The Pinchuk (modern) Art Centre in Kyiv contains two of my favorite things: modern art, and people who wear fake horn-rimmed glasses and go take selfies with modern art. Come for the art and culture, but stay for the people watching. It’s free, and absolutely worth it.
My first tip that Pinchuk is a hip and happening place was outside. Though from the outside the building itself is ubiquitous, as we waited our turn behind 6 or 8 people, I noticed the line behind us growing exponentially. It must’ve stretched half a block. When you finally reach the narrow glass doors that open to a sterile white room, a desk, and an unusually massive Ukrainian security man, he instructs you to step through a weapons detector like at an airport, then looks through your purse. “Wow,” I said to Nastia, my Ukrainian peer coach who brought me. “This art museum in no joke.”
She informed me that it is apparently a joke, at least as far as the security staff is concerned. They’re rather famous for pulling a particular gag, accusing foreigners or otherwise unsuspecting museum goers of being terrorists when they step through the detector. They panic for a second or two, and then everyone laughs and they send the poor patron on their merry way. I am as disappointed I didn’t witness it as I am glad I wasn’t the butt of this classic joke, but if you happen to find yourself there and this happens, don’t panic. Unless you’re a terrorist.
The museum is five stories, linked together by narrow spiral staircases and a confusing maze of different gallery spaces blocked off occasionally by black velvet curtains. The interior design is purely modern. Plentiful sleek metal surfaces, white walls, hardwood floors, mirrors, and rainbow bathrooms. Perhaps my favorite display of all time is in one of the first rooms you come to. It’s a highly believable fake currency exchanging station. I would have had no idea it was a fake, only a display if not for Nastia, who asked someone so that she could be sure. I don’t know why this tickled me so much. It looks so real, and the amount of the currency exchange stations in Kyiv is absurd. Almost literally one every corner. I am sure that there a moving underlying meaning here, about the world economy and globalization, perhaps, but I don’t want to put the words in the artist’s mouth. I found it clever enough on the surface.
The museum is international. I saw work from numerous countries: Ukraine, the UK, the US, the Dominican Republic, South Africa, plenty more. Pinchuk also sports a healthy mixture of featured mediums, sculpture, paint, of course, and a giant amount of multimedia. One room featured a seemingly endless video of men and women crawling around on the floor with microphones, hitting the microphones on parts of their bodies to create a thumping sound. Art. I’m sure half the people in the room loved it. There are also, of course, many displays that are a touch less conceptual, and very worth seeing. A second favorite of mine was a sort of documentary in one of the rooms. It used two screens and was visually genius, about the laws of physics in the cartoon universe, and related these laws to the human psyche. There were paintings that took up entire rooms, massive sculptures, and tiny found-object pieces. Each display also gave the artist’s statement in both Ukrainian and English. Huge bonus.
In short, the Pinchuk Art Centre is like any other modern art museum. Some displays are insightful and creative, and some are so eye-rollingly over-the-top that you question the very notion of art. As I see it, there is a huge entertainment value in both. If you don’t mind maneuvering between selfie sticks and a hip Ukrainian art snobs, go. It’s free, and you’ll come away a little bit more culturally enlightened, one way or the other. My only complaint is they don’t allow photos with professional cameras. But of course I snuck one in the rainbow bathroom anyways.
Pinchuk Modern Art Centre
Velitsa Vasilkivska/Baseina 1/3-2 Kyiv, 01004
Open Tues-Sat, and Sun 12:00-21:00