premier
for Humanitarian Affairs - Mykola Zhulynsky ---&nbsp; to make an official
submission the Biennale. In September, 2000, the Ministry of Arts and
Culture announced its decision to participate in the Biennale and
appointed Evhen Karas, an advisor to the Minister, as the commissioner;
Mr Karas chose me as the curator, a choice approved by the Minister. Work
on preparing the presentation began immediately - a working group of six
persons was organized and the artists - Ihor Podolchak and Ihor Dyurych
of the Masoch Fund ---&nbsp; were chosen. The organization of the
Ukrainian presentation was thoroughly open and public - press releases
were issued and press conferences organized to announce each step of the
Venice initiative; the process received widespread media attention. 
<br>
<br>
But problems were brewing in the background; not everyone accepted the
rules of the Biennale. Attempts to put forward a so-called alternative
presentation were made by Mr Valentyn Raievsky and his friends, backed by
support of the Parliamentary Committee on Culture and Spiritual Affairs.
When informed by the Ministry of Arts and Culture that it had no
authority in this matter, the Committee backed off. <br>
<br>
When most of the preparatory work for the Biennale presentation had been
done, the Artistsí Union moved in with its open letter and usurped the
project, insisting that it was the only body with the exclusive right to
make decisions about who is to represent Ukrainian art at international
festivals. The interests of an organization set up under Stalinís regime
to control artistic activities in the USSR became more important than
professionalism and competency. <br>
<br>
It seems that the Artistsí Union succeeded in pressuring Vice Premier
Mykola Zhulynsky to have the Cabinet of Ministers appoint another
commissioner. He is to be Oleksandr Fedoruk, head of the State Agency for
the Control of the Transfer of Cultural Treasures Outside Ukraine, while
the new curator is to be Mr Valentyn Raievsky.&nbsp; Quoted in the above
news item, Mr Raievsky smears me and questions my motives for being in
Kyiv: &quot;How is it that we have left our borders so unprotected that
we donít know who is working on our territories and with what aim?&quot;
(Ukrainske Slovo, March 22). <br>
<br>
In initiating Ukraineís presentation at the Venice Biennale, I wanted to
show that Ukraine can take part in artistic discourse with the rest of
the world. Unfortunately, I discovered that this society has many
entrenched interests unwilling to give up their Soviet-type control and
their perks. In challenging the monopoly of institutions like the Union
of Artists for the sake of the independence of art, I have been thrust
onto the political stage to fight for Ukrainian art, for the freedom of
expression and for an open society. I appeal to the art community to
express solidarity with those who believe that art can only flourish in a
society that values freedom and openness. <br>
<br>
Kyiv, March 22, 2001 <br>
&nbsp; <br>
</html>

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