Ukrainian Photo Exhibit in Chelsea Vandalized, Curator Attacked

Attackers pepper-sprayed the curator and defaced photographs.

"Material Evidence" installation view.
Photo: @rossellalaeng/Instagram.

A Chelsea gallery and its curator were victim of an attack on Friday.

As reported by Hyperallergic, the attack took place at ArtBeam (formerly the Eyebeam Art & Technology Center) on West 21st Street. The gallery is currently showing “Material Evidence,” which showcases contemporary photographs documenting the ongoing Syrian and Ukrainian uprisings.

A trio of visitors vandalized the photographs and pepper-sprayed the exhibition curator, Benjamin Hiller.

They also left behind neo-Nazi and anti-Russian flyers.

The three suspects arrived separately and in rapid succession. The first two, a women and a man with a satchel, asked where the Ukrainian photos were on view, and went straight to that area of the gallery, even though staff suggested beginning with the Syria section.

“Material Evidence” installation view.
Photo: @the_yukka/Instagram.

The third visitor asked Hiller if he had organized the exhibition. When the German curator responded in the affirmative, he was told, “You bring shame on the Ukrainian people.” The visitor then brandished a can of pepper spray, hitting Hiller with the powerful chemical substance. The attacker quickly fled, but not before knocking Hiller’s laptop onto the floor.

“I was in total amazement,” Hiller told the New York Times. “It burned a bit.”

While Hiller was being attacked, the first two visitors were busy inside the exhibition, distributing flyers, defacing some photographs of protestors in Kiev, and painting the word “lie” near a photo of anti-Russian Unkrainians being trained to fight.

Hiller intended for his selection of photographs to offer a balanced viewpoint of both sides of the Ukrainian conflict, acknowledging the violence used by all parties.

Following the incident, gallery employees did their best to remove the graffiti. Attempts to file a police report were unsuccessful, as Hiller showed no visible signs of injury. (By comparison, in an attack last month, a Ukrainian curator received severe facial injuries (see “Curator and Activist Viciously Attacked in Kiev“.)

The show, on view through October 11, will have increased security for the rest of its run.

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