It was a red-letter day for Ukrainian contemporary art when the Pinchuk Art Centre opened its doors to visitors in September 2006. Its owner, Victor Pinchuk, one of the wealthiest Ukrainian oligarchs, has consistently promoted himself as a patron of the avant-garde during the last couple of years. Besides comprehensive exhibitions, the most important enterprise of Pinchuk's 'Contemporary Art in Ukraine' Foundation was the formation of an art collection, which by now comprises a considerable number of works by talented Ukrainian and international artists (Sarah Morris, Olafur Eliasson, Oleg Kulik, Olexandr Gnilitsky, Carsten Holler, Arsen Savadov and many others). Pinchuk initially planned to establish a museum in the Arsenal – a huge tsarist military complex built in the 18th century. However, after the Orange Revolution he was ostracized by the new government. The competition for the reconstruction of the Arsenal, won by the Foundation, was cancelled and they had to look for another location. Finally, the Foundation bought six floors in a recently restored group of eclectic buildings near Besarabka, the old marketplace in the centre of Kiev.
The museum debuted with an exhibition of selected works from its permanent collection under the title 'New Space', a designation that reflected not only the quality of the exhibited works, but also the building's standout interior design by French architect Philippe Chiambaretta. The main aim of Chiambaretta's design was, understandably, maximum dissociation from the building's artificial appearance. This was achieved by considerable alterations that allowed for the addition of one more floor behind the historical facade. The architect explains: 'The rebuilt staircase leading to the Foundation space allows us to understand this intervention – the staircase landings do not match the windows – so that the old facade looks like a film set, detached from the floors themselves.' In addition to this, the existing route between floors – via three stairs and two elevators – was abandoned. Instead, two new interior stairs were created in order to facilitate circulation. Technical equipment was hidden in a new, one-metre-thick central wall that divides the plateau in two. Electricity, air conditioning and ducting run through this spine, simplifying distribution to the exhibition halls on either side.
The sense of entering another reality is strengthened by the almost sterile purity of interior in contrast to the colourful and decorated exterior of the building. The only areas of congruence are the alcoves corresponding to the former floors. Covered by vivid wallpaper designed by Michael Lin, a Taiwanese artist who lives in Paris, they are the only spaces in the museum that hint at the external reality.
Reactions to Chiambaretta's design vary. An Austrian architect, to whom I showed the museum as a rare example of contemporary architecture in Kiev, commented: 'there is too much design'. Indeed, in the café on the seventh floor one finds a kind of Zaha Hadid space. But it would be a mistake to see specific elements of design, such as the deformed grid of the main staircase and the metal panels on the walls and windowsills, as mere decoration, since they derived directly from the logic of design.
The keynote of this space is movement. The journey begins at the very entrance, where the existing balustrades of the main stair were replaced with a matrix of metal tubes, an intriguing installation rising through the entire height of the building, beyond the visitors' gaze, thus drawing them deeper into the museum. The rooms were designed to emphasize the channelling of circulation. The floor is laid in narrow granite bands five to thirty centimetres wide, following the direction of the exhibition plan. Translucent bands of lighting along the perimeter of the ceilings emphasize the exhibition route, echoing the pattern on the floor. The ventilation grilles are disguised as perforated metal panels displaying abstract graphics specially designed to avoid distracting viewers from the exhibition. The same graphic code is repeated on a larger scale in the interior staircase of the museum where it does not conflict with the works.
Whatever the gossip might be, the opening of Pinchuk Art Centre is a very promising event for Ukraine. One can only hope that the museum will retain its image of a creative laboratory and place for communication to become not a MoMa, but rather a société anonyme of our time.
Events, Learning, People |