Soviet-era underground art is resurfacing

Two new venues open for exhibiting the large new collections

Odessa. The rise of new money in Odessa has led to the creation of a series of new art collections. In the past year, several wealthy businessmen have bought entire Soviet-era collections and created public museums.

Art enthusiast Alexander Knoppel's 300-piece col­lection is the foundation of the Museum of Modern Art owned by Pivdenny Bank, Odessa's leading financial institution. The museum displays about 150 works and also holds temporary shows of local artists. Mr Knoppel is the honorary director.

"Odessa's non-conformists avoided politics-unlike artists in Moscow and St Petersburg," said Mr Knoppel. "Their art might no longer seem cutting edge, but you have to remember that they were operating in a totalitarian society, and in total isolation not only from other countries, but also from other Soviet cities."

The artists in the collection include prominent painters of the Odessa underground movement: Valentin Khrushch, Stanislav Sytchov and Yuri Yegorov. Like other underground artists in the Soviet Union, these men exhibited primarily in their apartments. One day, however, Khrushch and Sytchov staged an unsanctioned outdoor exhibition. A gross violation under Soviet law, the show was removed by the authorities.

A second newly opened gallery of Soviet-era underground Odessa art, the Gallery of Modern Art, holds the collection of Felix Kokhrich. A year ago he made a long-term loan of his 200-piece collection to business­man Anatoly Demchuk.

"The underground art works in my collection are not about political protest," said Mr Kokhrich. "We were young and independent, and we didn't want to conform to the system."

Mr Demchuk's gallery has a further 1,000 Odessa paintings from the second half of the 20th century. Prices for his works can reach $30,000, and until the global financial crisis they were rising by around 40% annually. J.V.

Odessa, Ukraine Issue: 198
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