From 20-26 May, the Ukrainian capital will host the fourth edition of the international contemporary art festival Kyiv Art Week. For many Ukrainian galleries, the event offers an opportunity to showcase their collections and collaborations, while Kyivans get the chance to immerse themselves in art for a few days, at an array of novel cultural spaces around the city.
It’s not just Ukrainian art that gets a run out during Kyiv Art Week: the accompanying Art Fair at the Toronto-Kyiv centre (23-26 May) showcases thousands of works by more than 200 artists, presented by 40 galleries from all over the world. More than just an insider event, the Fair’s curtain-raiser on 23 May offers a carefully planned programme open to all. Held at the stunning Gothic Church of St Nicholas, the event will feature video projections from Vladimir Gulich and Anastasia Loiko, alongside dance performances and special projects put together exclusively for the festival.
To help visitors get their heads around the city, we asked the organisers of the Art Week for their Kyiv highlights, from art events to cultural initiatives and the best food and drink to try in between exhibitions.
No trip to a post-Soviet country is truly complete without a visit to a market, where you can get away from the tourist crowd to haggle with stern-faced vendors and sample local “delicacies” like salo (cured, salted lard) and pickled, well, everything. The buildings housing these local landmarks are often striking in their own right — and Kyiv Art Week is making the most of this by staging an intervention in Volodymyrskyi. Located close to the main Toronto-Kyiv complex, this working market will host Footnote 11 (20-26 May), a site-specific exhibit from curators Barbara Piwowarska and Guillaume Rouleau that asks how societies both organise and are organised by trade. Built in 1968 by architects G. Ratushynskyy and K. Feldman, Volodymyrskyi was part of a wave of market construction across Soviet Ukraine — a legacy addressed in Footnote 11 by the SaveKyivModernism group (architects Alex Bykov and Oleksandr Burlaka and filmmaker Oleksyi Radynski). The first floor of the market building will display works by contemporary artists alongside Soviet-era works.
Closer — Kyiv’s legendary creative hub — offers a great example of how the city is evolving. Once known as one of the founding clubs behind Kyiv’s techno boom, it has since evolved into a complex featuring galleries, shops, bars, showrooms, and a radio station, which also hosts major festivals like Strichka and Brave! Factory. Savage Food, Kyiv’s number one rave-friendly veggie outlet, has grown with Closer, developing from little more than a booth inside the club to a fully-fledged gastrobar serving vegetarian and vegan food and cocktails. Their summer terrace offers views to die for, too. Catch them from Wednesday to Sunday at Closer’s expansive space on Nizhnoyurkivska street.
Izolyatsia is one of Ukraine’s leading and most incisive cultural platforms. They have been based in Kyiv since being displaced from their home in Donetsk by the ongoing conflict in the east of the country. Their programme of workshops, talks, and more offer cutting commentary on domestic and international cultural affairs, and their IZONE gallery is always worth a visit. For Kyiv Art Week, Izolyatsia have converted an airport shuttle bus into Community Culture Bus — a multifunctional, mobile creative space that will host master classes, lectures, presentations, film screenings, and electronic performances from 23-26 May. From June onwards, the bus will travel around Ukraine, promoting contemporary art and supporting local cultural initiatives in small towns and villages. IZONE will also host a celebration of the centenary of the Bauhaus design studio on 25 May.
If the Kyiv traffic gets too much, then never fear: the city is blessed with several enchanting botanical gardens. The Hryshko National Botanical Garden, set in a park in the Pechersk district on the banks of the Dnieper, offers stunning views — but real greenheads head for the orangery at the A. V. Fomin Gardens on Symona Petlyury street (Universytet metro). One of Ukraine’s oldest gardens, it was opened in 1839 as part of what is now Taras Shevchenko University and is renowned for its grand old greenhouses and exotic collections. The orangery offers a secluded spot to relax, surrounded by citrus scents and lush palms. Visit any day other than Fridays for just 10 hryvnas (about 30 cents), with entrance permitted at 10:00, 13:00, or 15:00.
Taking in this much art (plus everything else Kyiv has to offer) is sure to leave you famished. Luckily, Kyiv is experiencing a food and drink boom, with innovative cafes and restaurants popping up all the time. Make sure you don’t miss Adelle, a Middle Eastern joint that promises a taste of Tel Aviv in central Kyiv. The falafels are legendary. For evening drinks, check out Biliy Naliv, Kyiv’s new but wildly popular “one euro bar” where everything — from cider to oysters — costs 29 hryvnas, about 1 euro, or Drunk Cherry (Pyanaya Vishnya), which originally hails from Lviv and serves craft cherry infusion at three locations.
When evening comes around, serious music lovers should make a beeline for Gram. Ukraine’s first ever “audiophile bar” — a concept imported from Japan — Gram offers a space to relax where music is more than just a background distraction: it’s the be all and end all. Boasting a top-of-the-line sound system and a meticulously curated soundtrack, Gram invites you to join in with “group listening” sessions while enjoying a cocktail. The space also hosts a record store with over 5,000 titles on offer.