Ukrainian artists at Venice biennale accuse culture minister of misconduct in open letter

15 May 2015

Ukrainian artists at this year’s Venice Art Biennale wrote an open letter to Ukrainian Minister of Culture Vyacheslav Kirilenko criticising him for the disorganisation of Ukraine’s national pavilion and his failure to allocate government funds appropriately. In the letter, the signatories, who include artists Anna Zvyagintseva, Sergey Zhadan and Open Group, slam the ministry for its “inability to fulfil proper commitments and responsibilities of projects which it undertakes, and ultimately its failure to develop cultural policies”.

“We must note that the promise of funding and the invitation to independent curators Oksana Barshynova and Mikhail Rashkovetsky created a false picture, hiding the failure of the Ministry to organise [Ukraine’s] national representation at the Biennale,” the letter reads.

Barshynova and Rashkovetsky, who were initially involved in the project, resigned before the biennale opened after it was announced that the pavilion would not be financed by the Ukrainian government, but by the private PinchukArt Centre. “To call mine and Rashkovetsky’s departure as curators as ‘personal’ is ridiculous!” Barshynova said. “[We left] because of a lack of understanding of the value of state culture on the international stage.”

Calling the open letter an attack on the Ministry of Culture, Kirilenko responded to accusations on his blog on website Ukrainian Pravda. “The Ukrainian pavilion has opened. Only, without the €65,000 budget, which the two former curators of the project insisted on, and about which they are complaining now in the media,” he said, adding that government money must be spent on something “more important than someone’s fees.”

The art scene in Ukraine has suffered since the start of the Ukraine crisis, with the redirection of state funds to the conflict in the east of Ukraine causing some high profile events to be cancelled or postponed. In March this year, curators of the Kiev contemporary art biennale announced plans to go ahead with the event despite the withdrawal of its venue, Mystetskyi Arsenal, which pulled out of hosting the biennale in February citing financial problems and the ongoing conflict in the east of the country.