Kiev Biennale Cancelled Due to Concerns Over Violence in the Ukraine

Organizers feared for the safety of participants and visitors.

The Mystetskyi Arsenal, location of the Kiev Biennale. Photo: artarsenal.in.ua
The event was cancelled after the government withdrew their support for the venue, the Mystetskyi Arsenal. Photo: artarsenal.in.ua

Financial difficulties and unstable political conditions are cited as reasons for the cancellation of the second edition of the Kiev Biennale, the Austrian daily Der Standard reports.

In addition to the shortage of funds and grave political instability, the biennial’s organizers also experienced problems obtaining insurance and secured transportation for the artworks.

More crucial however are concerns over the safety of the participants and visitors, which could potentially be compromised. The country has been experiencing continuous violent conflicts since the military annexation of the Crimea by Russia in March 2014. Pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine have escalated the political turmoil that threatens to tear the country apart.

In light of recent attacks on art, culture, and even people working in the art world, the organizers’ concerns are understandable (see Curator and Activist Viciously Attacked in Kiev, and More Unrest in Ukraine as Rebels Seize Arts and Culture Center, and Conflict Threatens Ukraine’s Cultural Heritage).

The 2015 Kiev Biennale would have been the second iteration of the curated show, which was launched in 2012. It was to be curated by Georg Schöllhammer and Hedwig Saxenhuber and slated to take place in 2014, but in February of last year, organizers announced that the biennial would be postponed until 2015.

Last year, the general director of Mystetskyi Arsenal museum complex, Natalia Zabolotna, explained the decision to push back the biennial, stating: “Ukraine is experiencing an unprecedentedly difficult time, when the question of the state’s future is being decided. Taking this into account, it is impossible to carry out responsibly the preparation needed for a large-scale artistic project of international significance like the biennial. For this reason, it was decided to postpone the biennial until 2015.”

The inaugural Kiev Biennale took place in 2012 in the converted Tsarist-era “Mystetskyi Arsenal” in the historic city center (see Ukraine’s New President Chooses Biennale Venue for Inauguration).

Zabolotna was also the commissioner of the first biennale. She was credited for a successful launch, and for capably transforming the former weapons arsenal into a contemporary art space of international standard. She also successfully enlisted the British curator David Elliott to head the project.

But Zabolotna was also harshly criticized last summer for allegedly censoring the work of the Ukrainian artist Volodymyr Kuznetsov when she painted over his mural, due to be included in a different exhibition at the Mystetskyi Arsenal. This led several Ukrainian artists to start a boycott of the next biennial, the same one which has now been cancelled.


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