Ukrainian Artist Who Breaks Stereotypes

Every year, Miami Beach hosts Art Basel, an international exhibition of contemporary art, which is of great interest to artists, art historians, and collectors. Ukrainian artist Les Panchyshyn shared his first experience of participating in the most famous event in the artworld.

You have recently returned from the United States. Could you please tell us about your first impressions of the trip? Did you manage to turn your plans into reality?
Firstly, my main goal was to exhibit at Art Basel Miami Beach. My preparation took six months: I consulted with gallery owners, crisis managers to develop the right strategy and competently display my artworks.
Then there was a professional selection stage, for which we created the composition of all my works in 3D format. That is, we demonstrated how my works could look at the exhibition – they were specially arranged by composition, color, so that everything looked together in harmony. We spent about a week on this, because there was a lot of work, and it is very difficult to evaluate ourselves. And here my team – curator Tatiana Zabora and manager Solomia Dolsey Viniar, who approached this issue very professionally, was of great help.
Surprisingly, the Selection Commission responded very quickly, informing that my works had been chosen. And then we chose a booth – the space we would like to use at the exhibition. And we also had to prepare the paintings themselves, because some were not in the size that suited us. So, I finalized them right there.

How many Art Basel exhibitors were there in 2021? And how many Ukrainian artists were represented?
In fact, Art Basel Miami Beach is an art fair that lasts a whole week. All exhibitions are housed in six huge pavilions. Some artists, like me, for example, work on their own, some are represented by galleries. That is, it is difficult to track exactly how many exhibitors were there. For example, in my pavilion alone, there were about 300 artists and more than 100 galleries. There were two art fairs held simultaneously: Red Dot Miami, Spectrum Miami, Untitled, and NADA.
Of course, there were Ukrainians as well, I managed to get to know some of them. However, most of them moved to America long ago and present themselves as Americans or on behalf of American galleries. Among my co-exhibitors there was only one sign saying ‘Kyiv. Ukraine.’ And some other Ukrainian artists were presented by certain galleries.

Les, could you say that your first experience of taking part in an exhibition of such level was successful?
More than successful. For me, it is a great leap forward and a sign of status. After all, every artist dreams of getting to such an exhibition. To be honest, the team and I had expected to be there in 2022 or a year later. Therefore, when my entries passed the selection so easily and successfully, at first, I did not even comprehend what had happened.
Yes, my main goal was to get onto the American market. And by that time, I had already had solo exhibitions at the Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago and the
Ukrainian Institute of America in Manhattan, New York City. This is, of course, very cool! But only Ukrainians exhibit there. Art Basel Miami Beach is way different by level with over 4,000 artists and over 200 leading contemporary art galleries from around the world.

You are a 2021 award winner at Art Basel Miami Beach as the Best New Exhibitor. How important is it to you?This award is an American recognition of my work. After all, Art Basel is the coolest art fair, a world-class exhibition.Could you please tell me whether it is so rewarding for Ukrainian artists to exhibit at Art Basel and even more – take the same risks as you did by representing yourself rather than being represented by a gallery?I think that one definitely needs to be an exhibitor. As for the risks, let’s put it that way: some artists brought two or three paintings to that exhibition, but I had 15 artworks on display. And I decided to present myself as a gallery. Yes, there was a certain risk, but I understood that it would be my experience.In addition, one cannot compare when an artist is present in person and when one is represented by a gallery. For example, my composition was well arranged, the light was right… I think that’s why my artworks got noticed. And there was also an exclusive costume with penguins from my paintings – this is a collaboration with Kyiv-based designers, namely the Overall brand. And all this together did look very impressive!Do you mean the young artists who want to be recognized internationally need to be constantly resourceful?Well, there are no flukes! Only when you do something – you achieve fame and success… I have been painting for several years now, I have exhibited a lot. And as soon as I realized that I needed even more effort, the recognition came with the new force.Are you saying that there must be a certain background?There must be a story behind, a legend. There is an opinion that in terms of age, 30 is not too much for an artist. Usually this is just the beginning of the journey.I started exhibiting back in 2009 when I was a student. So, it took me many years to get to Art Basel – I have over 200 artworks, and many have been sold already.What are your plans for 2022?First of all, I plan to work on a project that I have been putting off for a long time. This is my figurative theme. It is very global, monumental, and very informative. I want to create 12 artworks to have a whole series that can be on display in Kyiv. In addition, I’m busy with an exhibition in Kharkiv scheduled for the spring.Simultaneously, my team from Miami and I will develop a strategy for the next three years to participate in the Art Basel project. Since this requires very serious and thorough preparation, there are a lot of different conditions and requirements that need to be met in order to properly organize and duly submit everything. And I have a professional team for this.

After Art Basel Miami Beach, Les Panchyshyn opened a solo exhibition in Chicago, during which he painted
11 more artworks. The artist donated nine of them to Revived Soldiers Ukraine, a U.S. charitable foundation, which raises funds and provides assistance to Ukrainian soldiers and their families. The paintings were sold at charity auctions in eight U.S. cities, namely New York City, Rochester, Philadelphia, and others

Author: Svitlana Kyrychek Senior Executive Editor of the Ukrainian Travel Gazette, Blogger Traveler

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