Keeping the Faith

Kate Sutton on Subodh Gupta and Sergey Bratkov at the PinchukArtCentre


Left: ArtBerloga's Mike Ovcharenko and artist Sergey Bratkov. Right: Galleria Continua's Lorenzo Fiaschi, Hauser & Wirth's Marc Payot and artist Subodh Gupta. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

ABUNDANT ICE AND A –25°C CHILL pretty much precluded stilettos, but it didn’t stop a crowd of nearly five thousand fur-clad visitors from descending on last Friday’s opening of concurrent solo shows (Sergey Bratkov and Subodh Gupta) at the PinchukArtCentre. When asked to explain the connection between the artists, collector Victor Pinchuk noted a “spiritual synonymity” between the respective exhibition titles: “Ukraine” (Bratkov) and “Faith Matters” (Gupta).

An unofficial retrospective, Bratkov’s exhibition culminates a three-year process that began when the artist was tapped for the PAC-administrated Ukrainian pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale. (Incidentally, Bratkov represented Russia four years prior, in the fiftieth Biennale.) Bratkov—born in Kharkov, but long since relocated to Moscow—is frequently caught between dueling claims on his nationality. When Pinchuk asked the artist whether he considers himself Russian or Ukrainian, Bratkov simply shrugged: “Me? I’m Jewish.”

The show might not answer any more questions, but that’s not to say it’s shy. It opens with a self-portrait of the artist, his mournful eyes staring out from a face covered in shaving cream. The photograph is placed at an angle that mischievously corresponds to an image of a girl reclining on a rock with her skirt hiked. In keeping with Bratkov’s gentle, sexually soaked humor, the attention seems less directed at the girl’s impressive grooming and more at the large black fly perched nonchalantly on her labia. A sweet sadness permeates even his most provocative work, including the 2000 series “Kids,” with its images of a forlorn eight-year-old boy in an elaborate women’s one-piece or a sultry seven-year-old, legs spread, cigarette in hand.

Left: Hauser & Wirth's Gregor Muir with in situ's Fabienne LeClerc. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Dealers Iwan Wirth and Vladimir Ovcharenko. (Photo: Sergei Illin)

“Faith Matters” is more reserved, contained to a relatively spare selection of five sculptures and twelve new paintings. Thanks to the record lows outside, the center’s exhibition spaces were at least 10 degrees colder than usual, making Gupta’s assemblages of metal pots and pans seem even chillier and more pristine (and not entirely unlike one of the magnificent ice formations sheeting the city sidewalks and waterspouts). Visitors stayed bundled in their coats as they circled Faith Matters, the conveyor-belt metropolis—built from towers of cookware set atop revolving sushi platters—which gave the exhibition its title, or as they perused a suite of paintings depicting falling pots as slick puddles of silver and beige.

Gupta makes a dramatic departure from the pots and pans with the startling Cosmic Battle, a large sculpture of a victorious Hindu goddess bearing down on a demon, her ten arms wielding a bevy of weapons limned in light. The goddess’s flickering neon would have been a great addition to the center’s top-floor SkyArtCafe, where a DJ booth and flavored vodkas attracted a mainly younger crowd, including curator Kateryna Taylor and artist Janna Kadyrova, as well as Katya Bochavar and Vladimir Troitsky, directors of Gogolfest, the annual alternative performance festival, which promises to be the city’s premier cultural event in September.

Left: Dealers Peter Nagy and June Y. Gwak. Right: Peter Doroshenko with a guest. (Photos: Sergei Illin)

The opening was followed by a quiet dinner at the new restaurant behind the PAC, which boasted works by Pinchuk favorites Masha Shubina and Ilya Chichkan, as well as a view of the plaza once home to Damien Hirst’s shark tanks (now an ice-skating rink). The tiny tables and revolving plates of finger food made for an intimate vibe, encouraging good-natured couch hopping among the fifty guests. Critic Katya Degot and curators Teresa Mavica, Olga Sviblova, and Julie Sylvester sipped wine by the piano, while Bratkov threw back vodka shots at the bar with PAC curator Alexander Soloviev and the artist’s longtime friend and dealer Vladimir Ovcharenko. Dealers June Y. Gwak, Fabienne LeClerc, and Lorenzo Fiaschi traded artist tips over (and sometimes in exchange for) appetizers, while across the room, dealer Peter Nagy held court with the Hauser & Wirth contingent. At the same table, Gupta sat hunched over in a fit of artistic inspiration, as he sketched an ad hoc portrait of the impossibly vivacious collector Mimi Dusselier on his dinner napkin.

Even after the wine stopped flowing, there was still plenty of vodka, the drink of choice when bracing oneself for a bad decision—quite possibly the only kind of decision available in a city where the sole postmidnight entertainment option is a casino. Well, there were a few other options. Discouraged by the $700 per-head cash deposit at the Premiere casino, an ardent few pushed onward and upward to another establishment, where for the more modest $25 entry fee one could enjoy bottles of champagne (starting price: $350) and the talents of what had to be the world’s most melancholic erotic dancers.

The majority of the group made a polite show of ignoring the entertainment, turning their backs to the stage and forcing conversation about upcoming art fairs. Not to be deterred, one dancer––surprisingly lithe on nine-inch platforms––made a determined effort to catch a dealer’s attention. He smiled gamely, “Darling, you have the wrong man here. But I love your shoes!” As the girl sulked off, another dealer flashed me a nervous look and reached for his champagne glass. Suffice to say, the next day’s roundtable discussion was full of knowing smiles and conspicuous absences.

Left: Curator Kateryna Taylor. Right: Collectors Bernard Soens and Mimi Dusselier with Peter Doroshenko. (Photos: Kate Sutton)