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History of the Collection
Composition collection
Focus Areas
Description of the Content
A pragmatic Note
The Liudmyla Bereznyts'ka Collection consists of about 1000 works. The earliest ones date back to the beginning of the 20th century. Following them are works of early socialist realism of the 1930-40s and late and developed socialist realism of the 1950s. The strongest part of the collection is composed of lyrical paintings of the Khrushchev Thaw period, severe style and non-conformist art of the 1970s. The most recent works are considered to be precursors of Ukrainian contemporary art, which emerges in 1988 and which is covered extensively in the collection including the pieces of the early 2010s. The works range across all media including painting, sculpture, photography and prints. The aim of the selection process is to allow the viewer to read a coherent storyline beginning from the founding of the Ukrainian art school, including some of its roots, to the current decade. Bereznitsky Art Foundation - institution that aims at supporting contemporary art in Ukraine and integrating Ukrainian artists into the world cultural environment. The Foundation contributes to the development of the art scene and takes an active part in shaping humanitarian policy through grant programs, competitions, exhibitions and various scientific and educational programs. The Foundation's priorities are the establishment and development in Ukraine of such areas as curatorial activities, the integration of current art practices in traditional museums and interdisciplinary cooperation.
A Brief History of the Collection
Liudmyla Bereznyts'ka has begun her career as an art-expert in the late 1980s and, at the time, did not collect any works. She was looking for the forefront of contemporary art as this area was her specialisation and realised that the state of the Ukrainian art scene at the time did not match the written boundaries. Well after that, in the mid-1990s, analysing contemporary art she discovered that no one — individual or institution — was collecting Ukrainian modern and contemporary art in any but a purely random manner. That was a starting point of her collection. Consequently, she changed her focus from that of private collecting, which focuses on searching works according to personal tastes, to a one an institution might have: attempting to mirror the art production of the artists who lived and worked in Ukraine, according to their lifetimes' developments and with help of all media. She was interested in the works created in this unpredictable milieu, in the atmosphere of a nation under the totalitarian pressure, which has later changed into a period of a total transformation. Therefore, works made by the diaspora artists living outside Ukraine are almost absent. The Liudmyla Bereznyts'ka Collection combines in itself around 300 artists and thus provides a broad spectrum. Its main aim is as follows: to transmit the inclusivity and depth of Ukrainian art as a whole rather than present lone artists or single works. It is meant to be an encyclopaedic documentation of the Ukrainian art production during this specific period to form a solid base for further collecting. The Liudmyla Bereznyts'ka Collection makes a research review of the developments in Ukrainian art during the Soviet period and proposes a critical view on the short history of the contemporary art in Ukraine. It also cultivates a clear understanding of the Ukrainian society during these historical periods which will be considered extremely important in retrospective.
Collection Insights
The Liudmyla Bereznyts'ka Collection was assembled not in a simple pursuit of lining up masterpieces; in modern art, and especially in contemporary one attempts like this come and go. The institutional collecting approach seeks to bring together those works which have a vision of the plexuses of an overall subject context and to create additional meanings through their combination, enabling the works themselves to charge each other up. Just as much as identifying the so-called masterpieces, this approach is about finding the pieces that may go unnoticed or those which are ascribed to artists considered to be of a second tier — a categorisation which itself becomes a subject to change over time. All in order to fill the perception gaps, narrate the underlying subtexts and open up further space for the imagination of a viewer. Such purpose may also suggest an inclusion of a work by an artist of a lesser potential, provided that this single work can document a specific phenomenon particularly well.
Every collection is a process materialised; it is a distillate of a collector's vision, his imagination, intuition and passion, of research efforts, of opportunities seized, of hard work, of available resources and of lack of such. No collection can ever be complete, and this one is no exception. Some artists who deserve representation are missing. Indeed, collecting has its constraints: finite finances, unavailability of relevant works at certain moments, etc. Not one of the Ukrainian institutions, for whatever reason, has ever made the documentation of its contemporary art collection public. The Liudmyla Bereznyts'ka Collection seems to be the first one to be created transparent. The collection today is the best known and inclusive record of Ukrainian socialist realism, non-conformist and contemporary art. Yet it is a work in progress, which presently plans to proceed onwards in a new framework.
The Impact of Cultural Identity
In any collecting activity subjective criteria takes part in the selection process, consciously or subconsciously. Liudmyla Bereznyts'ka's experience with Western contemporary art had a very important impact on her collecting approach. It allowed to prove that Ukrainian art, both socialist realism and contemporary one, had characteristics clearly different from the Western concepts. The question posed during each new acquisition went as follows: whether an artist, a concept, a single artwork is in sync with or could ideally contribute to the global art discourse, or whether it is relevant for Ukrainian art history only.
The canon of Ukrainian contemporary art and artists has not been formed yet. A broader perspective inclusive of the global discourse on contemporary art will add to this striving which is in progress now. Fusing these aspects with others this approach may lead to different areas of influence as opposed to a purely inward national perspective. As a collector Liudmyla Bereznyts'ka is trying to be outside the limits of the local art scene, specifically through working closely with the prominent curators from the East and West, and hopes to become an agent or even an ambassador between Eastern and Western cultures, trying to «marry» hugely differing views towards art.
The Collection Strategy
The Liudmyla Bereznyts'ka collection strategy is shaped by priorities composed by three important strategic areas: chronology, geography and various intersection points amidst the whole complexity of visual culture.
The Collection Time Period
The collection composition focusing on contemporary visual culture must be flexible in its definition of «time», which will be determined by respective works or disciplines, as well as by a preferred logic of presentation. Having the priorities shaped around the scrutiny of the emerging tendencies in cultural production, the collection acquisitions — historical or contemporary — must be relevant to the current trends, discussions and research of the contemporary culture. All in order to meet the goal of establishing a new type of cultural institution that will echo the hybridity, contemporaneity and urgency of its surroundings.
The Collection Geography
The Collection can be viewed as a number of concentric circles which in essence are a materialisation of the relationships between different geographical zones of the globalised world.
The core of the collection is the visual art of Ukraine, represented by the works of the 20th and 21st centuries. It features works by the famous local masters and emerging talents that will reflect tendencies of the decisive historical moments and the current expanding terms of art production. Also starting to expand immediately from this focal point the Liudmyla Bereznyts'ka Collection will become a rich and extensive collection of the visual culture of the CEE, extending further to other parts of Eastern Europe and the rest of the world. The collection will reflect the historical implications of local, regional and global networks towards the visual culture production that will bring about a more nuanced understanding of cultural hybrids of the whole CEE region and their relationship to the rest of the world.
Fields of Focus amidst the Complexity of Visual Culture
In recent years, many of the most interesting elements or composed works of visual culture have emerged at the thresholds of different fields of visual art, moving image, design and architecture. While this trend of interdisciplinary approach is visible in many parts of the world, it becomes more apparent thanks to the amplification of Europe's, and especially CEE's creative climate's stream, in which collaborations and crossovers between different professions and fields become the norm of many practices.
These tendencies have restructured the biased, largely Euro-American, understanding of any rigid boundaries between visual art and other aspects of visual culture. Many of the art productions could be accounted for or be registered under a variety of categories nowadays. The collection must reflect the significance of the vital exchange within these interdisciplinary models.
Liudmyla Bereznyts'ka Collection deploys a more expansive and global concept of «art» enhancing it with a degree of flexibility made possible thanks to the notion of «interdisciplinary» taken as a starting point. All in order to develop a collection presentation that can become a kind of portal through which various aspects of visual culture may be explored, both autonomously and collectively, retaining the specifics and histories of each genre or practice type at the same time.
Content Description
Socialist realism was an official style of the Soviet art from the mid-1930s right until the collapse of the Soviet Union. It emerged as a result of the state's efforts to intensify and codify its control over the arts giving itself a task to transform the country's inhabitants into Soviet citizens — «ideological remoulding and education of the working class in the spirit of socialism». As a result, socialist realist artworks needed to follow the posed task to portray the radiant communist future rather than the actual, often grim, conditions of the Soviet life.
Socialist realism has often been dismissed as a communist kitsch, particularly in the West, mere political propaganda monolithic in form and lacking in artistic essence. While this criticism is undoubtedly justified in some cases, the Western art-experts overlook the value of the works of this genre as a whole, trying to present it as only a degrading one. Nevertheless, opposing these views, the events like, for example, the exhibition of twenty-five paintings from the collection of The Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis are happening, which show that this statement is clearly not true of all socialist realism artworks. As it may be seen from this show, socialist realism encompasses an impressive range of themes, genres, techniques, and practices. It has also been changing over time in response to the historical events and circumstances such as World War II, the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, and the Khrushchev Thaw, which took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s and witnessed a relative relief of censorship towards the arts field.
Numerous artists have worked not only for the state in official roles, but also unofficially, creating works for themselves, their families and friends. No less accomplished than the art they have produced for the government commissions, the body of private works made after the World War II reflects the plurality of formal styles—including impressionism and expressionism — as well as depicts both politically neutral and personal subject matters. When you look at this genre more as a historical phenomenon, rather than as an imposed artistic technique, it can attest to the fact that artists in the Soviet Union inventively negotiated the boundaries of socialist realism and challenged the idea that all Soviet paintings reflect a rigid, codified approach. Indeed, the art of socialist realism underlines the point that many artists produced works of subtle beauty that managed to question socialist realism's utopian message while expressing a unique creative vision at the same time.
By the 1960s, socialist realism had reached a dead end, eaten by the horrifying realities of repressions and war. Some artists who came of age during the Khrushchev Thaw became the pioneers of a new kind of realism. Known as the «severe style» this genre allowed humanism to pierce official art's utopian armour. While the state never allowed it to bloom fully, the «severe style» produced a unique approach that adapted modernistic formalist method to a realm of regulated culture.
The seventies gave rise to a new type of consciousness of the Soviet person. A disappointment in the Soviet ideals and a tendency to prefer an individual good over collective one penetrated all spheres of life. It was a failure of the state ideology. Fifty years of selective work in order to create an ideal Soviet citizen dissolved due to inability of the state to provide conditions for a citizen's life. The material basis of life was reclaimed from the state's sphere of influence and built anew with great sacrifices. At that moment, being far from industrialisation and war, people generally had enough of the material background to feel the need for self-realisation. They lacked involvement in the great historical events, like ones which have led and pacified the previous generation. The ruling elite did not manage (or did not want) to set new tasks. The socialist order never came into being, remaining a mirage in the official rhetoric. At that time exactly an undefined «strive for oddity» emerged in the minds of the Soviet people.
Culture, even being an important part of the party propaganda machine, was at the avant-garde of this «quiet protest». Vigilant ideological control kept back «sedition» and «formalism» as long as it could manage, but often its efforts proved not enough. Fine art was gradually rejecting the method of socialist realism and more and more often turned to experiments with form, content, and colour.
The art of the 1970s focused on the inner world of a human, searching for his or her identity. It was a contemplative research, not a militant confrontation. Instead of being anti-Soviet, this art sought for a new type of human consciousness — free, self-sufficient, standing out from the dull majority. This generation created new aesthetics, putting the sensory experience of images forward.
The Ukrainian contemporary art arose during the perestroika period, after the Chernobyl disaster and in the context of the Soviet empire collapse. Looking towards the worldwide art processes, the painters resolutely rejected the hackneyed Soviet-realistic canon and turned to a postmodern ironical game with traditional paintings. In the 1990s artists turned themselves to their surroundings — so unbelievable and absurd — in attempt to reconsider them with help of the new media tools, such as photography and media art. A pictorial thinking, an inclination to define reality as an art phenomenon, a certain social escapism — all had a great influence on the contemporary art of the 1990s.
The independence of the countries that have succeeded the Soviet Union in the 1990s has created the basic conditions for the institutionalisation of their civil societies. Ukraine has joined these newly independent states with little reliance on its civil institutions. The tendencies within the Ukrainian art of that time reflect the implications that the failure of the civil society institutionalisation had for this particular domain. Ukrainian contemporary art presented at the major international art museums and at the art festivals of this artistic field is a post-Soviet phenomenon that occupies the junction between the Ukrainian art, international institutions and civil society. As a field of artistic activity Ukrainian contemporary art strives to differentiate itself from the Ukrainian art that has originated in the environment largely formed during the pre-independent Soviet period. The authority struggles within the field of Ukrainian contemporary art also involve the Ukrainian institutions situated on the outside of it. At the same time, both institutional and personal agencies within the very field of Ukrainian contemporary art are affected by the lack of institutionalised civil society in Ukraine. According to the theory of Pierre Bourdieu, the field of Ukrainian contemporary art lacks autonomy. This desirable autonomy would allow it to exercise control over the resources of artistic authority. How all of this finds its articulation in the personal narratives of the major Ukrainian contemporary art figures and in the conflicts that happen in the field of Ukrainian contemporary art is precisely the topic of research of the Liudmyla Bereznyts'ka Collection.
Pragmatic Note
The latest developments of the international art scene and especially of the art market allow us to determine a growing interest among the professionals of both commercial and public spheres. Several museum displays, huge exhibitions at the major international private galleries and public art spaces, auction sales — all of these is speaking out loud in favour of recognition of the Ukrainian art of the Soviet period and modernity.
For the best illustration of this process one can quote several points from the direct speech of Frances Asquith (Sotheby's Vice-President) on socialist realism. During her speech she in turn quotes Herbert Read (a famous British critic): «Socialist realism is nothing but an attempt to stuff intellectual or dogmatic objectives into art». Over the last two decades, though, the Western galleries such as Raymond Johnson's Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis and Zimmerli Museum in New Jersey, US, Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany, and the latest extension of the Eastern European Art section at Tate Modern, London, UK, have turned away from Read's interpretations, placing socialist realism within the greater tradition of the academic school of painting. Nevertheless, according to Asquith, the interest in the socialist realism works has only emerged in the past four or five years in the former Soviet bloc.
«I think the negative charge has gradually ebbed away a bit», she says. «Very often it was a period that was damned on ideological grounds, rather than serious critical judgment».
One of the socialist realism's greatest marvels, Asquith notes, is that of its sole existence. While realism was largely abandoned in the West in the 20th century, the Soviet state was devoting vast resources for the support of the traditional landscape and portrait artists. Nevertheless, if one were to overlook such an influence, the works created during this period demonstrate great skill. «There's a casual assumption that the paintings were mechanical in technique», Asquith says, a product of a regime that valued quantity over quality. «But on further scrutiny, you see surprising boldness and intensity. It's a very malleable genre».
The acknowledgement of the ideological pressures of the time, however, may lead to a deeper appreciation of the artists who were working within the confines imposed on them. Asquith compares socialist realism to surrealism: «It's a magical kingdom that in some ways had little to do with everyday life. They had to define something that didn't exist».
As for contemporary art, it leads its way gradually stepping towards recognition via presence at the international art forums and achieving winning results at the major international auction houses.