Art Criticism during Wartime: Why Not Everything is a Cultural Policy

Seminars and Colloquia

Since the escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War after 24 February, 2022, we have witnessed a new image of art criticism in Ukraine that is, for the first time, socially adapted and professionally understandable. Starting in the mid-1990s with the first printed art magazines in Ukrainian, which positioned themselves as primary sources of institutional critique, and continuing with a partially commercial art press and critical seminars in the 2010s, there have been discussions about the absence of criticism in the past decade. Art criticism has remained a quasi-field within Ukrainian humanities, with an equally undefined function in the art market, academic production, and media market.

Over the previous thirty years, art criticism had mostly been associated with the realization of cultural policy rather than art analysis. It had also struggled to find a definitive place within any specific field: it was not historically sophisticated enough for the Ukrainian academic environment, being mostly incapable of engaging in theoretical art analysis, and it was perceived as too wayward and impractical to be a part of the art market. What is more, it had been too dependent on the Russian media and publishing market and has been influenced by the post-Soviet variation of art connoisseurship.

With the onset of full-scale war, these uncertainties and disciplinary homelessness have been amplified by the emergence of a clear social demand in Ukraine––the need to participate in cultural diplomacy. This entails defining the boundaries of Ukrainian art history, discussing trauma, reflecting on art, institutions, and texts during wartime, documenting losses, serving as an obituary, advocating for the national Art History project through the country's official representation, and contributing to the decolonization movement.

What does art criticism mean during wartime? How does decolonization manifest within Ukrainian art criticism in 2022–2023? What are the risks of limiting ourselves to the diplomatic function of cultural policy realization, even if it seems to be the only viable option for action?

Anna Kaluher is an art critic and researcher of the History of Ukrainian and Russian art criticism since the 1990s, History of Post-Soviet Intellectuals in Ukraine and Russia, invited researcher at the University of Pennsylvania (Russian and East European Studies Department and History of Art Department), invited lecturer at Purdue University and Tel Aviv University, and visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences (Milena Jesenská Fellowship for Journalists).

Katherine Younger, IWM Permanent Fellow, Head of Documenting Ukraine, and Research Director of Ukraine in European Dialogue Program, moderated the colloquium's discussion.


Fellows Colloquia are internal events for the IWM Visiting Fellows and Guests.