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Oleksandr Shchelushchenko in front of Mykola Bilous work “At home” at ArtVilnius'15. Photo: Rita K. Zumberga

Kyiv-based Contemporary Art Gallery TSEKH opens in Vilnius 0

Q&A with Oleksandr Shchelushchenko, the owner of the Art Gallery TSEKH («ЦЕХ»)

Agnese Čivle

At the 2015 ArtVilnius art fair, when the team managed to pin down Oleksandr Shchelushchenko, owner of the TSEKH art gallery, for a short interview, he was quick to reveal that he has repeatedly returned to the fair expressly because of Latvians: “I am a fan of this art fair! I have an interesting story for you, my golden ladies from Riga...  The first collectors whom I met on the very first day of the very first ArtVilnius were from Riga – Māris and Irina Vītols. On that occasion, they chose a work from the catalogue without even seeing it in real life; it was ‘Milk’ (2009), by my artist Ievgen Petrov. At the following year’s art fair, I made the acquaintance of another Latvian collector, Jānis Zuzāns, who bought five works from the stand. A purchase by a Lithuanian collector followed; then a number of works were bought by Ukrainian collectors.”

As it turns out, this effusive discourse was not just a clever tactic employed by a well-trained gallerist, and the owner of Kiev’s currently most innovative gallery truly does appreciate and value the support shown to Ukrainian artists by Riga and Vilnius – as indicated by the announcement that TSEKH is opening its first Baltic branch in Vilnius.

Contemporary Art Gallery TSEKH («ЦЕХ») in Kyiv, Ukraine

What should everybody know about the TSEKH gallery?

I created the gallery in 2005, riding the wave of optimism in the wake of the Orange Revolution. It started as an ordinary commercial gallery, switching to operating as a representing agent’s gallery three years later – which means that we promote artists on exclusive rights. Their works are shown only in our gallery or at our partners’. In all, there are just six names. They are all from Ukraine, except for an American of Ukrainian descent. When we started, we worked with more than 60 artists. That was hardly professional and extremely exhausting. The gallery owns a reasonably large and professional space in Kyiv. During the 11 years of its existence, we have mounted more than 400 exhibitions, including art fairs and institutional exhibitions. Alongside showing our resident artists, we also host guest projects – no more than once every two years. On the average, an exhibition at the TSEKH gallery runs at least two months. The TSEKH gallery has never received any subsidies, grants or any other financial help from any structures, either private or public. We are interested only in sales; after all, Purchase of Contemporary Art is also an act of contemporary art. We vote for a liberal market without any pomposity.

Ievgen Petrov. Warm December, 2014 

Ievgen Petrov. First of May, 2013

Why did you consider the Lithuanian market a place good enough for gallery business?

Based on my experience, I would say there is no such thing as a Lithuanian market, a Latvian market or a Ukrainian one... There is a global demand for art – always has been and always will be. What differs is the prices and the strength of content. The location of the collectors’ residence does not tell anything about their purchasing power regarding contemporary art. The art market in Monaco is a good example – although Monégasques actively buy art in other parts of the world. In expensive locations, the overhead expenses of the gallery influence the final price of a work. And that is very bad for new names and new collectors. I am not a great fan of high prices.  As a rule, collectors, not to mention art dealers, love to travel. Many of them will manage to visit the beautiful Vilnius once every couple of years. And there are also enthusiasts and collectors – both private and corporate – of contemporary art among Lithuanians; hopefully, in a couple of years, they will turn their attention to us as well. However, this branch of TSEKH gallery is opening in Vilnius exclusively thanks to our love for the city and its people – also thanks to the help we received from some of our friends. Lithuanians have really been very kind to us. And that is why we will with great pleasure invite over our collectors from other countries. Guests from Latvia, Turkey, Germany, UK, Monaco, USA and, of course, Ukraine will be present at the opening of the gallery. We hope that the first time visitors among them will love Vilnius.

Mykola Bilous. Decameron, 2015 

Mykola Bilous. Cigarette, 2015

How will the gallery in Vilnius differ from the one in Kyiv? Will they share the same identity?

For the first year or two, the galleries in Vilnius and Kyiv will be very similar both space- and content-wise. Time will show how things are going to evolve next.

Tell us about the founding of the Vilnius TSEKH and the main people involved in the project.

I visit Vilnius on a regular basis since 2008 and have made many friends here. We have always been helped by the Lithuanian diplomats; the opening is also taking place under the wing of the Lithuanian Embassy in Kyiv. The local government of the city, both the former and the current one, also received the idea of TSEKH Vilnius quite warmly. However, we are not asking for any direct financial assistance from the city, the Ministry of Culture or Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We would hate our presence here to be a burden to Lithuanians in any way. The gallery will be housed in a building that has been empty for years; we are currently repairing and redecorating it. We have, of course, a number of Lithuanian minority shareholders in our Vilnius foundation; nevertheless, the policy-making and planning will be our responsibility.

Yaroslav Derkach. Letter, 2016 

Yaroslav Derkach. Sword, 2016

How about the size of the gallery's rooms, its architecture and location in the city?

Venue-wise, the Vilnius gallery is going to be a sibling to the Kyiv one: high ceilings, 6–7 metres; a 250 m2 hall with some pillars. The building is located outside the city centre but also not on the outskirts – in the pleasant and dynamic district of Naujamiestis.

The actual structure is very interesting – an uncompleted Catholic church that became the Cultural Centre of Construction Workers after the war. Later it was transformed into something else, then abandoned and stayed empty. Part of the building is now housing an office. We are going to share our wing of the building with a theatre company.

Rustam Mirzoev. Summer, 2016

What is the exhibition programme for the rest of 2016?

Our first exhibition is a group show by our resident artists, ‘Jumping to Europe’, featuring paintings, watercolours and installations (two of them interactive). In the autumn we may host a parallel project with the Vilnius Painting Triennial.

And what are the plans for gallery’s opening?

At 20:00 on Saturday, 23 July 2016, we are throwing a cocktail party with music, serving Italian wines and cocktails based on the very best Ukrainian vodka. During the day, our guests from other countries will be treated to a walk in Trakai and a barbecue.

Sergey Oleksuk. The Winter of twelfth, 2012

VALYA. Women, 2015

Read in the Archive: A look back at the ArtVilnius 2015 art fair

Vytenio gatvė 6, Vilnius