Critics’ Picks

Luc Tuymans, Die Wiedargutmachung (Reparations), 1989, oil on canvas, oil on cardboard, 18 x 22, 15 x 18".

Kiev

“Democracy Anew?”

PinchukArtCentre
1/3-2, "А" Block, Velyka Vasylkivska / Baseyna vul
June 23–January 6

“There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide,” John Adams once conceded of the government he helped to establish. Rather than dictators, it was elected illiberal democrats that he believed would destabilize the system’s core values. Precisely that possibility concerns this multimedia exhibition, which was timed with the Yalta European Strategy conference on Ukraine’s “European future” and argues that there is no better time than the present to reinterpret democracy.

Outside the museum, Kiev is covered with campaign posters that convey an urgent pursuit of democracy, with a violent undertow. Inside, the show sketches a picture of democracy tinted with fear and dread, only occasionally shimmering with something like possibility. Printed in simple black typeface on paper, Zoe Leonard’s poem I Want a President, 1992, calls out the lack of diversity among elected officials and democracy’s inability to fulfill its most fundamental tenet: the representation of its constituents. Luc Tuymans’s Die Wiedergutmachung, 1989, refers to the reparations paid to persecuted Jews by the German government after World War II. Informed by photographs of Nazi experiments, the two gridded and mutedly devastating watercolors depict expressionless eyes and disembodied hands. In the drawing Self-immolation (Algeria), 2018, Goshka Macuga contours an inflamed human body before a crowd—the act of protest in Tunisia that sparked the Arab Spring. Macuga positions the viewer behind the event and before the crowd, compelling us to confront our role in democracy’s ruin and construction.

There is no shortage of reflective work by Ukrainian contemporary artists, yet their practices are not on view here. In turn, the show leaves us wondering what image of democracy would result from a juxtaposition of local and international perspectives. Yet it also reminds us, through its inclusions and elisions, that the art of our moment must produce dialogue—a pertinent message to fledgling democracies worldwide.