Light in the Dark
For centuries it has stood as a place of secrets. Kyivites adept at adjusting to political caprice and fluctuations in degrees of cultural freeze or thaw kept their eyes elsewhere as they walked by its mass. If rumors of the top-secret military function being enacted inside weren’t sufficient to blunt public curiosity, the razor wire that topped its walls in more recent times provided all the explanation necessary that the Kyiv Arsenal was off limits.
Things have changed. Doors perpetually locked have been thrown open, and halls once committed to darker purposes are now filled with light…and art. A factory geared for perpetual war has been transformed into a showplace for peace. The transition has been long in coming, but Kyiv’s Mystetskyi Arsenal is poised to sound a thunderclap in the world cultural firmament.
A Treasure Uncovered
In 1783, Ivan Meller was a Lieutenant General, and architect, in the Russian Imperial Army of Catherine the Great. Stationed at Kyiv, he was tasked with the design and construction of an arsenal to aid in the Empress’s war efforts. The structure we see today – three stories of brick magnificence around an interior courtyard the size of a football pitch, with 8-meter ceilings in the wings and cascading vaulted arches stretching off into the distance – testifies to the military architect’s subversive streak. Upon the completion of the Arsenal, Meller would leave this tantalizing commentary on his design: “the day will come and you will see that I had the common folk – and not a fortress – in mind.”
Perhaps the architect sensed a need to right a wrong. Looking for a site to build a citadel, Peter the Great had evicted the sisters of the Ascension Orthodox Convent from the hill on which they had lived since the 16th century. The nuns were moved to the Florivsky Convent in Kyiv’s Podil neighborhood, and in time the stunning Intercession Church built by Hetman Ivan Mazepa was razed and in this place the arsenal would be built. Though the structure would retain its exclusive military function for roughly two centuries, in the end its architect’s words would prove prophetic.
Swords into ploughshares…and paintbrushes
In the period following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukrainian socio and politico-cultural life might be defined as equal parts confusion and opportunism. Obsolete, soviet-era institutions were failing, and many were privatized and repurposed in questionable deals. The arsenal, despite fears that it might be grabbed up for purely commercial purposes, was somehow preserved. The building was granted National Historic Monument status and later rechristened as a cultural institution to be called “The Mystetskyi Arsenal” (the Arts Arsenal).
That was in 2003. The ensuing decade has provided Ukrainian society with further challenges, and while the transformation of the Arsenal into a working cultural institution has been difficult, an auspicious beginning has at last been made. By October 2010 the Old Arsenal had been sufficiently adapted to host exhibitions, and most significantly, visitors. Comprised of more than 60,000 m2 of floor space, the architectural and spatial configuration of the Arsenal complex allows it to hold large-scale art projects, exhibitions, concerts, performances, presentations, charity balls and more.
And indeed, the New Arts Arsenal, has been all that and more. In these four years over two million visitors have crossed Arsenal thresholds for 35 major, and scores of small-scale projects. Celebrating world culture from its pre-historic roots to its most contemporary flower, the Arsenal has been a sometime home for the genius of eminent international and home-grown artists. From projects featuring the films of Dziga Vertov, to the avant-garde challenge of Kazimir Malevych, and the contemporary provocations of Luise Bourgeois , Jake & Dinos Chapman , and Ukraine’s own Zhanna Kadyrova, the Mystetskyi Arsenal is making its mark.
Life as Art
Art and culture, free to explore, are at the heart of any progressive society. Whether it’s through innovation in children’s education, special needs projects, celebrations of classical masterpieces, or the advancement of great literature, the Mystetskyi Arsenal is at the vanguard, leading Ukraine beyond its recent, difficult past and into Europe and the world. This is our moment. No longer hidden in the shadows, the life and art of this dynamic place are open to all.
Come and see.
THE MISSION of the MYSTETSKYI ARSENAL:
To envision a single national concept encompassing the breadth of Ukrainian cultural achievement and initiative,
and to promote that concept embodied in Ukrainian art, culture, and history, ensuring its place in the broader heritage of world culture.
VIRTUAL TOURS OF EXHIBITIIONS
Grand and Great
Read about Grand and Great here
IV FINE ART UKRAINE
Read about IV FINE ART UKRAINE here
Grand Antique Salon 2012
Read about Grand Antique Salon 2012 here
ART KYIV Contemporary 2012
Read about ART KYIV Contemporary 2012 here
Read about ARSENALE 2012 here