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The Kiev Biennale: One month later

The Kiev Biennale: installation was reported completed June 14.

Given my rather critical account of my experiences in Ukraine last month, I thought it only fair to add this update. I’m afraid there is little good news, however.

On June 14 (which is to say, three weeks after the scheduled opening) I received an email announcement that “the Kiev Biennale is now fully open”. It turns out that this isn’t entirely true: when I enquired whether Paul McCarthy had decided after all to exhibit, I received this somewhat garbled official statement: “The Biennale regretted that they were unable to show The King, 2011 by Paul McCarthy but an administrative delay meant that it could not be delivered and installed in time for the Opening. As it is such a large scale installation it was decided that it would be best to not include it in the Biennale under these circumstances.”

Biennale-bound artworks wait on the tarmac, courtesy of Ukraine International Airlines

On June 15 I received an email from the much put-upon but still gracious David Elliott: “Please accept my thanks for your understanding if your experience during the press trip was not what you had anticipated. Nevertheless, I hope you could appreciate the ambition of this exhibition and the scale of the Mystetskyi Arsenal building.”

Biennale Artistic Director David Elliott

He went on to invite me back to Kiev “to view the finished Biennale at your convenience”. It turned out that, subject to approval by the Biennale organizers, this would have again been expenses-paid. I am afraid that I couldn’t face this and told them “Nobody should have to visit Kiev more than once in a lifetime!”

Meanwhile, again on June 14, ARTINFO reported that “things went south for [Ukraine’s] cultural freedom, as one of the current Kiev Biennale’s collateral events “Apocalypse and Renaissance at the Chocolate House” was torn down at the behest of the government.” Apparently the sinister-sounding Ukrainian National Expert Committee for the Protection of Social Morality had decided that some of the work there was pornographic and that it might cause “harm to the physical health and emotional well-being of visitors and museum staff”. Censorship of art is always deeply  depressing, and in this situation it is also somewhat ironic, given that the Chocolate House show was one of the attractions that was rather proudly presented to the visiting press corps on the day of the much delayed Biennale opening.

Euro 2012 "Creating History" in more ways than one

Even more significant perhaps, and precisely as I anticipated, it would seem that the timely opening of the Euro 2012 soccer tournament came about precisely because it had been far “more efficiently greased” than the Biennale: On Wednesday (June 20) the Guardian reported that “Uefa, the governing body of football in Europe, is under pressure to investigate claims of massive corruption during Ukraine’s preparations for Euro 2012, amid allegations that as much as $4bn [four billion!] (£2.5bn) in state funds allocated for the tournament was stolen by officials.”

As I say, there’s little good news to report from Kiev. On a more personal note however, one positive outcome of my visit to Ukraine was getting to talk at length to Shirazeh Houshiary about her experiences there and about the art that she exhibited. Look out for an account of that conversation in a future post here on ASfwSS.


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