Елена Окунева
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VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: quotes and disasters by Georgy Senchenko

VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: quotes and disasters by Georgy Senchenko
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Photo: pinchukartcentre.org


Georgy Senchenko is an artist famous in a rather strange way. There are practically no independent works, and even more so personal exhibitions, in his asset, his name is usually called in the context of the “Paris Commune”, a popular object of research and revaluation today, as well as in tandem with Arsen Savadov, a powerful figure in all respects…

In addition, the work of Georgy Senchenko often quotes and borrows either the form or the content of the works of other authors, which involuntarily casts doubt on the artist’s originality. It is possible that Senchenko doubted for a long time, interrupting his artistic career for twenty years. However, he decided to return.

Georgy Senchenko is really associated with Arsen Savadov, cooperation with whom glorified both of them, and in general the Ukrainian art of the nineties, marking the beginning of the so-called “New Wave”, transavantgarde, and in general, modern Ukrainian art.

Senchenko and Savadov met when they were 11 years old, they studied together at the Republican Art School (now – Children’s Art School named after T.G. Shevchenko), later – at the Kiev State Art Institute (now – the Academy of NAOMA), and then worked in tandem until 1996. And in the next 1997, Senchenko announced the end of artistic activity in favor of a more applied field of creativity – design.

Nevertheless, “Cleopatra’s Sorrow”, created by Savadov and Senchenko, has become that cornerstone work, which alone is enough to fix its name in the annals of history. The picture became a turning point in everything – technique, style, plot, sale price, number of mentions in the Western press…

“Cleopatra” became a powerful volcanic eruption, which, by the way, is depicted on the canvas, that stirred up the entire post-Soviet space, but especially Ukraine, giving rise to a picturesque tsunami, later called the New Wave. Savadov claims that “Everyone who saw Cleopatra became artists in a year” [1].


VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: quotes and disasters by Georgy Senchenko
A. Savadov, G. Senchenko “Cleopatra’s Sadness”, 1987


Despite all the innovations, by the standards of the USSR, even the rebelliousness of “Cleopatra’s Sadness”, the painting is based on allusions and references that fill the art of postmodernism and which will become a programmatic attribute of the contemporary artists of Senchenko and Savadov.

Probably the most famous independent work of Georgy Senchenko – “The Sacred Landscape of Pieter Bruegel” in 1988 – was also no exception. This is a rather literal quote from a late drawing by a Dutch master, famous for its mystery, many interpretations and renderings.

In Bruegel, at least from the name, we understand that we see beekeepers with hives, and we can guess that their faces are covered with special nets. But nevertheless, the feeling of anxiety is still present.

Senchenko neglected the delicate weaves of vines on baskets and on masks from Bruegel’s drawing, and now, if you do not know the original and the features of medieval beekeeping, then what is happening in the picture is not obvious, and the missing faces of people look frankly creepy.

The effect is enhanced by the ocher-orange gamut of the canvas, which sharply contrasts with the greenery of the plant in the foreground. There is a version that this scorched landscape has an apocalyptic character and symbolizes, as it were, the “deadness” of the world, and the absence of faces equalizes people, which is what death actually does. It is curious to revise this interpretation once again today, in the covid era of the mask regime, when a shrewd virus hid both faces and made everyone equal in front of him.


VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: quotes and disasters by Georgy Senchenko
Pieter Bruegel the Elder “The Beekeepers”, 1568
VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: quotes and disasters by Georgy Senchenko
G. Senchenko “The Sacred Landscape of Pieter Bruegel”, 1988


There is an interpretation of the painting by G. Senchenko as post-Chernobyl, post-catastrophic art. In the text about this phenomenon, art critic Konstantin Doroshenko recalls a quote from critic Maria Khrushchak, who calls Senchenko’s The Sacred Landscape, along with the works of other authors, “the picture is  frightening, but hopeful” [2].

The same catastrophe explains the famous “vitality” of Ukrainian art in the late eighties – early nineties, and the departure from reality to the world of dreams, mysticism and mythology, inherent in almost all artists of that time.

After two decades of hiatus, Georgy Senchenko returned to the world of art with works in a completely new manner and technique. His exhibition in 2017 was called Seven Kinds of Panic and was reminiscent of comics in its graphic and narrative nature.

Deep black shadows are prominent in this episode, and the author confirms this by telling a story about them. He says that he grew up in Rusanovka, in one of the first houses built there. While other houses were being built, the future artist lived as if in a desert, on a sandy island, where all objects cast bright shadows.

Another piece of the puzzle that Senchenko put together in his works displayed at the exhibition was a book on civil defense, which contained impressive illustrations for the artist. On them, on the seemingly familiar city streets, people are hiding behind fences and fountains from the shadows of a nuclear explosion.


VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: quotes and disasters by Georgy Senchenko
AND NOTHING FUCKING RANDOM, MR. CAGE!, from the Seven Kinds of Panic series, 2017


It is interesting that such an interpretation of the catastrophe is indirect, but nevertheless appears in Senchenko’s work again, after a long pause. A similar philosophy is also present in the historical and theoretical premises of the art of the nineties and it was voiced by Senchenko: he is sure that the work of that time is a reaction not only to the Chernobyl accident and not only to the collapse of the Soviet Union, but also to the collapse of the ideas of modernism, which manifested itself at the same time in Europe [3].

It seems that Georgy Senchenko marks the change of the old to the new in his work, which is carried out through large and small apocalypses. And we, as spectators, can only wait for the next breakdown in the picture of the world to be noticed and rethought by the artist-philosopher Georgy Senchenko in his art.



[1] Quote by Arsen Savadov from his interview with Alexey Tarasov and Anna Belous

[2] Art of Chernobyl – Critic Konstantin Doroshenko on disasters of body and mind, mysticism and demonology in Ukrainian art after the tragedy of Chernobyl, 2012

[3] Georgy Senchenko: “Art is a myth. But life without this myth is sometimes unbearable” – K. Yakovlenko, 2016

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