Mystetskyi Arsenal (Art Arsenal) is one of Ukraine's most promising projects in the field of culture and has a fair chance of becoming one of the world's largest museums.
The mission of Mystetskyi Arsenal is to combine many Ukrainian cultural achievements and initiatives into one conceptual national project thus presenting the Ukrainian historical and artistic heritage as part of world cultural heritage.
An unexpected culture treasure
For many native Kyivans, the new exhibition premises in the city’s centre are still a white spot on the map. For centuries, this magnificent building was in military use: top secret, sealed, surrounded with barbed wire. People tended not to notice it, afraid that their curiosity might be taken for gathering military intelligence.
Architectural and semantic dominant of the National Cultural-Art and Museum Complex "Mystetskyi Arsenal" is the Old Arsenal building, an architectural monument of national importance, erected in 1783-1801 according to the project designed by Lieutenant-General Ivan (Johann) Meller within the area of the Old Pechersk Fortress, built on the site of Voznesensky Convent.
During 1683-1707, the monastery’s hegumene was Maria-Mahdalyna Mazepyna, Hetman Ivan Mazepa's mother, who led the convent to its period of prosperity. In 1701-1705, the Hetman and his mother paid for a magnificent stone temple erected on the site of the wooden Voznesenska Church. The Pokrovy Bohorodytsi Church had been rebuilt in stone.
In August 1706, the Russian Emperor Peter the Great founded the Kyiv-Pechersk citadel here. The forftress was built by Ukrainian regiments based in Kyiv under the supervision of Hetman Ivan Mazepa. Because it was in the way of the fortress’s construction, the Voznesensky Convent was abolished; its nuns had to move to the Florivsky Convent in Podil. The Voznesenska Church existed until 1798, while the former territory of the convent was given to the Artillery Department.
From early 19th century, the Arsenal, as well as the adjacent area of the Old Pechersk Fortress, was under control of the army. During the 20th century it retained its primary function as a facility for military needs.
After the site lost its military significance in early 1990s, many feared that it might become another shopping mall or an office building. Luckily, the Old Arsenal escaped such a fate. Starting from 2003, decrees of Ukraine’s three presidents granted it the status of a cultural and artistic institution and the name "Mystetskyi Arsenal". These days, the complex is undergoing major reconstruction with the view of making it a major cultural object. At the same time, it is the site for numerous exhibitions, artistic performances, presentations etc.
Plans for the future
Ivan Meller, the Arsenal's architect, wrote: "Time will come, and you will see that I've built this building for people, not for the fortress." Little by little, his far-sightedness becomes clear.
Soon, a new-generation museum, with modern technical infrastructure meeting requirements of a dynamic exhibition centre and offering vast opportunities for education, will offer visitors spacious exhibition halls, art laboratories, electronic libraries, bookstores, conference rooms, classrooms.
Until late 2014, parts of the complex will be under reconstruction. Nevertheless, even today Mystetskyi Arsenal is functioning in a vivid creative format: in October 2010, the premises of Old Arsenal were adapted as much as possible for the convenience of visitors and exhibitors, thus enabling the realization of versatile cultural and artistic projects. The architectural and spatial concept of the complex allows for arranging large-scale art projects, exhibitions, presentations, charity balls, and more. The total area of the Mystetskyi Arsenal building is 50,000 sq m.
Mystetskyi Arsenal is already negotiating with the leading museums of Ukraine and the world in order to exhibit collections of art masterpieces in Ukraine, among them a big project on the heritage of Kazimir Malevich, international projects on contemporary art, exhibitions of works by Frida Kahlo, Edward Munch, Gustav Klimt, masters of the Austrian Secession, and Surrealist artists.