On June 20 Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery holds the Angels Exhibition, curator of which is Pavlo Gudimov. This is the first part of the trilogy, which is intended to study multilaterally and thoroughly the theme of sacred in society. The work on the project has last for years. Organizers say that more than 400 exhibits from 40 different museums and cultural institutions of Ukraine and the world will be presented at the exhibition. Vrubel, Chagall, Pinzel, Pryimachenko, Yagoda, Dore – everyone is here.
Totally, the exhibition space is more than three thousand square meters. It occupied both floors of the art museum and the museum of sacred sculpture by Johann Georg Pinsel. The Angels Exhibition has been already called the most important cultural event of the year in Ukraine. The day before the opening we managed to talk to the author of the idea and curator, Pavlo Gudimov.
For assistance in organizing the interview credits go to Andrii Rybka and Roman Guk.
One can meet Gudimov just on the zebra crossing. He and his daughter rush to the gallery – carrying food to the workers and responding the phone calls on their way. We arrange an interview and the next day the most frequent question I hear sounds like: “Where is Pasha?”.
I myself lost him, he was taken away from me by museum guards, mounters, artists. I look at the recorder – thirteen minutes from Pinsel Museum that is on Mytna Square to the Art Museum that is on Stefanyka Square. Thirteen minutes, six of which are the phone conversations, recommendations on mounting, questions, questions, questions. I like the way how quickly he returns to the moment at which we stopped, his speech is extensive and clear.
But thirteen minutes are not enough for an interview about such a project. Within the course of the evening, I will be chasing him with the same question. At some point, I realized when you stop looking for Pasha and wait still for ten minutes he himself will run pass you four or five times. From the first floor to the second, from the one end to another. Where is Pasha?
How can you delegate responsibility in projects of this scale?
It’s hard. Curation for me is not only the artistic part but also producing one. Everyone knows – if I don’t like something it must be worked over. There are several people in the team who have the right to make their own decision but even they don’t always take on this responsibility. This is not a totalitarian approach, I just have a certain level of requirements.
In Lviv now, the core team consists of three people. Virtually all management of the project is divided into three main parts. This is coordination between Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery and museums and institutions that gave their works for the exhibition. Our team deals with contracts, insurance, which passes through the London company and transportation, for which we involved the Austrians. Insurance services costs, by the way, nothing more than the service of Ukrainian companies.
Even so, there are many things that I don’t control at all, including the whole financial management.
In such projects, management always lags behind from the artistic component. And so throughout the whole country. The system isn’t worked out in the majority of cases. When realizing the difficulty of this work many refuse at the stage of the idea. They say, “It would be great to do it.” For this, all the courage is needed. And due to the powerful partners who agreed to accept and conduct this event on their territory, we received a huge strengthening of collections, management, people and our authority. Such confident steps can be made only in collaboration with strong partners.
How do you think, how much the theme of the exhibition contributed to the formation of such a strong partnership?
Could the angels unite? Sure thing. People want to share with their angels. Museum workers, owners of collections virtually every day get in touch and say, “Look, we have more angels.” Something is hidden in this, something that is still difficult to understand.
There are such exhibits that arrived already during the exhibition mounting. This was an offer impossible to refuse – Wilhelm Kotarbiński, draft pictures of St Volodymyr’s Cathedral.
Both theme and my participation in this project play not the last role. People trust me as a curator.
In the curatorial statement, you wrote that during the preparation of the exhibition, some topics were unexpectedly wide open, while others, from which you expected more, on the contrary – didn’t meet the expectation. What are the topics?
The topic of angel’s dark side didn’t meet the expectation. At all. We thought we can show, let’s say, Lucifer & Co. Apart from the “Lost Paradise” engraving by Gustave Dore and some works on the Last Judgment plot, this topic is not presented here. The topic is rather deep but due to the lack of resources it simply “shut down”.
As well as the topic of the hierarchy of angels. We were sure that we would find the exhibits but we failed. Therefore, only the text of Mariia Tsymbalista and the installation of Albina Yaloza correspond to this topic.
There is an interesting moment regarding the extension of the topic of Kaleidoscope, in the section “Angels and People”. When we began to explore church artefacts, caricatures, household things, we were excited! From the German Historical Museum, we brought a chair with the image of an angel on the back. Basically, the angel behind you.
And thanks to such a number of objects the selection was conducted especially choicely.
And how relevant is the theme of angels in the modern world, where post-modernism has already passed and “God is dead”, and the 21st century is outdoors? Does the project have the aim to update the image of an angel in modern time or to create the new, metamodernist one? Or maybe this exhibition is a so-called retrospective of an angel presence in the world?
I believe that this question can be spread in all the directions. Someone will look at it through the prism of metamodernism or talk about the transition of religious to secular, someone else will perceive only philosophical meaning. Also, there will be those enjoying the pictures. I don’t want to declare any idea since it can become imposing.
The interview lasted for two days. At nine a.m, I am in the museum and hear the answer:
“Hey, let’s continue after twelve p.m. or already after the opening.”
I am panicking. I have a deadline in the evening. I call again, explain. “Well come in but you will have no more than 10 minutes”.
Recording on the recorder shows twenty-five. Ten of which – mounting, fixed in the audio, rush, questions, screams. At some point, Rybka approaches me and says:
“Look, it’s really not the best time for the interview.”
“Ideal,” I answer.
This exhibition is planned as the first part of the trilogy to reveal the theme of sacral in our society. What will the next two parts be about?
There are themes for them already. I have even found some exhibit for them what can’t but make me happy. These themes can be conditionally called sacred although we realize that the trilogy must be linked with clear concepts. That’s why a particular transformation of images is present here. For instance, the transformation of an angel is obvious, understandable and popular in the world and is easy for apprehension. The next two themes are rather the necessity. The second exhibition will be dedicated to Adam and Eve – the most metaphorical concept of first people, the image of a man and woman which was preserved worldwide. In fact, it will be an exhibition about a man and woman in the broadest sense.
The third part of the trilogy will be called “Deadline” and it will be dedicated to death, its image. For this project, we already have a half-fledged rubricator. It widely reveals the concept of transition to another world. If attentively look at the exhibits, one can notice the theme of death even here, depicted by Chronos and Tanatos.
Speaking about the terms we consider the Biannual format i.e. opening of a new exhibition every two years. It’s one’s physical peak.
Also, I want to admit that uniting in the trilogy doesn’t mean that these exhibitions will be identical. Methods, tools, the approach will differ. It’s important for me to prevent stagnation. The change of different factors, including the updating of the team, allows you not to make single-word statements that begin to duplicate each other, then there is a risk that the project will be the same or weaker.
Your projects are featured with their ambitious and “epic” scope – The Aeneid, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, The Angels. How do you feel in such a workflow? After this wild dynamics, do you still have an inner sense of purpose and inspiration that was in the beginning?
If you didn’t take the interview on the last day of mounting but a bit later when I am relaxed, maybe the feeling would be different. At this moment, I am terribly happy that another one, as you say, epic work has been done. To tell you the truth, there was a moment when the team became desperate that the project wouldn’t be realized. What if it was an idea that just tried to become a process?
It was hard with this pessimism. I personally believe that there is nothing better than real work to battle this despair.
Here I want to add that this project was created for being established in Lviv. And without Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery, I am not sure that this project would look the way it is now, to this extent.
Today, I am terribly tired and perfectly happy about what is happening.
Do you have the feeling of fulfilment?
Yes, especially when all the work is finished. The next stage will be collecting what is called feedback. The feedback and emotions of visitors and friend-professionals. That’s why I have a great feeling of anticipation.
I know that you are preparing a great number of curator tours around the exhibition. What is your approach?
I am not going to repeat the exposition or duplicate what is written on the walls. First, I am going to tell how all have been done. Then, I am going to make the accents – this is a highly important moment. Where the exhibits were located, how the process of singling out the sections was performed – these all are saturated with different stories which are connected to the exhibition, give or take. Each time these accents will be made a bit differently. It’s important for me that people after one tour want to visit another one. For me, as for a person who calls himself a curator, tours are a separate genre, that’s why I pay special attention to it. They are part of my professional groundwork. Without curator tours, the part of the information about the project remains incomplete.
The project of such scale is always a political gesture. How do you define it for yourself?
I always said that culture is the only true politics. The Angels is a true political gesture. In fact, by this exhibition, we show that there is nothing impossible either in the museum sphere or in the project one or in the sphere of communications. I believe that by this project we aim for new in terms of humanitarian and museum policies. Along with this, I believe that this exhibition doesn’t incorporate anything that would evidence its connection with trifle political situation in Ukraine. We act within the “normal” field – we just order the things and don’t make accents on the clogged informational space. This theme connects those people who aspire for new. Strangely enough, what can be new in the “super old”? We show something that can be called the ground.
How did you approach the religious side of The Angels?
This project demonstrates how religious phenomena change into the secular format. That’s, actually, all I can say about the religious side. We worked with a great number of known and authority experts who deal with religious questions. Mariia Tsymbalista, for instance, knows the symbolism of sacral art in depth. I personally hope that this exhibition will be useful and interesting for different representatives of different religious and confessional groups.
In one of your interviews, you quoted Tiberiy Szilvashi who said that his artwork “Wings” was somewhere between sacred and glamorous. Where is the boundary between these concepts for you in the context of this project?
I even have a ready formulation. Between sacred and glamorous there is a museum. And it legitimizes everything.
Interview and photo by Sasha Naselenko