The mission of the Mysteskyi Arsenal is to envision a united concept encompassing the breadth of Ukrainian cultural achievement and initiative, and to promote that concept embodied in Ukrainian art, culture, and history, ensuring its place in the broader heritage of world culture.
For centuries Arsenal has stood as a place of secrets. Kyivites adept at adjusting to political caprice and fluctuations in degrees of cultural freeze or thaw kept their eyes elsewhere as they walked by its mass. If rumors of the top-secret military function being enacted inside weren’t sufficient to blunt public curiosity, the razor wire that topped its walls in more recent times provided all the explanation necessary that the Kyiv Arsenal was off limits.Things have changed. Doors perpetually locked have been thrown open, and halls once committed to military purposes are now filled with light and art. A factory geared for perpetual war has been transformed into a showplace for peace.
In 1783, Johann Meller was a Lieutenant General, and architect, in the Russian Imperial Army of Catherine the Second. Stationed at Kyiv, he was tasked with the design and construction of an arsenal to aid in the Empress’s war efforts. The structure we see today — three stories of brick magnificence around an interior courtyard the size of a football pitch, with 8-meter ceilings in the wings and cascading vaulted arches stretching off into the distance — testifies to the military architect’s subversive streak. Upon the completion of the Arsenal, Meller would leave a commentary on his design: “the day will come and you will see that I built Arsenal nor weapons bur for people.”
Perhaps the architect sensed a need to right a wrong. Looking for a site to build a citadel, Russian emperor Peter the First, had evicted the sisters of the Ascension Orthodox Convent from the hill on which they had lived since the 16th century. The nuns were moved to the Florivsky Convent in Kyiv’s Podil neighborhood, and in time the stunning Intercession Church built by Hetman Ivan Mazepa was razed and in this place the arsenal would be built. Though the structure would retain its exclusive military function for roughly two centuries, in the end its architect’s words would prove prophetic. The Arsenal building was granted National Historic Monument status and became a cultural institution to be called “The Mystetskyi Arsenal” (the Arts Arsenal) in 2003. The ensuing decade has provided Ukrainian society with further challenges, and while the transformation of the Arsenal into a working cultural institution has been difficult, an auspicious beginning has at last been made. After October 2010 the Old Arsenal had been temporally adapted to host exhibitions, and visitors. Comprised of more than 60,000 m2 of floor space, the architectural and spatial configuration of the Arsenal complex allows it to hold large-scale art projects, exhibitions, concerts, performances, presentations, charity balls and more.
Mysteskyi Arsenal building has been under restoration since 2005. Now only 12,000 square meters are being used for art projects and events. Renewed Mystetskyi Arsenal with perfectly equipped museum space for permanent exhibition of the history of Ukrainian art, and temporary projects, concert and lecture halls, public library and museum shops, comfortable visitors infrastructure will become one of the largest museum complexes in Eastern Europe.
And indeed, the New Arts Arsenal, has been all that and more. In these four years over two million visitors have crossed Arsenal thresholds for 40 major, and scores of small-scale projects, organized by current team of Mystetskyi Arsenal. Among them there are several significant annual events such as Art Kyiv Contemporary Forum, Book Arsenal International Festival, Grand Sculpture Salon, and, the most prominent — The First Kyiv Biennale of Contemporary Art ARSENALE 2012.
Celebrating world culture from its pre-historic roots to its most contemporary flower, the Arsenal has been a sometime home for the genius of eminent international and home-grown artists. From projects featuring the films of Dziga Vertov, to the avant-garde challenge of Kazimir Malevych, and the contemporary provocations of Luise Bourgeois, Jake & Dinos Chapman, and Ukraine’s own Zhanna Kadyrova, the Mystetskyi Arsenal is making its mark.
Art and culture, free to explore, are at the heart of any progressive society. Whether it’s through innovation in children’s education, special needs projects, celebrations of classical masterpieces, or the advancement of great literature, the Mystetskyi Arsenal is at the vanguard, leading Ukraine beyond its recent, difficult past and into Europe and the world. This is our moment. No longer hidden in the shadows, the life and art of this dynamic place are open to all.
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