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Mikhailov, Melnitchenko, Ballen | Mironova Gallery at Photo LA 2020

Krasimira Butseva

Not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the art scenes in the countries once belonging to the Soviet Union and its satellite system started flourishing, together with new aesthetics and ways of overcoming socialist realism. In the late 90s and early 2000s with an achieved degree of stability, private galleries and independent organisations in the various countries began opening their doors to visitors, in accordance with their citizens hunger for art and eagerness to see the world with new eyes. In 2003 Mironova Gallery was established in Kyiv. Initially supporting primarily acclaimed Ukrainian and international artists, in 2013 the gallery made a turn and began shifting its focus to emerging talent. “We understand that the younger generation of artists in Ukraine needs the infrastructure provided by galleries and that working with emerging artists is the best way to make the Ukrainian art market more stable. Those changes were very important for us from the point of view of understanding the international context” says Anna Avetova, Head of International Relations at Mironova Gallery. With a transformed vision of creating a stronger link between generations, the gallery presents professionals working in a range of different media including painting, sculpture, video and installation, whilst the works of contemporary photographer Sergey Melnitchenko have since become an indispensable part of its portfolio.

This year the gallery is participating in Photo LA, becoming the first and only Ukrainian organisation to ever be a part of the recognised and renowned US-based art fair. Taking place over the weekend, Photo LA is a collaborative platform which creates links within the international photographic community. Due to the global pandemic and unlike in previous years – the newest edition has reimagined the traditional art fair space. Curated digital installations, exhibitions, artists talks, it is all happening online.

For this occasion, the walls of Mironova Gallery have become interactive and are accompanied by VR booths accessible on the fair’s website. For the occasion of the fair, the gallery is representing the work of Boris Mikhailov, Roger Ballen and Sergey Melnitchenko. A special selection going beyond borders and generations. “Today we live in extraordinary times when such matters as age, nationality or gender are losing their relevance in the industry. We have chosen our artists on the basis of their professionalism and because each one of them has formed a unique position as part of the international photography scene” continues Avetova.

Boris Mikhailov, often cited as the most successful artist to come from the former USSR, is exhibited all over the world and is well established in the international market. He was initially trained as an engineer and worked in a factory until the late 60s when he was laid off as some of his negatives including nudity were found in the darkroom of his workplace. During the communist era, as Mikhailov explains “nudity, politics and religion were forbidden subjects” in both verbal and visual language. “Yesterday’s Sandwich” which is on show at the Photo LA was Mikhailov's very first book which brought him his initial recognition. In this work as well as in his overall practice, the photographer was encoding messages within his images, which was his way of understanding, communicating and creating in a hereditary totalitarian and oppressive system. He did that by “sandwiching” multiple negatives, resulting in abstract and peculiar images often featuring nudity, urban landscapes and scenes from his everyday life. Through this work, Mikhailov forms an unusual image of sexual ambiguity and discovery combined with the harsh beauty of the Ukrainian landscape as he saw it back then.

"Yesterday's Sandwich" by Boris Mikhailov, series 1966-70, Courtesy of Mironova Gallery 

"Yesterday's Sandwich" by Boris Mikhailov, series 1966-70, Courtesy of Mironova Gallery 

"Yesterday's Sandwich" by Boris Mikhailov, series 1966-70, Courtesy of Mironova Gallery 

"Yesterday's Sandwich" by Boris Mikhailov, series 1966-70, Courtesy of Mironova Gallery 

"Yesterday's Sandwich" by Boris Mikhailov, series 1966-70, Courtesy of Mironova Gallery 

Roger Ballen, best-known to the younger generation for his collaboration with the South African band Die Antwoord, is currently based in South Africa, but was actually born in the US in the 50s. His work is celebrated as a classic within the history of photography, but the works part of Mironova Gallery’s showcase feature a series that is rather different from his usual style. The images were taken in Woodstock when the artist who is now in his 70s was just 19 years old. Around the same time when Mikhailov was producing his series “Yesterday’s Sandwich”, Ballen was kicked out of his job (also!) at a children’s camp as of his encouragement and initiative for the children to create anti-war posters and signs. He then ended up at the Woodstock festival with several rolls of film and a camera. In these years, the sexual revolution in the US was at its peak which is also evident within his documentation of the festival. Much like today, the photographs offering an intimate view of the relationships which occurred there, are capable of describing a very specific and significant period of time - one in which a spontaneous cultural revolt was taking place. In his images, nudity is also present – and too an act of freedom and liberation.

Woodstock 1969 by Roger Ballen, Courtesy of Mironova Gallery  

Woodstock 1969 by Roger Ballen, Courtesy of Mironova Gallery  

Woodstock 1969 by Roger Ballen, Courtesy of Mironova Gallery  

Woodstock 1969 by Roger Ballen, Courtesy of Mironova Gallery  

Sergey Melnitchenko, Leica contest winner 2017 who was born 1991 in Mykolayiv, is a contemporary Ukrainian photographer with a strong presence within the contemporary Ukrainian scene. His series “Young and Free?” appears as a meaningful continuation of his work across the years. “Sergey has initiated a new wave of photography representation at our gallery. In his latest work, he is presenting us with a reflection of today's tumultuous times through his research on the mood prevalent among his generation.” The series appears as a bold subjective commentary on the effects of globalisation, and the economic, environmental and health crisis which the world is facing at the moment. The nude body prominent within the images highlights the vulnerability of being a human amidst global cataclysms, whilst it also draws links to the closeness and similarities between all of us when faced with pervasive uncertainty. As Avetova points out “As a gallery, we have come to the understanding that a powerful selection of artists regardless of age and nationality, is the best strategy for the next decade. Recent events have clearly shown that we all are small parts of one big world and one society.”

"Young and Free?" by Sergey Melnitchenko, series 2020, Courtesy of Mironova Gallery 

"Young and Free?" by Sergey Melnitchenko, series 2020, Courtesy of Mironova Gallery 

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