Myroslava Hartmond: ‘I want Marchuk to be the Ukrainian public’s guide into the world of abstract art’Interview
Triptych: Global Arts Workshop is hosting an exhibition of abstract works by Ivan Marchuk, from the private collection of gallery proprietor Myroslava Hartmond (Halushka). ArtsLooker spoke with Myroslava about this great contemporary genius, and also about the relevance of abstract art and the role of culture in international dialogue.
British, but of Ukrainian origin, Hartmond has spent almost four years combining research work at Oxford University with active cultural activity in Ukraine and abroad. But Myroslava is in no hurry to become part of the Ukrainian art world. As an academic, she has to ‘stand on one side and remain objective’. Her goal is to realize Ukraine’s cultural-diplomatic potential, and to propose ways of strategically promoting Ukrainian culture internationally.
— What was the main idea behind the exhibition Ivan Marchuk’s ‘Abstract Compoaitions’, and what makes it relevant to the Ukrainian public?
— Ivan Marchuk’s abstract works are a unique phenomenon in the history of Ukrainian art, but within Ukraine this aspect of his work is almost unknown. The ‘Abstract Compositions’ represent alogical continuation from Marchuk’s ‘wovenism’, and also a critical rethinking of the Abstract Expressionist works that the artist had had the opportunity to see while he was living abroad. But today I think we can say that the Ukrainian public still isn’t ready for abstraction. Abstract art is an intellectual thing, and understanding it takes more than just a solid aesthetic education: it takes an impartial outlook. It seems to me that one of the basic global trends of our time is the intellectualization of the sphere of consumption. And the works of the great modern genius Marchuk themselves meet the high demands of world-class collectors. In fact, it was British experts who were the first to recognize Ivan Stepanovich’s genius. And one significant reason was the multi-faceted nature of his work. For me it has been indicative how many exhibition visitors have been deeply reluctant to accept ‘this’ Marchuk: but not one of the sceptics remained indifferent to what they had seen. I want Marchuk, whose work is already part of our national subconscious, to be the Ukrainian public’s guide into the world of abstract art.
— Why did you decide to put on a series of exhibitions of Ivan Marchuk’s abstract works?
— Today it would be more accurate to speak of a permanent exhibition of Ivan Marchuk’s work at 34, Andriivsky Uzviz. Marchuk’s painting is a refined substance, a substance that is intelligent and whimsical. And just the same can be said of the Triptych gallery, which has a history going back nearly thirty years. When the exhibition was hung, I sensed the interpenetration between the canvases and the space. In fact, the experience of the world’s leading galleries testifies to how necessary it is to work systematically with the material, which is why some exhibitions can last for months. So far, the Marchuk exhibition has been viewed by collectors from Great Britain, the Netherlands, China, and the USA, and discussions are under way with the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, and Dubai. We’ll be able to speak a little later about how the project will develip further, but the interest that international art circles have shown in these works demonstrates the colossal potential that this particular representative of Ukrainian art has.
You know, we’ve spent many years talking about the need for a Marchuk Museum, and yet nothing has actually been done since the first brick was laid in Artists’ Alley in 2005. Ivan Stepanovich has told me more than once that he dreams of a building like the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam: people travel there from all over the world and queue up to see those famous works. The exhibition at Triptych: Global Arts Workshop is probably more reminiscent of the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, where people of any religious persuasion can come and meditate for a bit in the presence of some magnificent paintings. And Mark Rothko, as it happens, is also a prophet who wasn’t honoured in his own country.
— You are now a research associate with the Centre for International Studies at Oxford University. What does your research work focus on, and is it connected to your activity in the art business?
— I’ve already spent more than a year looking at Ukraine’s efforts in cultural diplomacy, and working to attract attention to this key aspect of foreign policy; but it’s an expression that has only just become current here. At first I was seen as an eccentric, in Ukrainian cultural circles: look, they said, there’s a war on in this country, a crisis, and here you are talking to us about something called cultural diplomacy! I hold discussions with cultural and political figures, I attend cultural events, and I follow the national and international press in detail. Officials from cultural projects in Ukraine come to me for advice—including representatives of international organizations. The outcome of my research will be an analytical work mapping out the most promising avenues for cultural dialogue between Ukraine and the outside world. In August 2014, given the turbulent changes that were taking place in the country, I deliberately put off writing my doctoral thesis at Oxford University and came to Kyiv. I began with exhibition work, and with creating an intellectul space that would allow me to assemble some unique material—mostly based on my own projects. And in November 2014 the British Academy asked me to submit a report on the theme of my Master’s thesis, dealing with culture and conflict—which, incidentally, has been read by people from 65 countries around the world. From my conversations with academics, politicians, journalists, and lobbyists for Ukraine’s interests abroad, I have come to the sad conclusion that our country is still known primarily for its political difficulties.