Елена Окунева
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VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: confrontation with Konstantin Reunov

VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: confrontation with Konstantin Reunov
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Photo: artukraine.gallery


As the philosopher Boris Groys says, “it may seem that contemporary art is constantly opening up new opportunities, but in fact it closes them”. And if the world has already happened, Jackson Pollock, then for other artists the opportunity to become famous using a similar approach to painting is closed.

In every artistic revolution that a person wants to join, in fact, there is room for only one, and every discovery really becomes, in some sense, a closure. Each new generation revises the doctrines of its predecessors, refuting them and proclaiming its own rules.

In such opposition, there are often pieces of truth that sparkle in the history of art. And this opposition lies at the heart of the work of the Ukrainian artist Konstantin Reunov.

Reunov grew up in a creative environment, both of his parents were artists and, as far as it was known, did not oppose the decision of his son to follow in their footsteps. After the art school and the hudinstitute, Reunov enters the military service, where he meets Oleg Tistol in a military unit, and this meeting will become fateful for both of them.

After the army, the artists will unite and will not only work, but also live together. Later they were joined by several more associates: Yana Bystrova, Marina Skugareva and Alexander Kharchenko, but Tistol and Reunov remained the group’s “program directors”.


VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: confrontation with Konstantin Reunov
Ukrainian gorilka, 1989


Together, they developed their own, albeit unwritten, manifesto “The will-line of national post-eclecticism”, formulated a system of values, within which they worked, and Tistol still works to one degree or another. It is noteworthy that at the heart of these values was the national moment, which was not characteristic then, in the 80s and 90s, neither artists, nor Ukrainians in general, and Tistol and Reunov were already opposing Ukraine and Russia, when it more than “was not yet mainstream”.


VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: confrontation with Konstantin Reunov
Winners are not judged. To the great Russian people from the great Ukrainian people, 1989


The artists generally built their manifesto on opposition. Reunov declares his position as follows, “We resist everything: nature, wind, social reality, the artistic situation before us, the artistic situation after us, the artistic situation within ourselves, and we get pleasure from it, raising the moment of emphasis with reality to an artistic degree, and when reality and opposition to it turns into an artistic object” [1].

If in words it may sound incomprehensible, then, as the art critic Konstantin Akinsha notes, “in practice, the ‘Will Edge’ was reduced to the use of national (or regional) stereotyped symbols in a grotesque context” [2]. The artists, not without irony, but with love, collected Ukrainian clichés and created from them rich paintings filled with images.

One of the programmatic goals of Reunov and Tistol was the struggle for the beauty of the stereotype, in which they defended the rights of symbols, on one hand, hackneyed, on the other, recognizable, to be self-sufficient, sincere and shameless. Later, Tistol will attract Nikolay Matsenko to this struggle, who will strengthen these positions in the field of contemporary art, but Reunov will shift the focus of interests a little over time.

At the very beginning of the 90s, the paths of artists diverged – Reunov moved to London, where he has been staying for almost a decade. It is curious that from this period there are practically no works by the artist (at least in the public domain). In the 2000s, he returned to Kiev, where he continued to paint, relying on the principles of pop art. Andy Warhol enters Reunov’s work both in the form of ideas and in the form of portraits that the Ukrainian artist places on his canvases, straightforwardly explaining to the viewer the source of his new approach to painting.


VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: confrontation with Konstantin Reunov
Photo of K. Reunov’s exhibition Better Than The Original, Art Ukraine Gallery, 2017


In this approach, Konstantin Reunov tries to “reconcile” elite and mass art, using, like his star American mentor, recognizable images of popular, replicated culture such as pop stars, TV channels, tabloids.

The artist believes that if the widest stratum of the population is introduced to high art, qualitative changes in the life of society will not be long in coming. Actually, this statement does not contradict any laws of physics, but whether Reunov will be able to fulfill his mission by means of such works, which, unfortunately, do not already look innovative, is an open question.



[1] In search of a happy ending / [TV movie]. // dir. Olga Sviblova, Moscow, 1991

[2] Akinsha K. Poetics of surzhik, or Kiev cutlet // Decorative art, 1989. – № 3. – 26

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