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The untold story of the national history of art which is communicated through large scale exhibitions is growing increasingly popular with the Ukrainian public. And it seems like, some of the most recent events in history are some of the most enigmatic. But as time swiftly goes by at a fast pace, the dust settles and we step back to review history - the truth ultimately reveals itself in all its clarity. The Ukrainian House has launched an exhibition dedicated to the late 1980s and the early 1990s which is one of the most fascinating periods in Ukrainian art. The exhibition is dedicated to the country’s transition from the old Soviet period to the new times of independent Ukraine. It specifically focuses on the art of transition which was born at the cusp of historical change.
The project is absolutely vital to understanding history as well as studying contemporary art which is rooted in the period. This is when Ukrainian art acquired a strong foothold on the global art scene and began to follow international trends leaving behind the insular tradition of Soviet realism which was nothing more than a subservient tool for the communist elite. 


What is also absolutely fascinating, is to get to know the community of artists born out of the time of turmoil – this is a band of tremendously talented and inspiring artists tested by time. The project specially focuses on the artistic legacy of the personalities who became influential opinion makers of the time. Like the artists from the Painting Preserve group and the Paris Commune art squat. Both were influenced by the spirit of the time but followed different creative paths: one was keeping the modernist tradition alive and the other stuck with postmodernism which was becoming mainstream. The exhibition does not focus on the crucial differences between the groups and intergroup rivalry, instead the groups’ history is presented as a comfortable and creative coexistence. Group rivalry remains and becomes more evident as a result of following different creative paths and it simmers under the surface. The groups purposefully try to shift their focus from competition to exploring the wide historical context around them, and as a result the exhibition extensively draws parallels between the art group and the squat and other signature artists of the day. 


But is the exhibition truly representative of the artistic legacy of the period? It is an absolutely valid question. However, the project does not aim to comprehensively cover the time period. The organisers went through a lot of trouble locating some of the most significant art works which could not be accessed and also in the process it was revealed that some of the artwork was forever lost due to poor storage conditions. Many significant pieces are housed overseas, and most of the Ukrainian art collections have been removed from public display and are now safely stored because of the war. 


So, the project is incomplete, because the world we live in is not perfect, but it should not deter us from creating a systematic and representative art collection of the period. The current exhibition mostly comprises of signature artworks from private collections. These precious works have never been displayed publicly and were kept in private collections since they were purchased immediately from the artists’ studio. The exhibition goes beyond the stereotypes associated with some of the most significant works of art of the period and instead focuses on the intrinsic value and significance of art. Ultimately, the collection on display mostly comprises from transitional art forms which dominated the Ukrainian cultural and political life of the time and became groundbreaking in the field of visual arts, like video art, conceptual photography, installations, and performances. 


Conceptually the exhibition is reflected in the way the content is staged in an interior space. The first floor is devoted to the late Soviet period, which came before the self-identification. The viewer is immersed in an atmosphere of a multitude of typical works created for youth exhibitions made during plein air retreats in Sedniv, a picturesque river side town in the north of Ukraine. Soon, such art groups like the Paris Commune and Painting Preserve will emerge from this type of art. The second-floor display showcases the pure essence of the two artistic communities represented by their most significant personalities. The third-floor houses the artwork created post 1990 when the two communities peacefully coexisted on the art scene. The exposition also includes archived documents and a collection of sketches to illustrate the lost pieces of art. 


The curators aimed to present a comprehensive view on the topic, but the exhibition inescapably reflects the personal perceptions held by the organisers. So, naturally the project does not claim to form a comprehensive view of the time period or draw any final conclusions, instead it serves as a launch pad for the future conceptual ventures. 

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“Moscow was in total awe. There can be no doubt: the art is contemporary and goes against the grounding principles of the Moscow’s privileged class of modern artists. The Moscow tradition rose up against the art from Kyiv. (...) Naturally, the arrival of Ukrainian artists was unexpected and totally shocked the Moscow society. It was absolutely new, unquestionably modern and at the same time rooted in an altered academic tradition. (…) Also, the artworks albeit late reflected the current global trends, the artists have developed their unique style of postmodern art based on the black and white reproductions and cut-outs from articles by Achille Bonito Oliva.”

 

Kostyantyn Akinsha

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“Ukrainian contemporary art was ultimately shaped by the changes on the Ukrainian art scene which occurred in the mid-1980s. Since than the countdown to free artistic expression has begun in earnest, this is when the concept of contemporary art was born in a commonly accepted sense which has laid the system’s institutional and operational foundations. This is when the new generation of artists came on the scene, in their work they ultimately broke away from the tradition of socialist realism and began to nurture their own distinct national art which became Ukraine’s answer to the global postmodernist trends.”

 

Oksana Barshynova

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The Protagonists exhibition starts with the entrance hall which houses works created by the Ukrainian artists in the late 1980s and which reflect the looming end of the Soviet era. The new shoots of radically transformed art begin to emerge, these new ideas develop quickly and come to full strength after Ukraine becomes independent. In 1985 the Soviet leadership launches Perestroika and brings to light a whole new branch of artistic endeavour which before was illegal and practiced only underground. For the emerging Ukrainian art community, the late 1980s was a time of solidarity – the diverse groups of artists united against a common enemy, which was socialist realism and it was forever linked with the disintegrating Soviet empire. And the Ukrainian Artists’ Union, a professional organisation called to safeguard and nurture the official communist ideology in art, served as an impetus to mobilising the young artists in the country. 

The movement has gained rapid momentum and quickly achieved results. The new ideas mostly spread due to extensive youth exhibitions, artist residencies, and plein air retreats. The 1987 youth exhibition which was held in Kyiv was one of the first and the most significant. It already started to break away from the stereotypes but was hardly groundbreaking. The artists were still using the old approaches but the new trailblazing art forms and concepts were already on the horizon. The exhibition was a mixture of styles which included such old-fashioned elements like state commissioned genre paintings together with the new, revolutionary, and radical works which broke away from the tradition to follow the global trends. These messages resounded loud and clear during the exhibition. Within a year the most promising artists were selected to visit a plein air retreat at the Art centre run by the Artists’ Union in Sedniv in the Chernihiv province. 

The time in Sedniv was extremely brief but transformational for the development of new Ukrainian art – it was its watershed. The first retreat engaged around twenty artists. The second one in 1989 – almost thirty. The group was joined by young art critics who raised controversial topics on the nature of art. The artists came from all over the country: Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Uzhhorod, Poltava, Mykolaiv, and Kharkiv. And most significantly, the final exhibition celebrating the results of the second plein air retreat in Sedniv was hosted by the National Art Museum.  

The 1989 retreat has already marked the difference which within several years will become plainly evident for the Painting Preserve group and the Paris Commune squat. Namely, the modernist trend which mostly focuses on the abstract form as compared to the postmodernist endeavour which for over a decade dominated the global art scene though the trend was waning when the Ukrainian artists began to explore it. Another group of Ukrainian artists titled the Last-Ditch Effort of the National Post-eclectics also followed the postmodernist trend. Their ideology has influenced the Commune and defined the group’s future development. The artists typically explored figurative painting with ironic undertones and unexpected combinations which were a sarcastic take on traditional genre painting. The entrance hall houses a collection of artworks which seemingly follow the same ideology but the cracks are already there and soon the outwardly united front will split. 

After the 1987 youth exhibition the art scene has completely transformed – no more state commissioned art! Instead, the young independent artists exhibited their work in the framework of informal movements which before were impossible under the old Soviet system of government which was curated by the Artist’s Union. It includes such independent exhibitions like the ones organised by the Ranok (Morning) youth magazine and hosted by the Kyiv Polytechnic and expositions organised under the auspices of Soviart, the Ukrainian-American Centre for Contemporary Art. Two of the most significant state supported youth exhibitions which have cemented the new revolutionary art movement in Ukraine included the All-Soviet Manezh Hall exhibition (1988) in Moscow and the Republican exhibition held at the Kyiv Community Art Centre (1989). With the imminent collapse of the Soviet empire the republics which comprised the union began acting more independently and the process was ongoing. As a result, the Manezh Hall exhibition was structured to include different nation states. When the Ukrainian delegation arrived together with freight lorries filled to the brim with high quality large format paintings, the local organisers allocated an extra hall to showcase Ukrainian artworks. And the Ukrainian delegation occupied two expansive exhibition halls instead of one like the rest of the participants. The Manezh Exhibition has sent a clear message that “Ukraine has awakened” and the new wave of Ukrainian art was born. During the post exhibition discussion Leonid Bazhanov, an art critic has coined a term “neo-baroque style with trans-avant-garde trends” which was later actively used to describe the Ukrainian art movement. The 1989 Kyiv exhibition sought to divide the interior space according to the already emerging different art styles, like trans-avant-garde and abstract style painting. Inspired by the exhibition art critic Kostyantyn Akinsha presented an opinion piece titled “A wreath on the grave of Ukrainian post-modernism”. The piece was controversial but it fairly accurately described the situation on the ground at the turn of a decade. And the next bout of change and development still laid ahead.

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Tiberi Silvashi recalls that the idea to launch a non-official platform for like-minded artists which in time transformed into the Painting Preserve was voiced during the second plein air retreat in Sedniv (1989). Silvashi, a gifted artist himself also known for his organisational and communicational skill honed in on a group of painters whose personal art strategy was strongly defined by such basic art-media like space, paint, colour, and the Light, “an enigmatic substance which hovers entirely over the painting’s surface – the artist’s final touch and a jewel in the crown.” The Painting Preserve’s founding members went back to basics and continued their artistic search based on the mosaics of the Sofia Cathedral in Kyiv, iconographic art of the 17th and 19th centuries, Ukrainian baroque portraiture, and 1920-30s avant-garde painting.

The group’s core comprised artists like Marko Heyko, Alexander Zhyvotkov, Mykola Kryvenko, Anatoliy Kryvolap, and Tiberi Silvashi. Despite a significant age gap of eighteen years between the oldest and youngest member, all of the group participants wanted to explore abstract art or non-narrative painting which is a Ukrainian term coined in the 1990s. The group’s style was uniform so much so it was once suggested to shuffle the artwork and exhibit it without titles. Naturally, the idea was never realised because it went against the grounding principles promoted by the Painting Preserve which included equality and individual freedom of expression. 

The Painting Preserve has marked its turf and jealously guarded against any outside influence (the symbol was later used to identify the group’s one and only collective work exhibited during the Hermetic Forest exhibition which was hosted in the early months of 1996 by the Soros Centre for Contemporary Art). In contrast to the Commune’s members who were located at one single physical address, the Painting Preserve was more concerned with promoting a spiritual atmosphere which was a reflection of the personalities of each of its members. The group promoted the concept of pure art and created most favourable conditions for pursuing such ideas. Naturally, the notion of being in a group included joint exhibitions but the most significant work was done behind the scenes during face-to-face meetings, discussions, and talks. 

Overall, the Painting Preserve exhibited on three occasions: in 1992, 1993, and 1995 at the Artists’ Union exhibition hall on Volodymyrska Street, at the Kyiv Picture Gallery, and at the Ukrainian House respectively. After the group’s dissolution its individual members continued to follow independently the group’s grounding principles and the group’s legacy lived on in Ukrainian art of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

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“The Painting Preserve has unabandoned the image culture produced by the totalitarian system of the time and focused on developing its own cultural texts with a firm belief in the unique power of the brushstroke, its independence from the social, economic, and cultural changes in history. The viewer does not relive history, instead they relive artistic events which unfold behind narratives and become art’s medium. The fields, roads, buildings, lakes, snow, rain, silence, and sky…. The sky over the Painting Preserve. If the sky is clear and blue, it looks like a thickly coated canvas. It means that it’s just a finger which points at something which cannot be put into words. Art is pure potentiality.”

 

Tiberi Silvashi

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In the summer of 1990, a community of young artists moved into an apartment at 18a, Paris Commune Street in Kyiv. The group included such artists like Olexander Hnylytsky, Dmytro Kavsan, Oleh Holosiy, Valeria Trubina, Olexander Klymenko, Leonid Vartyvanov, Yuri Solomko, and art critic Olexander Solovyov. Later the group was joined by Vasyl’ Tsaholov. Practically all of them for over a year worked alongside another community of artists from the Last-Ditch Effort of the National Post-eclectics, which squatted in an abandoned building on the corner of Ivan Franko Street and Bohdan Khmelnitsky Street (known as Lenin Street at the time).  


Evidently, Kyiv was becoming part of the art squat movement which already flourished in Soho, Chelsey, and Christiania. In large overseas cities artists often squatted in abandoned derelict houses and lived in artistic communes. 


The Soviet Union was breathing its last and in the 1980s Ukraine, one of the largest republics in the Union was going through the initial stages of accumulation of wealth or just to put it bluntly: cut-throat capitalism. The new business class was operating in the open and was eager to exploit the free-market relations and newly adopted laws on private property. The state was auctioning off government owned buildings which were later flipped by private entrepreneurs and transformed into expensive residential penthouses. And central Kyiv had some of the most lucrative properties in the country. The majority of old buildings which predated the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and located in the immediate proximity to the central Maidan Square (the October Revolution Square at the time) were occupied by residents of communal apartments. The apartments were resettled and restored to their former glory, just like before the communists came to power. 


The residents of communal apartments were resettled to the city’s outskirts and while the renovations took a while to pick up, the local artists were quick to occupy the abandoned buildings. After graduating university many artists were left practically homeless and used the flats to organise art studios. The properties were just perfect for creating large format paintings, popular at the time — the apartments had high ceiling, specious rooms, extensive walls, and lots of light. But the artists went well beyond painting. The Commune group has pioneered some of the first video art in Ukraine, the artists also experimented with staged photography, and actions.


Soon, the Paris Commune Street was renamed to Mykhailivska Street, as it was called before the Bolshevik revolution. But the squat continued to carry the brand name of the Paris Commune. And the building it occupied remained the centre of activity. An imposing building across St Sofia Street (at the corner with the Mykhailivski Lane) Illiya Chichkan, Arsen Savadov, Heorhiy Senchenko, and Illiya Isupov ran their studios. Another building close by at Iryninska Street housed studios run by Maksym Mamsikov, Kyrylo Protsenko, and Tetyana Halochkina. This community of artists working in central Kyiv was part of the Paris Commune association. The Commune was a self-organised, self-governed band of artists and not a formal group in a traditional sense with a public programme and a manifesto. All of the group members had powerful personalities and followed their own artistic path. Outwardly, the artists were united by location and actively engaged in productive communication and inwardly all of them followed the postmodernist tradition. Such elements like radical eclectics, citational art and appropriation, expressive form, figurative art, purposeful negation of aesthetics, seeming indifference called to remind of the “death of the author”, double meanings, and sarcasm are more or less intrinsic to the Commune’s artworks.


The squat’s daily life was somewhat disorganised but it in no way interfered with the artistic process, instead it stimulated it. Despite its short-lived existence, the squat produced a series of high-quality pieces of art which constantly circulated in exhibitions. The art squat was officially launched in November of 1991 during the Artists of the Paris Commune exhibition which was held at the exhibition hall on Volodymyrska Street. After the launch, the community members showcased their work in other expositions like the Dead Calm exhibition (1992), Summer (1992) – both were organised in Kyiv; Postanaesthesia (1992) in Munich, Angels over Ukraine (1993) in Edinburgh, Savadov/Senchenko exhibition (1992) at the Berman Gallery in Soho, New York, and the Cultural Revolution Space exhibition. The latter was hosted by the Ukrainian House in late May, early July of 1994. The exhibits were displayed from behind an orange fence, so the visitors were able to view them only through binoculars, which were fixed inside sockets in the fence. As the exhibition went on, the squat’s building was being fenced off by a green construction fence. In July all of the residents have moved out and the Paris Commune art squat has ceased its existence. 

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“The Paris Commune was the very heart of the thriving art squat movement in Ukraine but the New Wave’s geography went far beyond it. In the early 1990s the creative community of artists was drawn to the centre of Kyiv. They usually settled on the small narrow streets which radiated away from the central square, now called the Maidan. It was Kyiv’s answer to the Soho district in New York, with a distinction that Soho boasted thousands of artists compared to a meagre several dozen scattered on the streets around the Maidan. However, the impact and significance of the Kyiv artistic circle can be compared only to Soho, which was home to a unique concentration of artists, a close-knit community of people who knew each other, exchanged ideas, engaged in professional discussion, and, naturally, had fun together.”

 

Alisa Lozhkina

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“Somehow you always  want to escape being pigeonholed; it’s at a level of animal instinct – you want to escape captivity as a naturalist enrols you in a study, you get ringed, and kept in a cage; instead you constantly want to escape to a safe harbour; so, you create something of your own which is immediately exposed and appropriated, and it’s unfortunate that all is kept in a dusty old museum which is hunting you down like an animal; as a result, a recently finished work becomes alien to you, it has crossed the divide; there is fear of history, all is filled with anxiety; but it’s part of the way forward, like an independent strategy; there are many tricks of the trade and means of escape, like you can always fain insanity or lapse into childhood.”

 

Olexander Hnylytsky

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“I am absolutely fascinated by the destructive power of postmodern art which is not only endowed with the power to deconstruct an idea by always biting its own tail but also has the power to provide me with total freedom in making an existential choice as a result of eradicating any aesthetic reference or construct but still cannot turn me away, when I, his prodigal son who came to realise the error of his ways come knocking on the door.”

 

Arsen Savadov

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“The New Wave movement has caught the last international trans-avant-garde train by the skin of its teeth – by the late 1980s it was slowly on the wane. Still, the event’s significance is absolutely immense. 
Trans-avant-garde neo-baroque style is another term coined in the artistic discourse of the time. Ukrainian baroque is by far the most influential tradition in the country’s history of art. The postmodernist tradition uses citational art, and the New Wave made extensive use of the elements of the baroque visual language. For some artists the style became known for a while as the gilded style, famous for excessive use of decoration.
The emerging New Wave movement creates signature large-format figurative paintings, the style is rich in simile and quotations. (…) In the late 1980s the young artists purposefully disregard the artistic form. The real challenge was to create a perfect viewing experience by producing a pure vital image - to use the terminology of the time, without applying the technical skill.”

 

Alisa Lozhkina

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1985
Michail Gorbachev elected to the position of general secretary of the Communist Party. In April the Party congress has voted in support of a system of reform aimed at strengthening the communist economy and promoting social development. After the launch the reforms became known as Perestroika.  
The Saatchi Gallery opens in London.
Vasyl’ Stus, a Ukrainian poet and human rights activist, has died while serving his time in prison in Russia’s Perm district.
The Young Ukrainian Artists exhibition is held at Moscow’s main Arts Centre, Tiberi Silvashi is a participant.


1986
Assassination of Sweden’s Prime Minister Olof Palme.
Anti-communist protests erupt in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s capital.
Space shuttle Challenger disaster. Seven astronauts die as a result.
The Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster – the greatest technological catastrophe of the 20th century. 
The passenger ship Admiral Nakhimov sank into the Black Sea a short distance off the port of Novorossiysk, taking with it over four hundred lives.
Metallica, a US thrash metal band releases the Master of Puppets, the band’s third studio album. 
The first aircraft has flown around the world without stopping or re-fueling. It was piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, the flight lasted for nine days, 3 minutes, and 44 seconds.
The Fifth Congress of Soviet filmmakers makes history in supporting Perestroika. The congress lifted a ban on films which previously came under government censorship. 
Vitaly Korotich, a Kyiv poet and reporter becomes editor-in-chief of the Ogonek magazine, a literary and political weekly that was among the first to steer a liberal course. The magazine widely supports the official de-Stalinisation policy and critical revision of Lenin’s role in history. The editorial team paid special attention to contemporary art which replaced socialist realism. 
FC Dinamo Kyiv for the second time won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in Lyon, France. 
The Eighth Congress of soviet writers was the last in organisation’s history. It had a great impact on the cultural development of the country, the congress has lifted a ban on censored works of literature.
The governing board of the Ukrainian Artists’ Union is reshuffled. The process launches much needed reform and helps re-energise the exhibition policy. 


1987
The Fourth People’s Congress of the Chinese Communist Party is held in Beijing. Zhao Ziyang, the Chinese Republic’s premier has confirmed the government’s liberal economic course. 
Iraqi missiles hit the United States Navy frigate, U.S.S. Stark in the Persian Gulf, leaving 37 people dead. 
In January the Soviet Communist plenum has voted in support of wide-ranging social reform, including multi-choice elections to the local councils and funding for cooperatives. The plenum has voiced official support for Perestroika. 
Mathias Rust, a German aviator in a bold manoeuvre lands a small airplane near Red Square in Moscow.
Many soviet political prisoners are released as a result of a mass pardon campaign.
Andy Warhol, one of the most influential artists of the late 20th century, designer, director, producer, and publisher has died.
For the first time CD sales exceed sales of vinyl records.
The Kyiv Art Centre hosts the Country’s Youth, a republican exhibition which became groundbreaking in promoting democratic change in Ukrainian art.
Soviart, the Soviet-American Centre for Contemporary art is launched in Kyiv.
Ukrainian and Estonian artists hold a joint exhibition at the Kyiv Polytechnic, the exhibition showcases postmodernist artworks by young and upcoming artists.
The Sorrow of Cleopatra by Arsen Savadov and Heorhiy Senchenko is showcased at the Fiac art fair in Paris as part of a collection belonging to Galerie de France. The gallery has purchased the painting during the All-Soviet youth exhibition in Moscow, where the artwork created a sensation. The painting has launched a new era for Ukrainian art.

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1988
The first transatlantic fibre-optic cable is laid.
Sikh separatist militants at the shrine of Golden Temple of Amritsar, a Sikh holy site in the north of India, surrender to the government forces.
Iran and Iraq sign a ceasefire agreement, ending eight years of war.
Lech Wałęsa, a pro-democracy activist engages in negotiations with the Polish authorities for the first time since the Solidarity trade union has been outlawed. 
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict erupts, it is the first military conflict in the disintegrating Soviet Union.
The Estonian parliament votes in favour of a veto on any of Moscow’s political decisions.  
Earthquake in Armenia within seconds absolutely devastates town of Spitak and destroys 58 surrounding villages, killing at least 25 thousand people. 
Exhibition titled America and Germany: art of the late ‘80s is held simultaneously in Düsseldorf and Boston.
The Freeze exhibition in London launches a new generation of young British artists.
The first plein air retreat organised at the Community Arts and Crafts Centre in Sedniv in the north of the country; the retreat is followed by a summary exhibition of young Ukrainian artists titled Sedniv-88 which is hosted by the Kyiv Art Centre. 
The first US-Soviet exhibition organised by the Soviart Centre for Contemporary Art at the exhibition hall of the Artists’ Union on Volodymyrska Street in Kyiv.
The Ukrainian delegation of young artists causes a sensation at the All-Soviet Manezh Hall exhibition in Moscow. Art critic Leonid Bazhanov describes the Ukrainian New Wave as “neo-baroque style with a hint of trans-avant-garde”.


1989
The Round Table Agreement is signed in Warszawa. The process is absolutely vital in dismantling the communist regime in Poland, which is the first socialist county to do so.
Peaceful protests on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China are crushed in a bloody military crackdown by the Communist Party rulers.
Eastern Europe is swept by a wave of democratic revolutions which lead to the fall of Communist power. 
The fall of the Berlin Wall - from November all crossing checkpoints in the city are open.
Execution of Nicolae Ceaușescu, a Romanian communist dictator; he was accused of crimes against his own people. 
The Soviet Union pulls out its main military contingent from Afghanistan.
The first multi-choice elections of Soviet people’s deputies are held in the country. 
The anti-government protests in Tbilisi, Georgia are crushed, twenty people are killed and thousands wounded in clashes between the protesters and the police.  
Nation-wide coalminers’ strikes across the Soviet Union, including Ukraine.
Founding Congress of the People’s Movement of Ukraine, the country’s first opposition party is held at the conference hall of the Kyiv Polytechnic. 
The newly adopted Law on Languages in Soviet Ukraine proclaims Ukrainian the state language in the country. 
The remains of Ukrainian dissidents who died in Soviet prisons, including Vasyl’ Stus, Yuri Lytvyn, and Olexa Tychy are reburied at Kyiv’s central cemetery Baichove.   
Families which were forcefully deported from Crimea in 1944 return en-mass to the peninsular, the majority of the returnees are Tatars. 
A ban is lifted from the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church.
Art exhibition China/Avant-garde is held in Beijing, China.
The second plein air retreat is held at the Community Arts and Crafts Centre in Sedniv, the retreat is followed by a summary exhibition of young Ukrainian artists titled Sedniv-89 which was hosted by the National Art Museum. 
The first art squat is organised on Lenin Street (now Bohdan Khmelnitsky Street), the squat functioned till the summer of 1990. 
Republican exhibition of young artists in Kyiv. The main hall of the city’s Art Centre is dedicated to showcasing only the trans-avant-garde paintings. 


1990
Nelson Mandela, leader of the movement to end South African apartheid and the country’s future president, is released from prison after 26 years. Mandela’s exit from prison is broadcast live. 
Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait sparks war in the Persian Gulf.
The first democratic elections of the people’s deputies in Soviet Ukraine.
Michail Gorbachev is elected President of the Soviet Union. 
Lithuania passes a decree on restoring the country’s independence, the first groundbreaking document of its kind which precipitated the Soviet Union’s demise. 
The final Congress of the Communist Party.
Ukraine adopts the country’s Declaration of State Sovereignty. 
Revolution on Granite is a wave of student protests and hunger strikes in Kyiv. The Supreme Council of Ukraine caves in under the pressure and removes from office head of the Council of Ministers Vitaly Masol and gives in to other demands by the protesters.
Release of Adobe Photoshop, the new digital image editing tool starts a revolution in image design.
An art squat is organised at 18a, Paris Commune Street (now Mykhailivska Street).
Opening of an exhibition titled Ukrainian малARTство. Three generations of Ukrainian art (1960–1980) organised by the Soviart Centre for Contemporary Art. The exhibition has first launched in Kyiv at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, then it moved on to the Art Museum in Odense, Denmark and finally across to Germany.
The Odesa Art Museum hosts an exhibition titled After modernism 2, which features works by the local trans-avant-garde artists.

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1991
Attempted military crackdown on the independence movement in Lithuania and Latvia.
Operation Desert Storm in the Gulf. For the first time in military history ballistic missiles are the highest visibility weapon, hundreds of Tomahawk missiles are fired.
The communist government launches a nation-wide confiscatory monetary reform.
Start of the military conflict in Yugoslavia which eventually leads to the county’s collapse.
The Soviet coup de d'état attempt, also known as the August Coup
The Communist Party is placed under a temporary ban.
Ukraine proclaims independence.
Ukraine holds a national referendum with a single question on the ballot paper: Do you support the Ukrainian Declaration of Independence?
Leonid Kravchuk is elected the first President of Ukraine in open elections.
Representatives of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus sign the Belovezh Accords, which declared that the Soviet Union formally ceased to exist and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is established.
Michail Gorbachev formally resigns. The Soviet Union ceased to exist.
The Metropolis exhibition is held in Berlin.
The third plein air retreat takes place at the Community Arts and Crafts Centre in Sedniv which is followed by a summary exhibition in Kyiv.
Oleh Holosiy holds an exhibition at the Moscow’s Art Centre, at the opening children dressed in white shirts are rolling the paintings across the floor on racks.
Arsen Savadov and Heorhiy Senchenko exhibit at the Moscow’s Art Centre. The exhibition features monumental paintings which in combination with other objects form an installation.
The УКV Contemporary Art Gallery launces the first phase of a project titled Marathon-blitz, which features an exhibition called Artists of the Paris Commune which is held at the exhibition hall of the Artists’ Union of Ukraine. 


1992
The Maastricht Treaty is signed, the treaty has officially established the European Union. 
Military conflict erupts in Transnistria, Moldova. The Russian military forces occupy Tiraspol and Bendery.
Georgia and Abkhazia engage in military confrontation.
The Czech and Slovak Federative Republic is officially split into two independent states – the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Ukraine issues a temporary currency called a coupon-karbovanets to replace the Soviet rouble. 
The Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea has proclaimed Crimea’s independence. The Supreme Council of Ukraine voted to void the decision. 
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Kyiv Patriarchy is officially launched.
The first agreement on the partition of the Black Sea fleet between Russian and Ukraine is signed.
Francis Bacon, a prominent British figurative painter is dead.
The world’s first ever text message is sent from Newbury, Berkshire to London. The short message reads: Merry Christmas.
Kassel, Germany welcomes documenta 9, a contemporary art exhibition; the event proves formative for the development of contemporary Ukrainian artists.
The Dead Calm exhibition is held at the exhibition hall of the Artists’ Union at 102-104, Gorky Street (now Antonovych Street) in the framework of the Marathon-blitz initiative, a project launched by the УКV Gallery. The core participants are members of the Paris Commune squat. 
The first exhibition by the Painting Preserve group is held at the exhibition hall of the Artists’ Union in the framework of the Marathon-blitz project.
The Oblique Caponier exhibition is held at the Kyiv Fortress Museum.
A group of young Ukrainian artists holds an exhibition titled Summer at the Kyiv Art Centre.
Young Ukrainian artists participate in an art residency in Munich and Museum Villa Stuck holds an exhibition titled A Dialogue with Kyiv. After completing their art residency, the artists exhibited with the Munich gallery on Lothringer Strasse following which the Leipzig Art Museum held an exhibition titled Postanaesthesia.
The Ukrainian House, the State Centre for Culture and Education is launched.

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1993
Václav Havel is elected the first President of the Czech Republic.
Coalminers’ strikes sweep across Ukraine.
Ukraine’s economy is under hyperinflation – prices increase over one hundred-fold reaching the highest level during the crisis period. 
Ukrainian authorities issue national passports.
The Object Art exhibition is held in New York, USA. 
Venice, Italy hosts a retrospective exhibition of works by Marcel Duchamp, a French/American artist and sculptor. 
Toulouse, France welcomes an exhibition titled Contemporary Art in Ukraine.
Oleh Holosiy, a member of the Paris Commune squat has tragically died.
Vasyl’ Tsaholov holds an exhibition called World without ideas at the УКV Gallery. The exposition features mixed media like photography, installation, and video.
Launch of a new project titled The Kyiv Mohyla Academy. Examination of the art scene. The project’s primary focus is the Last-Ditch Effort of the National Post-eclectics.
Illiya Chichkan and Illiya Isupov hold a joint exhibition titled Gene mutation at the exhibition hall of the Artists’ Union of Ukraine.
Exhibition Angels over Ukraine is held in the framework of the Edinburgh art festival in Scotland.
Ukrainian art exhibition The Stepps of Europe: Contemporary art of Ukraine is held in Warszawa at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art.
The second exhibition of the Painting Preserve group is hosted by the Kyiv Picture Gallery.
The Ukrainian House launches the Alypius Gallery which showcases works by contemporary Ukrainian artists.  
The Soros Centre for Contemporary Art opens in Kyiv.


1994
The Rwanda Genocide: mass killing of the Tutsis on the orders from the Hutu government. An estimated half a million to one million people have been killed. 
Elizabeth II, the Queen of the United Kingdom together with the French President François Mitterrand officially open the Channel Tunnel. 
The start of the first Chechen war.
Clement Greenberg, an American art critic, best known for his essays on abstract expressionism and ideas on the flatness of painting has died. 
Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. In the 1990s the film became a cultural phenomenon that changed the landscape of independent filmmaking and had a significant effect on the global pop-culture as a whole.
For the first time in history of independent Ukraine, Oksana Bauil, a Ukrainian figure skater wins gold at the Lillehammer Olympic Winter Games.
Early elections to the Supreme Council of Ukraine.
Early presidential elections in the country. Leonid Kuchma is elected President in the second-round vote.
Representatives of Ukraine, the US, Russia, and the UK sign the Budapest Memorandum on Ukraine’s non-nuclear status and security assurances.
The Alypius Gallery at the Ukrainian House hosts the Artistic Impressions exhibition. The display features artwork by the Painting Preserve group and a special collection of paintings by the Paris Commune squat. 
The Ukrainian House hosts an exhibition titled Space of Cultural Revolution.
The Paris Commune squat has ceased its existence.
The Ukrainian command ship Slavutych, stationed in Sevastopol, hosts the Alchemic Capitulation exhibition which is organised with support from the Soros Centre for Contemporary art.
Odesa welcomes the Free Space international contemporary art festival.
For the first time Ukrainian artists take part in the São Paulo Biennial in Brazil. 
Private art gallery Blank-Art opens on Andriyivsky Uzviz in the centre of Kyiv.


1995
Oklahoma City bombing: a homemade bomb concealed in a rental truck heavily damages a federal building, leaving 168 people dead.
The implementation of the Schengen Agreements, as the first seven EU countries including the Benelux states, France, Germany, Portugal, and Spain open up their borders. 
The Srebrenica genocide. The Serbian military forces massacre more than eight thousand Bosnian Muslim boys and men, the age of victims ranges from 12 to 77. 
Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli President is assassinated. 
Ukraine joins the Council of Europe. 
A new Contemporary Art Museum opens in Barcelona, Spain.
The Brama Centre for Contemporary Art in Kyiv holds a feminist exhibition titled Meduza’s Mouth.

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The artistic approach of the “protagonists” and their discourse should be analysed in the overall context which is inextricably linked to the country’s history, geography, and interpersonal relations between the artists. The exhibition space offers a wide range of works by Ukrainian artists active in the early 1990s. The artworks are both similar and unique: on the one hand the paintings play off each other, seamlessly blend into one another, and merge, on the other hand they are using different approaches to reach the same artistic objective.


In the early 1990s Kyiv, a large European city and capital of newly independent Ukraine boasted an extensive community of artists and a thriving art scene. Artists from all over Ukraine eagerly joined in. For example, the Paris Commune art squat also welcomed artist from Odesa. The Commune was greatly influenced by Olexander Roitburd, he often visited Kyiv and inspired the artistic community with his unique artistic vision. Anatoliy Hankevych, Dmytro Dulfan, and Ihor Husev, signature artists from Odesa greatly influenced the New Wave movement and sometimes even stayed at the art squat. Their artistic search greatly resonated with the art and approach of their Kyiv colleagues. The squat was a natural element for such artists like Oleh Tistol, a leader the Last-Ditch Effort of the National Post-eclectics. Also, a group of Lviv artists, which included Andriy Sahaidakovsky, Roman Zhuk, and Vasyl’ Bazhai expanded on the trans-avant-garde ideas which were first developed at the Commune. In 1992 the artists Olexander Babak, Serhiy Semernin, and Pavlo Kerestey exhibited together with the Painting Preserve group during the group’s first exhibition. But soon the artists decided to leave the community. The partnership did not last but they continued to follow some of the group’s grounding principles in their own individual artwork. Also, Kerestey teamed up with the Commune and ran an art studio on St Sofia Street. A hint of abstract was present in Pavlo Kovach’s art, a native of Uzhhorod and vivid paintings created by Lev Markosian from Poltava. In the early 1990s the artists actively engaged in joint exhibitions, both domestically and overseas and it has certainly energised the artistic community. Some of the most significant exhibition projects of the time include the Ukrainian малARTство (1960–1980) exhibition, Defloration, Ukrainian art of the 20th century, New Figurations, Dead Calm, Postanaesthesia, European Steppes, Art Impressions, and Alchemic Capitulation.
The age of revolutionary change came to an end in the mid-1990s. Large scale expressive art which still dominated the art scene was withering away in order to make a comeback at a later time in the Ukrainian history of contemporary art under a different guise and for a different purpose. The cultural objectives have shifted and the artistic endeavour focused on innovative technologies and expressive form. Media-art has entered the scene, art photography, and installation became popular. The trend becomes more evident when viewing the hall’s exhibits. 


In 1993 Oleh Holosiy, an innovative and influential artist has unexpectedly died, the tragic event has absolutely devastated the Commune and sucked the life out of it. Many Ukrainian artists could not take the economic and social hardship at home and searched for opportunities to relocate overseas, which became possible only after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The Soros Centre for Contemporary Art has launched in Kyiv at these turbulent times and became a pivotal organisation which has shaped the new ideology of the Ukrainian art movement and has energised it. 

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“The Painting Preserve’s core includes five artists: Marko Heyko, Alexander Zhyvotkov, Mykola Kryvenko, Anatoliy Kryvolap, and Tiberi Silvashi. The group is now legendary, (…) they are the stuff of gossip and popular discourse. The emerging academic community accused them of plagiarising other people’s work, young women (absolutely gorgeous women!) published articles in which they adoringly praised the artists’ work (also there is a PhD thesis on the subject), and the Paris Commune group once even boldly challenged them to a joint exhibition, a kind of mano-a-mano. But the Preserve’s ship still sails the treacherous waters of time, it left the harbour in 1992 and confidently continues on its course even though formally the so-called organisation or association no longer exists.”

 

Olexiy Tytarenko

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“Victims of art – is a term coined by Kostyantyn Akinsha which he used to describe the artists who lived and worked at the Paris Commune art squat. The art critic was referring to their radical artistic mind-set and the need to explain every phenomenon through art. For them the art squat became a place where any artistic endeavour has inevitably transitioned into daily routine and constant partying became a form of artistic expression. The artists lived and worked together in an insular environment and as a result they became trapped in a vicious circle of their own making in which they referenced and influenced each other. (…)
The Paris Commune typically never went beyond large format canvas painting. (…) And the squat’s high ceilings at Lenin Street and then at Paris Commune Street were just perfect. The style’s origins can be traced back to the tradition of large-format genre painting and the contemporary trends on the international art scene which were set by the new generation of artists like the Italian trans-avant-garde and the Neue Wilde in Germany. The painting’s style was largely defined by the format: expressive, dynamic, and finished usually in one sitting. The artworks were typically done in non-finito technique which was a far cry from the socialist realism tradition and became an expression of personal freedom and artistic identity.”

 

Tetyana Zhmurko

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“As the 1980s were coming to a close and at the early 1990s no one was concerned with “mastership” or “quality” – these concepts were completely alien. What was really important was the vital energy of the artistic impulse, it’s beauty, lightness of being, organic brushstrokes, and finally the scale as well as the inspirational power of the image. 
Alas, “true” art, as opposed to its simulation, was already impossible. It occurred as a paradox: the artists set out to achieve “non painting” but the result was totally opposite.

 

Viktoria Burlaka

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“Similar to the development of Ukrainian baroque art in the 17th-18th century, the national postmodern art also included a diversity of contrasting movements like the national renaissance movement, the need to further develop the country’s non-finalised modernist tradition, neo-avant-garde and post-modernist art. On the busy art scene, the neo-baroque of the emerging revolutionary art style has breathed new life and meaning into the Ukrainian tradition through the critical revision of its components and presented it not just as a proactive process of preserving the national heritage but also as an eternal source of myth and disillusion which came to dominate our culture. The Ukrainian baroque style became a solidifying principle for the diverse New Wave movement...”

 

Halyna Skliarenko

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List of artists:

Olexandr Babak

Vasyl’ Bazhai

Yana Bystrova 

Leonid Vartyvanov

Hlib Vysheslavskyi 

Anatolii Hankevych

Marko Heyko

Oleksandr Hnylytskyi

Oleh Holosii

Ihor Husev

Dmytro Dulfan 

Oleksandr Zhyvotkov

Serhii Zhyvotkov

Roman Zhuk 

Illia Isupov 

Dmytro Kavsan

Pavlo Kerestey

Oleksandr Klymenko

Pavlo Kovach

Mykola Kryvenko

Anatolii Kryvolap

Maksym Mamsikov

Lev Markosian

Volodymyr Muzhetskyi 

Oleksandr Nechaienko 

Serhii Panych

Viktor Pokydanets 

Valentyn Raievskyi 

Kostiantyn Reunov 

Oleksandr Roitburd 

Vasyl’ Riabchenko 

Arsen Savadov

Andrii Sahaidakovskyi

Serhii Sviatchenko

Serhii Semernin 

Heorhii Senchenko

Tiberii Silvashi 

Maryna Skuharieva 

Yurii Solomko 

Oleh Tistol 

Mykola Trokh 

Valeriia Trubina 

Nataliia Filonenko 

The Fomski Group (Pavlo Fomenko and Ihor Kaminnyk)

Oleksandr Kharchenko 

Vasyl’ Tsaholov

Illia Chichkan
 

We are grateful to the following museums, picture galleries, and private collections


National Art Museum of Ukraine
Khmelnitskyi Regional Art Museum

Museum of Kyiv 


Museum of Odesa Modern Art

Shudra Art Collection
Stedley Art Foundation
Abramovych Foundation
Grynyov Art Collection
Karas Gallery

The Naked Room Gallery
Soviart Centre for Contemporary Art

Artur Umansky Family Collection

Goldens Auction House

Cultural Institution Mizhvukhamy
 

Ihor Abramovych 

Stella Beniaminova 

Evhen Bereznytsky 

Evhenia Bilousova

Maksym Vasyliev  

Hlib Vysheslavskyi 

Ihor Voronov 

Pavlo Haiday 

Vasyl’ Hrubliak 

Borys and Tetiana Hryniovy

Pavlo Hudimov 

Eduard Dymshyts 

Semen Kantor 

Evhen Karas’ 

Oleh Karpiuk 

Tetyana Krendeliova 

Evhen Kuchynskyi 

Serhiy and Tetyana Loichenko 

Maryna and Pavlo Makov
Serhii Makhno 

Volodymyr Mitin 

Olena Oliynyk 

Tetiana Radchenko 

Stanislav Skoryk 

Oleh Sosnov 

Svitlana Starostenko 

Slava Stoyanov 

Artur Umanskyi

Volodymyr Fedonchuk 

Olexii and Olena Kharko 

Ihor Chervak 

Dmytro Chumakov 

Serhii and Yevheniia Shudra

 

Project team

Curatorial team: Alisa Hryshanova, Valery Sakharuk, Olexander Solovyov, Stanislav Skoryk, and Svitlana Starostenko 

Brand identity/design: Svitlana Koshkina 

Project manager: Olha Vieru 

Managerial team: Iryna Boiko, Tetyana Voloshyna, and Olexiy Ananov

PR manager: Olha Nosko

Edited by: Olena Chekhniy

Videography: Halyna Kluchkovska

Organisational support: Natalia Zubova, Kateryna Oranska, and Yaryna Bobyrets

Museum division: Alisa Horska and Viktoria Porplytsia

Partner relations: Oksana Sorochenko

Photography: Tetyana Ruda and Ruslan Synhayevsky

Technical manager: Denys Zimin

Financial support/procurement: Oksana Savina and Viktoria Boiko

Legal support: Andriy Medvetsky 

Exhibition installation services: Ihor Klymenko, Pavlo Kolomiyets, Dmytro Panchenko, Evhen Panchenko, and Olexander Samusenko

Technical support: Vadym Yurchuk, Ivan Havryliuk, Mykola Emtsov, and Taras Krutiy

Facility services: Dmytro Chorniy and Ihor Nevzhliad

Security services: Mykola Dovhaliuk, Oleh Zubov, Vitaly Osavliuk, and Yuri Lubachenko 

Guided tours by: Viktoria Boiko and Natalia Pyrohova

Organser: National Centre Ukrainian House

Sponsors: JSC Oschadbank and Visa

Technical partner: Ergo

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